The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
Doubleday • $26.95 • ISBN 9780385536776
On sale August 13, 2013
Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees is one of our August issue's best debut novels of the year, perfect for fans of Donna Tartt, Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver. Our reviewer was practically beside herself with praise, saying, "Novels like these are reminders not only of why we read, but also of just how vital and downright magical storytelling can be."
But if I'm totally honest, I picked this one up because I wanted to read about people eating magical turtles.
And there are definitely people eating turtles here, but fortunately for me, all the other stuff is true, too. Norton Perina, a scientist who has recently fallen from grace, recounts in these fictional memoirs an extraordinary journey into a remote Micronesian island where the meat of a turtle called the opa'ivu'eke may hold the key to eternal youth—but it comes with a terrible price.
The vivid and grotesque descriptions of setting, the engrossing science and the incredible imagination of this story are all enough to earn this book a spot among the best debuts of the year. What makes it one of the best books of the year, period, is its maturity in characterization. To take a man who has lost everything, who has been cast out from society and who may incite disgust in the reader, and allow him to represent himself in his own words defines Yanagihara as a uniquely talented storyteller. It takes compassion to be without judgment.
Check out our Q&A with Yanagihara and read her guest post about the true story behind her debut novel. Then enjoy this excerpt from The People in the Trees:
Looking back on it now, of course, I realize how extraordinary those first few days were, before I became immune to the awes of the jungle and even grew to despise them. One day—it must have been our third or fourth—I was trudging uphill as usual, looking around me, listening to the conversations of birds and animals and insects, feeling the floor beneath me gently buckling and heaving with unseen layers of worms and beetles as I placed my feet upon them; it could feel like treading on the wet innards of a large dozing beast. And then there was for a moment Uva at my side—he normally walked far ahead of me, in a pack with Fa'a and Tu, darting forward and back to assure Tallent that all was safe—holding his hand out before him, signaling me to stop. Then, quickly and gracefully, he sprang toward a nearby tree, indistinguishable from all others, thick and dark and branchless, and scrabbled up it quickly, turning his wide feet inward to cup its thorny bark. When he was about ten feet or so up, he looked down at me and held out his hand again, palm down—wait. I nodded. And then he continued to climb, vanishing into the canopy of the forest.
When he came down, he was slower, and clutching something in his hand. He leapt down the last five feet or so and came over to me, uncurling his fingers. In his palm was something trembling and silky and the bright, delicious pale gold of apples; in the gloom of the jungle it looked like light itself. Uva nudged the thing with a finger and it turned over, and I could see it was a monkey of some sort, though no monkey I had ever seen before; it was only a few inches larger than one of the mice I had once been tasked with killing, and its face was a wrinkled black heart, its features pinched together but its eyes large and as blankly blue as a blind kitten's. It had tiny, perfectly formed hands, one of which was gripping its tail, which it had wrapped around itself and which was flamboyantly furred, its hair hanging like a fringe.
"Vuaka," said Uva, pointing at the creature.
"Vuaka," I repeated, and reached out to touch it. Under its fur I could feel its heart beating, so fast it was almost a purr.
"Vuaka," said Uva again, and then made as if to eat it, solemnly patting his stomach.
The People in the Trees is one of my favorite debuts of the year, but First Fiction Month has highlighted plenty of other great debuts!
Our Top Pick in Romance for August is Jami Alden's scorching new romantic suspense, Guilty as Sin. Our Romance columnist calls it "a shivery, sensual and sensational read" that finds two former lovers reuniting to find a missing girl—and to heat up the pages.
Kate and Tommy's thrilling story had us begging for more, so we chatted with Alden in a 7 questions interview. Read more about Kate and Tommy, and which scenes Alden believes are the hottest to write:
"For me the hottest scenes are the ones leading up to the first sex scene, including the first kiss. I love when characters are becoming increasingly physically aware of and drawn to each other. It's a great challenge as a writer to find the unique things about each character that the other will be drawn to. Then there's the first contact—the excitement of a first touch, a first kiss. It's something that, once you're in a long-term relationship, you don't ever experience again. It's fun to relive that, even if it's just in my head."
