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.
Someone is setting fire to the houses of Pomeroy, New Hampshire, in Sue Miller’s latest novel, but that’s beside the point. The important thing is that Francesca “Frankie” Rowley has returned from a long sojourn in Africa as an aid worker and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Besides, the thing that lights her fire is Bud Jacobs, the local newspaper editor whose life is just as up in the air as hers is. The two launch a passionate affair even as everyone else’s summer home is being torched.
In Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, McSweeney’s founder (and 2012 National Book Award finalist for A Hologram for the King) Dave Eggers breaks out of the blocks at record-setting pace, depositing the reader, his protagonist and a captive astronaut in an abandoned building without even so much as a how-de-do.
As the United States exits two protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s easy to forget that nearly 100,000 defense-related Americans remain in Japan, a country with which the U.S. ceased hostilities nearly 70 years ago. The American bases occupy about one-fifth of Okinawa, an island unfortunate to have served as a rampart for the Japanese mainland during the war and as an aircraft carrier for the Americans after it. Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird attempts to bridge the gap between these two phases in Okinawan history.
Mona Simpson’s sixth novel, Casebook, visits the country of divorce through the eyes of California teenager and Sherlock Holmes wannabe, Miles Adler-Hart. Aided by his sidekick Hector (living through the aftermath of his own parents’ breakup), Miles recounts their earnest, if often fumbling, effort to make sense of the emotional disturbance that inevitably surrounds even the most amicable end of a marriage and the survivors’ halting attempts to rebuild their lives. Simpson brings this all off with style, blending pathos with humor to create an appealing story.