In lesser hands, the story told in Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare would be sentimental or even clichéd. An emotionally needy white woman takes in a tough inner-city girl whose life is transformed when she learns to ride horses at the neighboring stables. Cue the swelling music as the girl and horse ride into the sunset. But Gaitskill, whose novels and short stories have always delved full force into the most uncomfortable of situations, has instead produced a complex and nuanced look at love, loss and limitations.
For more than 400 years, Shakespeare’s works have been performed throughout the world— retold, reinterpreted and reinvented for each generation. Now, the Hogarth Shakespeare series is giving that opportunity to several of the most acclaimed contemporary novelists of our day. British writer Jeanette Winterson is the first to take on the challenge with The Gap of Time, a refashioning of The Winter’s Tale. Winterson’s own experience as an adopted child gives a special meaning to this story of an abandoned daughter.
Lauren Groff explored the strengths of community in her first two novels, The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. In Fates and Furies, she narrows her focus to the ultimate microcosm: a marriage. Told in two parts, first by a husband and then a wife, this unsettling novel looks at the myriad ways even the most devoted of couples keep secrets, betray one another and risk deceiving themselves.
Kate Walbert has always been a keen transmitter of women’s voices, from conforming suburban wives in the 1950s to British suffragettes during World War I. In her most recent novel, The Sunken Cathedral, Walbert tunes in to a complex chorus of female characters in contemporary Manhattan, a city recently altered by climate change, tragedy and new wealth.
How to Be Both, by the British writer Ali Smith, tells two interconnected stories. The first is about Georgina, known as George, a 1960s teenager outside of London grieving the death of her mother and taking her first tentative steps toward love. The other is the story of the 15th-century Italian painter Francesco del Cossa, a historical figure responsible for the remarkable frescos in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy—and about whom very little else is known.
A Map of Betrayal, the new novel from the PEN/Faulkner-winning author Ha Jin (Waiting, Nanjing Requiem) is a haunting tale of two families and two countries that are linked together by the life of a single spy. When American-born professor of Asian Studies Lillian Shang inherits her father Gary’s journals, she uncovers details of his four-decade career as a spy for Communist China. But when history threatens to repeat itself in the next generation, Lillian must struggle with issues of loyalty and betrayal.
In December 1976, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert to promote political unity, armed gunmen walked into reggae star Bob Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road in Kingston and began shooting. Marley sustained injuries in his arm and chest; his wife, Rita, was hit as she raced to protect their children; and his manager, Don Taylor, was also injured. In Marlon James’ powerful new novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, the attack is the centerpiece of a blistering commentary on Jamaica in the 1970s and its inextricable links both to Cold War politics and to the drug wars of the following decade.
Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-Year House is an appealing mixture: part archival mystery, part ghost story, part historical novel, starring a house with as much personality as Manderley or Hill House. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place.
Joshua Ferris, who previously examined the culture of the contemporary workplace (Then We Came to the End) and family life (The Unnamed) turns his attention to social media in To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. At first, the novel seems to be a satiric look at the way Facebook and Twitter could be used to hijack a person’s identity. But as the main character heads toward an existential crisis, it is clear that Ferris is also exploring how technology both connects us and reinforces our isolation.
Australian-born author Evie Wyld’s novels ask tough questions without seeking easy answers. In her debut, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, she explored the impact of World War II and the Vietnam War on a single Australian family. Her new book, All the Birds, Singing, follows Jake Whyte, a young Australian woman living on a remote sheep farm on an island off the coast of England. When someone—or something—attacks her sheep, Jake is plunged into paranoia, brought on in part by her isolation, but also because of the secrets she carries about her childhood.