Alafair Burke's new stand-alone thriller, If You Were Here, finds crime reporter McKenna Jordan investigating a mysterious heroine who clearly wants to keep her identity a secret. The unknown woman saved a boy from an oncoming train—and then vanished. However, the woman's face, caught in a brief snippet of video, resembles McKenna's former best friend—and McKenna just can't let a mystery like that go.
Many fans love Burke for her Samantha Kincaid and Ellie Hatcher series, so we wanted to know what makes McKenna Jordan stand out. Burke's answer, plus some fascinating insight into the real world of criminal investigation, can be found in our 7 questions interview:
"McKenna, in contrast, endures more trauma and drama than most people experience in a lifetime, which allows her to make enormous discoveries about herself in one little book. She's also incredibly tenacious, for better or for worse."
Reddish blond hair pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Long-sleeved white sweater, backpack straps looped over both shoulders. Despite the train's lurch, she typed with two hands, stabilizing herself against the bounce with her core strength.
Maybe that should have been a sign.
He stepped one foot into the car, grabbed the phone, and pivoted a one-eighty, like he had 50 times before. He pushed through the clump of angry riders who had followed him into the car and now stood before him, all hoping to secure a few square feet on the crowded train before the doors closed.
Had he known what would happen next, maybe he would have run faster for the staircase.
It wasn't until he hit the top of the landing that he realized he had a problem. Somehow he heard it. Not the sound of the shoes but the sound of surprised bystanders reacting.
What the . . .
You lost your shoe, lady!
Oh my God, David. We have to leave the city.
Nicky sneaked a glance behind him to see the woman kicking off her remaining ballet flat as she took two steps at a time in pursuit. She had looked sort of average middle-aged through the subway doors, but now she had a crazy look of determination on her face. In her eyes. In the energy of her forearms as they whipped back and forth at her sides.
Stay tuned for lots of mystery coverage throughout Private Eye July!
Contemporary romance fans know Susan Mallery's fictional town of Fool's Gold well, and the fun continues with our June Top Pick in Romance, Just One Kiss. For single mom Patience McGraw, Justice Garrett is the one who got away. When he returns, she can't resist allowing him back into her life. Romance columnist Christie Ridgway writes, "An endearing romance and intriguing new characters make Mallery’s latest a must-read."
In a 7 questions interview, we asked Mallery why readers love returning to Fool's Gold with each new romance. Her answer:
"Fool’s Gold is about more than the central romance. It’s about the community. Readers love to see who has gotten married, who’s pregnant, who has babies. (Not to mention, they love to see what the septuagenarian troublemakers Eddie and Gladys have been up to!) The Fool’s Gold romances allow readers to see what happens after the happily ever after."
Fifteen years ago...
Patience McGraw couldn't breathe. She placed her hand on top of her chest and wondered if it was possible to have a heart attack and die from fear. Or maybe anticipation. Her mind raced and her throat was tight and here she was on possibly the most significant day of her life and she couldn't catch her breath. Talk about lame.
"The snow's melting," Justice said, pointing toward the mountains just east of town.
She looked up and nodded. "It's getting warmer."
It's getting warmer? She held in a groan. Why did she have to sound so stupid? Why did she have to be so nervous? This was Justice, her best friend since he'd moved to Fool's Gold at the beginning of October last year. They'd met in the school cafeteria and they'd reached for the last cupcake. He'd let her have it, she'd offered to share. She'd figured because he was older, he would have refused, but he'd smiled instead and that day they'd become friend.
She knew him. They hung out together, played video games together, went to the movies together. It was fun. It was easy. Or it had been until a few weeks ago when she'd suddenly looked into Justice's dark blue eyes and felt something she'd never experienced before.
Her mom had reassured her it was normal. Patience was fourteen, Justice was sixteen and it was unlikely they would stay friends forever. But Patience wasn't sure she liked the change. Before, she hadn't had to think about everything she said or worry about what she wore, or how her hair looked. Now she was always thinking, which made it hard to just hang out.
