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?
Halfway through Rachel Basch’s third novel, The Listener, the reader gets the feeling that the title is ironic. Malcolm Dowd is a psychotherapist at the college in his town. His job is to listen; no doubt his skill at listening has saved the sanity or even the lives of the sad people who unburden themselves in his office. But when it comes to his own loved ones, Malcolm Dowd is about as deaf as a stump.
It’s a glad thing when a reader encounters a character so compelling that you want to punch him in the nose. Such abhorrence—it’s not really hatred—can be as pleasurable in its own way as love. Such is the aggravation caused by Jonas Karlsson’s weird, insufferably arrogant, not quite neuro-normal protagonist in the crisp, novella-length book The Room.
Tim Johnston’s latest novel has an unusual take on the parent’s-worst-nightmare scenario of child abduction. He doesn’t focus so much on the abductee, Caitlin Courtland, but instead on what Caitlin’s disappearance does to the men in her life.
British-born Maud Heighton, the protagonist of Imogen Robertson’s latest page-turner, The Paris Winter, couldn’t have picked a worse time to come study painting at Academie Lafond. It’s the winter of 1909-1910, when the Seine overflowed its banks, flooding people out of their homes and sucking away the very ground beneath their feet.
Stephen King is really good at acknowledging the human grief that underlies so much horror, and how that grief can twist a person into something monstrous—Pet Sematary, anyone? This is one of the themes of his new hair-raiser, Revival.
The first thing you may think when reading the opening pages of Stephen L. Carter’s engrossing Back Channel is, “What in the devil is going on here?” It’s 1962 and we’re at the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy is in a townhouse with a 19-year-old African-American girl, but not for the reason you think. It seems that this young lady is the key to stopping the world from becoming a glowing, radioactive ember in the darkness of space. You can’t be blamed if your first reaction is bemusement.
Let’s not mince words: George and Irene are weirdos. George is a teacher of astronomy who has visions of ancient gods and goddesses. Irene is an astrophysicist who discovers tiny, purple black holes and doesn’t believe in love or anything else that can’t be measured with very precise instruments. George, on the other hand, longs for love like a consumptive Victorian heroine. They’re both from Toledo and, according to the powers that be, are supposed to end up together. The question Lydia Netzer’s second novel asks is ‘How?’
Someone is setting fire to the houses of Pomeroy, New Hampshire, in Sue Miller’s latest novel, but that’s beside the point. The important thing is that Francesca “Frankie” Rowley has returned from a long sojourn in Africa as an aid worker and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Besides, the thing that lights her fire is Bud Jacobs, the local newspaper editor whose life is just as up in the air as hers is. The two launch a passionate affair even as everyone else’s summer home is being torched.
Literature is replete with unreliable narrators, but you’ve never encountered an unreliable narrator like the one in Emma Healey’s mournful and luminous debut novel, Elizabeth Is Missing. Maud Horsham isn’t remotely evil. She’s not pathologically dishonest, nor does she have some deep, dark secret to hide. Her unreliability comes simply from the fact that she’s elderly and her memory is failing fast. On top of this, she’s absolutely sure that her friend Elizabeth is missing.