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.
There is a strong tradition of Irish writers—William Trevor, Edna O’Brien and Colm Tóibín come immediately to mind—who can turn the everyday details of an ordinary life into art. Add to these ranks Mary Costello, whose deceptively slender first novel, Academy Street, takes in the full measure of one woman’s quietly tragic life in fewer than 200 pages.
Set in upstate New York just after the Civil War, Jeffrey Lent’s latest book is a bit puzzling. To be blunt, it ends just when things are getting really interesting. It’s not that things haven’t been interesting from the beginning: By page three we’ve been witness to a double murder. The murderer’s name is Malcolm Hopeton, and he’s returned from the war only to find that half of his farm has been sold out from under him and his wife is canoodling with his hired man—the type who, in the old days, would have been called a cur. In his fury, Malcolm even injures his hired boy, Harlan Davis, who has witnessed the whole tawdry mess. As for Malcolm, he resigns himself to the gallows. But will he hang, after all?
The Folded Clock, as crafted by novelist Heidi Julavits, is intricate and delicately worked. Time doesn’t flow linearly in this memoir as we might expect. What at first glance appears to be the diary of a writer in her 40s living an enviable life—an apartment in Manhattan, a house in Maine, sabbaticals in Europe—turns into a structure more complex, like an origami crane. Meditations on marriage and friendship appear and reappear. Diary entries might skip six months, or jump back a year. Julavits arranges the raw material of her diary in such a way as to provoke insight across the units of time that we normally experience: the day, the week and the month.
The end of World War II in Europe brought a wide range of reactions, especially in Germany. From concentration camp prisoners to top Nazi officers, from refugees crowding the roads to soldiers eager to see the war finally over, there was a mixture of heartbreak, relief, chaos and disbelief. For German novelist Walter Kempowski, who died in 2007, researching and compiling those responses, through eyewitness accounts, letters and diaries, became a lifelong mission. The result was 10 volumes and a diary of his project’s progress.
“Let’s get one thing straight right from the beginning: I didn’t set out to be a comma queen.” In fact, Mary Norris explored quite a few interesting career paths before finding her calling as a copy editor at The New Yorker. Her work life began at the age of 15, checking feet at a public pool in Cleveland. She went on to drive a milk truck, package mozzarella at a cheese factory, and wash dishes (all the while managing to pursue a graduate degree in English).
It’s 1948, and 11-year-old Tate P. Ellerbee’s teacher wants each of her students to choose a pen pal, hoping that “new worlds will unfold in front of you, and you’ll see your own world through fresh eyes.” Tate decides to write to rising country singer Hank Williams. She pours her heart out to her idol in letter after letter, even though he sends her fan photos but never writes back.
Fans of the award-winning Open This Little Book will be drawn to the exuberant Inside This Book by author-illustrator Barney Saltzberg. It’s a testament to the robust imagination of children, as well as the very notion of self-publishing.
Note to self: Don’t forget to log out of your personal email on a public computer. That’s the lesson 16-year-old Simon Spier learns the hard way after a high school classmate reads his emails to his secret, anonymous boyfriend, Blue. Simon hasn’t come out to his friends or family, and now he feels pressured to keep this fact, as well as the identity of Blue, a secret.
The truth is no one is ever likely to know exactly why two brothers—Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—decided to set off two homemade bombs, on Monday, April 15, 2013, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.