Wilton Barnhardt knows of which he writes. In his fourth novel, Lookaway, Lookaway, the native of Winston-Salem and current professor at North Carolina State University delves into Southern high society, peering beyond the serene surface of propriety and exposing the down-and-dirty truths (and secrets!) that lurk underneath. His portrait of the Johnstons—and all of their trials and tribulations—is biting and hilarious. (Read our What We're Reading post about the book here.)

We were curious about which books Barnhardt has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him. Here are his three recommendations:

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By James Salter

What prompted you to read it?
It’s James Salter. What is he? Eighty-seven, I think—and this is the first novel in 30-some years. As with Alice Munro, I would read the shopping list of this master of English prose.

Why do you recommend it?
Of course, it has supremely drawn characters, which you’d expect. It is a textbook of narrative momentum. The opposing energies of precise detail then summary, extraneous episode then essential plot point, telling with no showing, showing with no telling. . . . It carries the reader along with assurance and aplomb. Reviewers said it was largely a roman à clef, which I admit adds a bit to the interest. But my main attraction was the glorious, inimitable James Salter prose!

By Karen Joy Fowler

What prompted you to read it?
There was such a New York Times rave; plus, Andrea Barrett blurbed it (I am dying to get her new story collection Archangel, too, by the way).  Finally, my publisher, St. Martin’s contacted Fowler, and she was nice enough to provide Lookaway, Lookaway a blurb, so I was eager to see her new book.  I adored her first novel, Sarah Canary.

Why do you recommend it?
It’s simply one of the best, most moving, important, humane books I’ve read in years. There are not many original family sagas left to tell, but, by God, Fowler has thought of a new one. (I suspect there are many nonfiction models for accounts of family life where some Skinner-like research experiment has played out, seemingly harmless and engrossing at the time but with later dire consequences, but there is no fiction I have ever heard of with Fowler’s particular subject.) I won’t say much more about it—it is full of surprises which I have no intention of spoiling. The narrator is winning, funny, wry, which doesn’t quite prepare you for the heartbreak and profound sadness ahead.

By Edmund White

What prompted you to read it?
David Ebershof, a writer who I very much admire, wrote that it may be White’s best novel (and White has written so prolifically!), so I thought it was time to check in with E.W. again.

Why do you recommend it?
White is another master of felicitous prose, particularly when describing the Jamesean intricacies of human relations—and, yes, he can write sex better than most, and gay sex better than anyone! White, for my money, has been too melancholy in some of his books and his trademark moroseness is here, too (with good reason: existential New York miasma, AIDS, literary failures), but the spark of love and friendship between the gay hero and his straight friend, in the end, suggests hope and is a life raft to cling to. And White’s narrative legerdemain arrives once a paragraph, page after page, description after gorgeous description—spiced up, as well, by some of his wittiest dialogue.

What say you, readers? Will you be checking out Lookaway, Lookaway or Bernhardt’s suggestions?

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