The end of the world might seem like an odd time to care about music and art; why worry about Shakespeare when civilization has collapsed? But in Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, it seems perfectly plausible that a Traveling Symphony would cross the wasteland that exists 20 years after most of the world’s population has died from a flu epidemic.
Displaying the economical style of his novels Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach, in his 13th novel best-selling author Ian McEwan upends the life of a respected judge with two crises—one personal, one professional—to create a penetrating character study.
Michael Pitre’s unforgettable debut, while not a memoir, is just as brutally honest as one in its depiction of the Iraq War, to which the author was twice deployed before leaving the Marine Corps in 2010. Pitre’s harrowing story centers on three men: two ex-Marines now forging new lives back in the States, and an Iraqi who served as their interpreter and is now trying to gain asylum in this country.
A notable tourist attraction in Thailand is the bridge “over the River Kwai”—part of the Death Railway built during World War II by the Japanese using the labor of Allied POWs under atrocious conditions. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Australian Richard Flanagan, follows the Australian contributors to this grandiose project, as well as its Japanese administrators, many of whom were destined to become prisoners themselves.
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.
The lives of twin siblings are often deeply intertwined—first physically, and later emotionally, mentally and spiritually—and Josh Weil’s The Great Glass Sea explores the tender, yet tenuous, relationship between Russian twin brothers Yarik and Dima. Though they have been inseparable since childhood, life with the Oranzheria, a sea of glass stretching over a section of the country to make the largest greenhouse in the world, is slowly pushing them apart.
Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-Year House is an appealing mixture: part archival mystery, part ghost story, part historical novel, starring a house with as much personality as Manderley or Hill House. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place.
If the dystopian coming-of-age novel has been the inspiration for many a Hollywood blockbuster in recent years, the increasingly ubiquitous genre more closely resembles literary fiction in critically acclaimed author Chris Bohjalian’s Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.
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.
In Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, McSweeney’s founder (and 2012 National Book Award finalist for A Hologram for the King) Dave Eggers breaks out of the blocks at record-setting pace, depositing the reader, his protagonist and a captive astronaut in an abandoned building without even so much as a how-de-do.