After two months of sweating every word, every thought, every action, she was done. She was going to tell Justice the truth. That she liked him. That she wanted him to be more than her best friend. If he liked her back, well, she didn't know what would happen then, but she was sure it would be wonderful. If he didn't, she would probably die of a broken heart.
With his debut novel, Hour of the Red God, Richard Crompton introduces a new, wholly unique mystery hero to the scene: a Maasai cop, Detective Mollel. Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney calls Mollel "outwardly ritually scarred, inwardly emotionally scarred and always a bit at odds with fellow cops (especially the higher-ups) and his own family."
In Little Mombasa in Nairobi, the mutilated body of a Maasai woman has been found. Detective Mollel knows this is more than just a dead prostitute, so set against the backdrop of Kenya’s turbulent 2007 presidential elections, he seeks the truth.
We chatted with debut author Crompton about the gritty Nairobi setting and his warrior protagonist in a 7 questions interview.
Read on for an excerpt from the first chapter of Hour of the Red God (via):
Mollel is vaguely aware of a display of bicycles inside, but he is watching the reflection suspended upon the glass. A group of teenage girls, all gossip and gum, mobile phones wafting like fans, handbags slung over shoulders like bandoliers. And from the shadows, other eyes—hungry now—emerging. Watching without watching, getting closer without moving in, the men nonchalant yet purposeful, disparate yet unified, circling their prey: hunting dogs.
—Go inside the shop, Mollel tells Adam. Stay there till I come back for you.
—Can I choose a bike, Dad? Really?
—Just stay there, says Mollel, and he pushes the boy through the store’s open door. He turns: it’s happened already. The group of men are melting away: the girls are still oblivious to what has just taken place. He clocks one of the guys walking swiftly from the scene, stuffing a gold vinyl clutch bag—so not his style—under his shirt.
Mollel takes off, matching the hunting dog’s pace but keeping his distance, eager not to spook him. No point in letting him bolt into a back street now. Pace up a beat, narrow the gap. Quit Biashara Street. Cross Muindi Mbingu. Weave through traffic—ignore the car horns. Busier here.
The hunting dog is in his late teens or early twenties, judges Mollel. Athletic. His shirt has the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, not to expose his well-developed arms, but to ease its removal. The buttons at the front will be fake, Mollel knows, replaced with a strip of Velcro or poppers to confound any attempt to grab the bag-snatcher’s collar, leaving the pursuer holding nothing more than a raggedy shirt like a slipped snake skin.
While he weighs his strategy—a dive to the legs rather than a clutch at the torso—Mollel realises the thief is heading for the City Market. Got to close the gap now. Lose him in there, he’s gone for good.
Taking up an entire city block, and with more ways in and out than a hyrax burrow, on a day like this the market’s dark interior is thronged with shoppers escaping the sun. Mollel considers yelling Stop, Mwezi! or Police!—but calculates this would lose him precious time. The thief leaps up the steps and deftly vaults a pile of fish guts, pauses a moment to look back—showing, Mollel thinks, signs of tiring—and dives into the dark interior. Mollel’s gaunt frame is just a few seconds behind, heart pounding, gulping lungfuls of air with relish, even as his stomach rebels at the powerful reek of fish. He hasn’t done this for a while. And he is enjoying it.
It takes his eyes a moment to adjust. At first all he can see are tall windows high overhead, shafts of light like columns. Noise fills in what eyes cannot see: the hubbub of negotiation and exchange, the squawking of chickens, the multitudinous laughter and chatter and
singing and hustle and bustle of life.
And amongst that hustle and bustle—a bustle, a hustle, that should not be there. He sees it now, as well as hears it, just a few stalls ahead. Figures tumbling, voices raised in protest.
