The damp practically floats off the pages in Astoria, the sweeping tale of John Jacob Astor’s attempt to settle the remote Pacific Northwest coast in 1810. Astor’s vast wealth enabled him to send two expeditions: one over land and one by ship. His plan was to set up a fur trade, the first on this particularly harsh stretch of the West Coast. Whoever could settle the area would lay claim to a vast area rich with sea otter and beaver fur, salmon and other seafood.
Dinaw Mengestu’s third novel skillfully blends two disparate narratives—the account of an African revolution and the story of a survivor’s new life in America—to create a moving portrait of the dilemma of identity.
It’s hard to know whether to call Boyd Varty’s Cathedral of the Wild a memoir, a true adventure story or a self-help book. All I know is that it made me cry with its hard-won truths about human and animal nature, distilled by Varty from his experiences living on Londolozi, the game reserve his family runs in South Africa.
If we’re all stars in the stories of our own lives, then the people we pass on the street, in the elevator or in the park are extras. And when those stories are lived out in the apartments, coffee shops and streets of New York City, there are an awful lot of extras. Although New York residents often feel anonymous among the city’s millions, proximity means their lives repeatedly brush against one another’s.
It is a cool October night on Falstaff Island, about nine miles off of Prince Edward Island, and Scoutmaster Tim Riggs is enjoying a sip of scotch. He can hear his five 14-year-old scouts talking and laughing in the next room, most likely telling ghost stories before they fall asleep. All six are completely unaware of the horrifying turn their annual camping trip is about to take.
Blake Bailey has written notable biographies of authors John Cheever and Richard Yates, both difficult and brilliant men. While he was sifting through their lives, he was also reflecting on his own. The Splendid Things We Planned is the resulting portrait, a story of mental illness and addiction and the difficult orbits they force upon the healthy. It’s also a tribute to one family’s best efforts and inevitable failings.
Debbie Stier faced a crisis. The oldest of her two children was approaching college age, and she hadn’t saved for tuition. What’s more, Ethan was, in her words: “a boy who was ‘happy getting B’s’ and had gotten an awful lot of them.” He was neither an honors student nor an extracurricular overachiever.
An epistolary tale told through emails, interoffice memos, legal documents and handwritten notes, The Divorce Papers is a witty and engaging first novel from author Susan Rieger. As is obvious from the title, the book features a divorce at its center. However, Rieger makes it about much more as she covers topics ranging from childhood trauma and fresh romances to office politics and literary theory.
Is there anyone who hasn’t wondered which actions and incidents most gave shape to their lives? In Tessa Hadley’s Clever Girl, Stella is the author of her own life, recounting her story in a series of gracefully drawn but honestly expressed episodes starting in the 1960s and running to the present day.
If you’re very observant and know a little something about the wilder shores of human genetics, then you may be able to figure out the big mystery of Carol Cassella’s new novel by, oh, page 260 or so. Oh yes, the title also gives one a hint as to what’s going on with one of the book’s well-drawn characters. But we should start at the beginning.