It’s easy to forget that by the time he was 41, F. Scott Fitzgerald was washed up. His books were out of print, magazines weren’t interested in his stories and his monthly royalties were down to pocket change. In 1937, he went to Hollywood, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays, barely staying one step ahead of his creditors. It is these lean years that Stewart O’Nan examines in his brilliant biographical novel West of Sunset.
If the mark of a great author is not merely how much she incites the imaginations of readers but the extent to which she inspires fellow writers, then there can be no doubt that Jane Austen is the greatest author of them all. Just when you think the market for Austen spinoffs has reached capacity, a new book comes onto the scene that turns the genre on its head. Such is the case with First Impressions, Charlie Lovett’s delightful new novel.
“Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, we’ve all been there.” So says war correspondent Michael Herr on the persistent reality of a war curiously prone to re-examination. In The Lotus and the Storm, by Vietnamese-American author Lan Cao, this revisiting takes the form of a dialogue of sorts between a daughter and a father, lotuses swept to America’s shores by the storm of the American intervention.
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.
S.E. Grove’s debut novel is set in 1890s Boston, a place that anyone who has read history or historical fiction set in that era will recognize—or will they? This world shares geography with our own, but thanks to the Great Disruption, which happened almost a century earlier, the Earth’s regions became unmoored from time. Although New Occident (where Boston is located) lies firmly in the 19th century, other countries are in the Dark Ages, prehistory or even the future.
“Is it time?” asks Little Blue, who can’t wait to start the blue whales’ summer migration to their feeding ground. In this companion to Meet Me at the Moon, Gianna Marino’s tale of a mother elephant and her child, fathers now have their day.
Author Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won awards for her short fiction from the Chicago Tribune and Atlantic Monthly, among others. Her outstanding debut novel, Steal the North, is almost guaranteed to add to Bergstrom’s award collection. Narrated from multiple perspectives, the novel is a heartbreaking tale of family secrets, unrequited love and the unbreakable bond of family.
Twelve-year-old Kester Jaynes is locked up in a “school” for troubled children that is more like a jail with solitary lock-up and nothing but goop to eat. He’s been there for six years, living in drudgery, until one night when a flock of pigeons and a gathering of cockroaches insist he break out to save the last bit of wild.
Twenty years after he recorded “The Letter” at the age of 16—a song that became a mega-hit for the Memphis-based Box Tops—Alex Chilton mused: “I guess my life has been a series of flukes in the record business. The first thing I ever did was the biggest record I’ll ever have." Alex Chilton’s powerful musical legacy shaped bands as diverse as R.E.M. and the dB’s, yet his remarkable life story has never been the subject of a biography—until now. In A Man Called Destruction, music critic Holly George-Warren (The Road to Woodstock) vividly narrates Chilton’s rise to early fame.
Jean Zimmerman’s new novel, Savage Girl, is the ideal historical fiction narrative: The history is accurate, and the story nicely fits into the facts.
The novel opens with Hugo Delegate, son of an outrageously wealthy captain of industry, found next to the mutilated body of one of his friends. Because he can’t, or perhaps, will not, explain why he was found at such a gruesome scene, he is taken into custody and asked to tell his side of the story.