Through a gap in the crowd, Mollel sees the thief. He’s scattering people and produce behind him in an attempt to obstruct his pursuer. No point going down that aisle. He looks left and right, plumps for right, rounds a stall and starts to run down a parallel row. Although he’s keeping up with his prey, Mollel’s not going to catch him this way. Ahead, he sees sacks of millet stacked loosely against one of the stalls. It’s his chance. He bounds up, one, two, and is atop the stall, balancing on the boards which bound the millet.
A howl of protest rises from the woman behind the stall, swiping at his legs with her scoop. —Get down from there! But he is already gone, leaping to the next stall, hoping the rickety wood will take his weight—it does—and run, leap, again—it does.
A better view from here, and clearer run—despite the efforts of stallholders to push him, grab him, drag him to earth. He rises above the hands, above the stalls, intent only on the pursuit.
The fresh, clean smell of peppers and onions cuts through the dusty dryness of millet. Easier to negotiate. He bounds across the stacked vegetables, skipping, skimming, recalling chasing goats across mountain scree when he was a child. Momentum is everything. Each footstep expects you to fall: cheat it. Be gone.
Outraged yells fill his ears but he feels like the great hall has fallen silent: there is no-one in it but him and the fleeing man. Distance between them measured in heartbeats: arm’s reach; finger’s grasp.
And then he is out of the door.
Mollel suddenly finds himself standing on the final stall, surrounded by furious faces. They barrack him and block him; hands reach for his ankles. He sees the back of the thief’s head about to melt into the crowd outside the market. He sweeps his arm down; feels hair and hardness—coconuts—beneath his feet. Another goat-herding trick: if the animal is out of reach, throw something at it.
The coconut is out of his hand before he even thinks about it. It describes a shallow parabola, over the heads of the stallholders, through the square, bright doorway. He even hears the crack, and relaxes. He has time now to produce his card and clear the way to the
doorway, where a circle has formed.
The crowd is now eager, anticipatory. The rear doorway of the city market is inhabited by butchers’ stalls, and the metallic smell of blood is in the air.
They part before him, and Mollel steps into the ring. The thief is on his knees, gold handbag dropped to the ground, one hand dazedly rubbing the back of his head. The smashed coconut has already been snatched by a pair of children, front of the circle, who suck on the sweet flesh and grin at Mollel. Free food and a floorshow. What more
could you want?
—You’re coming with me, says Mollel. The thief does not respond. But he staggers groggily to his feet.
—I said, says Mollel, you’re coming with me. He steps forward and takes the thief by his upper arm. It is wider than Mollel can grasp and as hard as rock. He hopes the guy’s going to remain concussed long enough to drag him downtown. If only he had cuffs—
—and then the arm wheels away from his, Mollel just having time to step back to take a little force out of the blow which lands on the side of his head. No concussion—the faintness feigned—the thief now alert and springing on his heels. A lunge—missed—at Mollel. The crowd cheers. He is strong but top-heavy, this fighter, and the policeman
judges that a swift shoulder-ram would push him once more to the ground. Mollel seizes his chance, head down, body thrown at his opponent’s chest, but he misjudges the timing, and the thief parries him easily. Mollel feels a sharp, agonising pain in his head—everywhere—stabbing and yanking, the pain of capture, and of submission.
His opponent laughs, and a roar of approval comes from the crowd. No partisans, these. Mollel feels his head jerked from side to side, up and down. There is nothing he can do.
—I have you now, Maasai, laughs the thief.
He has put his thumbs through Mollel’s earlobes.
Finland’s best-selling international crime writer isn't actually Finnish. While he has lived in Finland for 15 years, James Thompson is actually a Kentucky native—but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a Nordic noir favorite.
The newest book in his Inspector Vaara series is Helsinki Blood (featured in our April Whodunit column). When an Estonian woman finds down-and-out Vaara and tells him that her daughter with Down syndrome has gone missing and is perhaps now in the clutches of sex slavers, he sees it as a chance for redemption.
Helsinki Blood is actually the final book in a trilogy (including Lucifer's Tears and Helsinki White) set within the Inspector Vaara series. So while this book is the finale of a storyline, fans have plenty more Vaara books to look forward to.
