BookPage Fiction Top Pick, June 2014
The best historical fiction offers readers a new look at a well-known subject, or illuminates an episode or individual that has been lost to history. Playwright Kimberly Elkins achieves the latter in What Is Visible, a strikingly original debut novel about Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person to communicate through finger spelling.
Richard Haddon has screwed up royally with his wife, and he’ll do anything to get her back.
Richard, a British contemporary artist, met his near-perfect French wife while enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design. From the moment he spotted Anne-Laure de Bourigeaud, Richard was convinced that she was the woman for him.
Chinese-American author Lisa See has made her mark in the realm of historical fiction by melding her well-researched historical sagas with strong female characters linked either by birth, as in Shanghai Girls (2009) and Dreams of Joy (2011), or by lifelong friendship, as in her breakout book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005).
Following the success of his critically acclaimed debut, The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman returns with an ambitious new novel, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. Along with a plucky protagonist named Tooly Zylberberg, Rachman whisks readers away on a whirlwind jaunt around the globe, through the waning days of the 20th century and into the dawn of the 21st.
In these heady days of immigration non-reform in the United States, it is worth recalling that much of this nation’s territory was once the property of Mexico, and that many immigrants have fled violence whose source can be traced to America, whether through military aid, drug demand and interdiction or flat-out invasion. One such family is the subject of Cristina Henríquez’s illuminating novel The Book of Unknown Americans, a kind of anti-census in which the statistics of Latino immigration are run backward to reveal individual struggles.
It can be perilous to venture into well-trodden subgenre territory, even if you have the talent that Tom Rob Smith demonstrated with his suspenseful Child 44 trilogy.
With his fourth novel, The Farm, Smith is venturing into the territory of Scandinavian thrillers, which first caught international fire thanks to the fiction of the late Stieg Larsson.
Jennifer Weiner, the best-selling author of 10 novels, goes a bit darker with her new book, a story about the price some women pay in the pursuit of having it all. In All Fall Down, Weiner tackles a growing epidemic in our society: middle- and upper-class suburban parents who abuse prescription medication to cope with their overworked and overstressed lifestyles.
With daily news headlines detailing the tragedies that can unfold when a battle-weary soldier returns home from war, Las Vegas author Laura McBride’s first novel, We Are Called to Rise, is hauntingly timely.
The fun of reading Dutch author Herman Koch is his constant questioning of normal human behavior. His commentary on etiquette and the trappings of wealth is hilariously biting; it’s like standing next to the cynical party guest who keeps you laughing all night by mocking the pretentious host. And just like that funny guy at the party, Koch can go from companionable to creepy before you realize what changed.
Literature is replete with unreliable narrators, but you’ve never encountered an unreliable narrator like the one in Emma Healey’s mournful and luminous debut novel, Elizabeth Is Missing. Maud Horsham isn’t remotely evil. She’s not pathologically dishonest, nor does she have some deep, dark secret to hide. Her unreliability comes simply from the fact that she’s elderly and her memory is failing fast. On top of this, she’s absolutely sure that her friend Elizabeth is missing.