Golden Age, the third and final volume of Jane Smiley’s splendid The Last Hundred Years trilogy, opens during a 1987 family reunion at the Langdon family farm in Iowa. Gathered are the surviving children and a number of grandchildren of Walter and Rosanna Langdon, the progenitors and subject of the trilogy’s first volume, Some Luck, which began in 1923. By this point, readers know intimately many of these characters and are familiar with the affections and antagonisms that bind and separate parents and children, aunts and uncles, husband and wives, brothers, sisters and cousins. These ups and downs only proliferate as the story unfolds, until this final episode concludes in 2019.
When an author begins a novel with “And then there was the day”—as Kent Haruf begins Our Souls at Night, a brief, final testament completed shortly before his death last November—you know he knows we know what he’s talking about. This is Holt, Colorado.
The latest work from Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison is puzzling until you realize that it’s actually a fairy tale. How else to describe a story about a woman who is so bereft without the man in her life that the lack of him causes her to regress back to childhood—literally. Bride, the book’s beautiful, very young cosmetics tycoon, slowly loses all the physical signifiers of womanhood. Even the holes in her pierced ears close up.
Each new book by Booker Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) is, on the surface at least, vastly different from those that have come before. The Buried Giant—his first novel in almost 10 years—is no exception. This fable-like narrative, set in England just after the mythic reign of Arthur, chronicles the adventures of an elderly couple as they journey across a wild and rugged landscape. Old and forgetful, but still endearingly in love, Axl and Beatrice have been cast to the margins of their settlement, not even allowed candles for fear that they may do themselves harm. So, they decide to set out for their son’s village, which they believe they can reach with a few days’ travel. But the landscape abounds with human hostility and ignorance, as well as the shadowy possibility of ogres and other mythical beasts.
In 20 novels published over a remarkable 50-year period, Anne Tyler has staked her claim as our premier chronicler of the ordinary, imperfect American family. Set in Baltimore, like most of her work, A Spool of Blue Thread concerns just such a family.
Two-time Man Booker Prize winner (Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang) Peter Carey’s 13th novel is a darkly satiric tale of cyber activism, modern Australian history and the exhilaration and perils of advocacy journalism.
In Saul Bellow's Herzog, the eponymous main character expresses his borderline lunacy by writing letters to everyone, including the IRS. The narrator of Joseph O'Neill's fourth novel, The Dog, expresses his unease by mentally composing emails, replete with emoticons and nested parentheses.
The end of the world might seem like an odd time to care about music and art; why worry about Shakespeare when civilization has collapsed? But in Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, it seems perfectly plausible that a Traveling Symphony would cross the wasteland that exists 20 years after most of the world’s population has died from a flu epidemic.
A notable tourist attraction in Thailand is the bridge “over the River Kwai”—part of the Death Railway built during World War II by the Japanese using the labor of Allied POWs under atrocious conditions. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Australian Richard Flanagan, follows the Australian contributors to this grandiose project, as well as its Japanese administrators, many of whom were destined to become prisoners themselves.
Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters) traces the lasting damage of violence to devastating effect in her second novel, Evergreen, a fairy tale-like chronicle of how one moment’s pain can echo through generations.