Check out our 7 questions interview with James Thompson, who shared insight into dark, gritty thrillers:
"Dark stories are for those who want to re-examine the world and themselves, to hold up a mirror to the world and themselves and ask themselves what they see. For those who want to question the truth of themselves and the world around them."
July eleventh. A hot summer Sunday. All I want is some goddamned peace and quiet. Now my house is under siege, I have an infant to both care for and protect, and I’m forced to do the last thing I wanted to do: call Sweetness and Milo, my colleagues and subordinates, or accomplices—the definition of their role in my life depends on one’s worldview—and ask them for help.
I’m shot to pieces. Bullets to my knee and jaw—places I’ve been shot before—have left me a wreck. Only cortisone shots and dope for pain enable me to get around with a cane, speak and eat without wanting to scream. I’m still recovering from a brain tumor removal six months ago. The operation was a success but had a serious side effect that left me flat, emotionless.
My feelings are returning as the empty space where once a tumor existed fills in with new tissue, but I only feel love for my wife and child, and intermittent like for one or two others. My normal state and reaction toward others is now irritability. My wife, Kate, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has run away from home, out of control of her own emotions, and abandoned me.
These combined problems, any one of which would drive a person to distraction under the best of circumstances, cloud my judgment and affect my behavior. My judgment and behavior were already clouded. I feel so certain it will all end badly that it seems more a portent than an emotion. Auguries and omens of catastrophe seem all around me, just out of sight, but every time I turn to face them, they disappear like apparitions.
Have you checked out James Thompson's Inspector Vaara series?
Each month, our Book Clubs column highlights three excellent paperback books that would make ideal fodder for provocative book club discussions. Our April 2013 Book Clubs column is particularly fruitful, as three of our favorite books from 2012 are now out in paperback: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.
We found this story of profound loss and the healing power of a brutal long-distance hike to be painfully funny and honest. We caught up with Strayed to see how the immense success of her harrowing, best-selling memoir is treating her. Read our Q&A with Strayed here.
One of the few criticisms we've heard from readers about Wild is irritation for how utterly unprepared she was for her 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Coast Trail. These readers are often avid hikers themselves, and this drives them a little crazy. So of course, we asked Strayed what she would like to say to those readers. Here's a little of her response:
"Wouldn’t life be miserable if we never learned anything the hard way? Were none of these infuriated readers ever young?
I think the world would be a rather sad place if we only did things we were entirely prepared for. All the best things I’ve ever done were things I learned how to do along the way. Becoming a parent is a prime example. Most parents have very little idea about what to do with a baby before the baby’s in hand. You learn fast."
M.L. Stedman's debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, was #10 on BookPage's Best Books of 2012 list and #2 on the Readers' Choice: Best Books of 2012 list. On an island off the coast of Australia, a couple discovers a boat washed up on shore. Inside, they find a dead man and a living baby. The moral questions posed in this stunning debut are perfect for book club discussions.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is our April Top Pick for Book Clubs, was #3 on BookPage's Best Books of 2012 list and #19 on the Readers' Choice: Best Books of 2012 list. Unraveling the mystery of a mother's disappearance through a wonderfully original narrative will make this one a fun read for any reading group.
Will your book club add one of these 2012 favorites to their list? Which will make for the best discussion?
Looking for a great new thriller series? Lachlan Smith's debut thriller Bear Is Broken was one of our Top 10 books for February! (Don't know what I'm talking about? Sign up here for our Top 10 e-newsletter to receive a list of the 10 notable books for each month, all recommended by the editors of BookPage!)
In Bear Is Broken, young San Francisco attorney Lee Maxwell must track down the man who shot his older brother Teddy, an attorney with some questionable ethics. Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney calls Maxwell "a good egg," as he seems pretty far out of his element but nevertheless determined to see his first case through.
Author Lachlan Smith is a practicing attorney with a promising writing career ahead of him, and his debut belongs next to other masters such as Grisham and Turow. We chatted with Smith in a 7 questions interview, where he may have earned some sort of award for the most efficient use of a single sentence to describe his book. Read it here.
