The Son by Philipp Meyer
Ecco • $27.99 • ISBN 9780062120397
On sale May 28, 2013
Philipp Meyer made his fiction debut with a bang: His very first novel, American Rust, was one of the most talked-about literary releases of 2009, earning him a place on The New Yorker‘s Best 20 Writers Under 40 list. In 2011, he sold his second novel to Ecco in a hotly contested auction—and now, that book is about to hit shelves.
Though the Texas setting could hardly be further from the Pennsylvania mining milieu of American Rust, in The Son Meyer continues his exploration of the costs of survival and the weight of tragedy, while portraying a vivid slice of American history.
Told through the stories of three generations of the McCullough family—Eli, who survived and even thrived as a Comanche captive in the 1850s and went on to become a Texas Ranger; Pete, his son, who raised cattle and entered the oil rush of the 1910s; and Jeanne, Eli's granddaughter, who took her place in a man's world and solidified the family's fortunes by investing in pipelines in the 1940s and '50s—The Son is full of compelling characters, vivid imagery and murky morals. Whether it is possible to survive, much less succeed, on the Texas frontier without that last item is one of Meyer's themes. Can violence bring men together as much as pull them apart? