Pity the quiet novel about family life. In an era when novelists are taught to write killer openings and the line between literary and genre fiction is increasingly blurred, it seems as if there’s no room for a contemplative novel that finds drama in quiet moments. Fortunately, such books are still being published, and one of the better examples is The Children’s Crusade, the new novel by Ann Packer (The Dive from Clausen’s Pier).
When she married Prince William back in 2011, Kate Middleton didn’t just capture the heart of a future king—she also ensnared the imaginations of women worldwide. Will and Kate’s royal romance has been meticulously documented by the press and even been the subject of a Lifetime movie. Now it serves as the inspiration for the first adult novel by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, the duo behind the snarky celebrity-fashion blog, Go Fug Yourself, and authors of two young adult novels (Messy and Spoiled).
The story of a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood is familiar to most. However, Shanna Mahin turns this common tale into a simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming story. Oh! You Pretty Things gives readers a glimpse of the destruction that celebrity (and the obsession with it) can cause in day-to-day life. Encompassing humor, wit, irony and sheer sass, this story shows that even in glitzy Hollywood, life can be filled with hardships.
The body of a newborn girl has been found in an idyllic New Jersey town. It’s not the best assignment for a newspaper reporter who so recently delivered a stillborn child, but Molly Sanderson wants to prove to her editor that she can cover hard news. So—despite her husband Justin’s trepidation that covering this story might cause Molly to lapse back into serious depression—she dives in, determined to find out how the child ended up abandoned beneath a bridge.
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).