Miles J. Unger’s magisterial new biography, Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces, tells its subject’s life story through the lens of his art—appropriately so, given Michelangelo’s willful transmutation of the role of the Renaissance artist. When Michelangelo began his apprenticeship, artists were seen as little more than craftsmen, churning out statuary and paintings to decorate the villas and churches of the wealthy nobility. Michelangelo’s greatest achievement—in Unger’s portrayal—is not to be found in his artwork (the statue of David or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) but rather in his creation of the artist himself as secular genius.
Australian author Liane Moriarty portrays elementary school drama in her latest page-turner, Big Little Lies, which comes on the heels of her first U.S. bestseller, The Husband’s Secret. At Pirriwee Public School, petty jealousies and rumors all come to the surface in one “perfect storm”—otherwise known as the annual trivia night.
If we choose, we can avoid most forms of art. Architecture is not one of them. It is all around us. In his wide-ranging and stimulating new book, Bricks and Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made, Tom Wilkinson explores many of the aspects—morality, power, economics, psychology, politics and sex are some—that help us better understand how architecture “shapes people’s lives and vice versa,” from ancient times to the present. His diverse selection of buildings includes Nero’s Golden House in Rome and the Festival Theatre in Beyreuth, as well as the Finsbury Health Centre in London and the Footbridge in Rio de Janeiro. Ten buildings are covered in detail, serving as springboards to discussions of related subjects.
There are several ways to know whether you’ve got a really fine novel on your hands, and you can tell pretty quickly that Dry Bones in the Valley is a debut of that caliber.
First, author Tom Bouman knows his rural Pennsylvania setting and is familiar with its smallest details, from inhabitants’ accents and manners to their dilapidated trailer homes, and from animal tracks in the woods to the winds and the night sky.
It’s been quite a run lately for Civil War-era African Americans. Not only was Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, adapted into a triple Academy Award winner (including Best Picture), but now author Jeffery Renard Allen has resurrected the career—if perhaps not quite the true life story—of Thomas Greene Wiggins, also known as Blind Tom, in his second novel, Song of the Shank. Wiggins was perhaps the most unlikely of stars ever thrust on the international stage; sightless, probably autistic, heavyset (though somewhat handsome in a rough-hewn way) and, for the first 16 years of his life, a slave.
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.
Judith Frank’s second novel is a powerful tale of a family working its way through unthinkable tragedy. It opens as Matt Greene and his partner, Daniel Rosen, are flying to Tel Aviv—Daniel’s twin brother and his wife have just been killed by a suicide bomber. Ilana and Joel left behind two small children, 6-year-old Gall and baby Noam. A devastated Daniel knows that his brother and sister-in-law wanted Matt and Daniel to raise the children if anything ever happened to them.
At first glance, Ove looks like a Grumpy Old Man with a Saab—a typical curmudgeon, not the type whose depths one is tempted to plumb. In fact, unless you like being scowled at, scolded, insulted and having doors slammed in your face, you might just decide to avoid him altogether. He wouldn’t mind; the only person he wants to see is his wife, who died six months ago.
“There are often two conversations going on in a marriage,” short-story writer Robin Black claims in her debut novel, Life Drawing. “The one that you’re having and the one that you’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know when that second, silent one has begun.” One could suggest that there are two conversations going on in this quiet, yet exquisitely crafted novel: the conversation between Augusta (Gus) and her husband Owen, and the conversation they’re not having, about Gus having cheated on him.
If you've ever wondered whether modern art is trash disguised by critical theory or whether critical theory is trashy modern art, Will Chancellor's debut novel, A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, may settle the wager. It is a spirited sendup of the frauds found in art, academia and their "liminal" intersections.