Will you check this one out? Have you discovered any new thriller series lately?
Mary Burton's new romantic suspense The Seventh Victim is our Top Pick in Romance for February! Romance columnist Christie Ridgway promises it "will keep readers up all night."
Lara Church was the only surviving victim of a Seattle serial killer. Now, the killer is back, and it looks like he's found her in Texas—and Texas Ranger James Beck is determined to keep her safe. If you love books that turn up the sexual tension with plenty of danger, this one's for you.
Read our 7 questions interview with Burton, where we talked about the romantic suspense genre, sexy scenes, her career and more.
Also, read on for an excerpt from The Seventh Victim, when Lara Church and Texas Ranger James Beck meet for the first time (read more here):
In the distance he heard a dog bark. Judging by the animal’s deep timbre, it was big and running in Beck’s direction. Absently, he moved his hand to the gun on his hip. Nice places like this could turn nasty or even deadly in the blink of an eye.
The dog’s barking grew louder. Tightening his hand on the gun’s grip, he scanned the wooded area around the cabin until his gaze settled on a path that cut into the woods. In a flash, a large black and tan shepherd emerged from the woods, its hair standing on end. The animal glared at Beck, barking and growling. The animal was a beauty, but he’d shoot if it attacked.
Seconds later a woman emerged from the woods. She carried a shotgun in her hands and the instant she saw Beck she raised the barrel.
Beck didn’t hesitate. He drew his gun and pointed it directly at the women. “Texas Ranger. Drop the gun now!”
The woman stared at him, her gaze a blend of surprise and wariness.
“Put. The. Gun. Down.” Each word was sharpened to a fine point.
She lowered the tip of the barrel a fraction but didn’t release the gun. “How do I know you’re a Texas Ranger?”
The Texas Ranger uniform was easily recognizable to anyone who’d been in Texas more than five minutes. But that discussion came after she released the weapon. “Put the gun down, now.” He all but shouted the command over the dog’s barking. “Now!”
Carefully, she laid the barrel down and took a step back as if she was ready to bolt into the woods. The dog bared its teeth, but she made no move to calm the animal. She might have surrendered the gun, but the dog remained a threat.
He braced his feet. “If your dog lunges at me, I will shoot him.”
Her gaze flickered quickly between the dog and his gun. She understood he’d meant it. “Okay.” She looped her fingers through the dog’s collar and ordered him to heel close at her side.
“You and the dog step back.”
“Do it!” He glanced at the shotgun, knowing he’d not breathe a sigh of relief until he had it in hand.
“I am not turning around.” Her raspy voice stutter- stepped with panic. “I want to see your badge.”
He studied her. If this was Lara Church and she’d survived the Strangler, fear would be a logical response. “Step away from the gun.”
She drew in a breath and moved back with the dog. He picked up the shotgun and holstered his gun. Slowly, he pulled his badge from his breast pocket and held it up to her.
“Sergeant James Beck,” he said.
He opened the break-action shotgun and found two shells in the double-barreled chamber. The safety was off. He removed the shells. “You always greet people with a shotgun?” He glanced from her to the growling dog.
“When I’m alone, yes. And it is registered, and I am on my land, so I’m well within my rights to carry a weapon.”
As he held her rifle, he glared at her and the barking shepherd. “You know how to shoot it?”
Blue eyes held his. “I sure do.”
Will you check this one out?
The January Top Pick in Romance is the newest in Jayne Ann Krentz's Dark Legacy series, the "imaginative and exciting" psychic romance Dream Eyes.
This sizzling paranormal adventure stars psychic counselor Gwen Frazier, who heads to a small town in Oregon when her slain mentor starts communicating. Psychic investigator Judson Coppersmith joins to help, and sparks fly.
We chatted with author Krentz in a 7 questions interview about favorite scenes, writing and psychic powers. We love her spunk, but maybe she could put her hypothetical psychic powers to better use. . . .
Are you a Krentz fan? She also writes under the names Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle. Do you have a favorite?