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.
Pity the quiet novel about family life. In an era when novelists are taught to write killer openings and the line between literary and genre fiction is increasingly blurred, it seems as if there’s no room for a contemplative novel that finds drama in quiet moments. Fortunately, such books are still being published, and one of the better examples is The Children’s Crusade, the new novel by Ann Packer (The Dive from Clausen’s Pier).
Admirers of Norwegian Per Petterson’s melancholy, atmospheric novels like Out Stealing Horses and To Siberia will welcome this story of two boyhood friends from a small town outside Oslo and the unexpected paths their lives trace after those early days. Featuring the same deep attention to character and introspective style of his earlier works, I Refuse confirms Petterson’s status as a standout among contemporary novelists.
Three of 2014's most acclaimed novels are now out in paperback and are sure to spark thoughtful discussion in reading groups this month.
A beautifully written tale that is a blend of mystery, ghost story and very real human tragedy, The World Before Us is a story about what is missing—and also about what is always present.
The men of the American Wild West called it the “shining times,” when the law held no sway over any place beyond the Mississippi. This was the last true American independence, and though it died out a long time ago, the new novel from T.C. Boyle takes this tradition of renegades and turns it into something violent.
The first thing that is immediately apparent about Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, is that it has been incorrectly named: There is nothing little about this novel—not the lives depicted within it or the size of its author’s ambitions and talents. And not the page count, either. It is a hulking doorstop of a book, perfect for the reader who likes to burrow into a book for weeks at a time.
It is almost impossible to choose the most memorable thing about James Hannaham’s powerful and daring second novel, Delicious Foods (a title suggestive of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”). It might be that one of its narrators is crack cocaine, or that one of its main characters loses his hands. It might be the evocative African-American slang and dialect. Or it might be the way the novel can be read as an extended metaphor for the situation of blacks in America.
If you think you’ve read the story of four friends trying to make it in New York City already, think again. Hanya Yanagihara’s transcendent second novel is much more than its plot summary suggests. A Little Life may be the best book you read this year; it certainly will be the most heartbreaking.
To describe Jill Ciment’s latest novel as the story of a supermold that colonizes a Brooklyn neighborhood and threatens to infest the entire city doesn’t even come close to doing it justice—though it’s factually accurate. Dressed in the guise of a thriller, Act of God is really a keenly intelligent story about the tangled bonds of sisterly love and the power of repentance and forgiveness.