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. Abby and Red Whitshank and their four children are, from the outside, just like anyone else. Red is a second-generation building contractor, Abby a social worker, and the clan has long occupied a rambling house that Red’s father once built for another man. Like all families, they have had their ups and downs, their squabbles, resentments and misunderstandings, but nothing has irreparably damaged the household fabric.
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.
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.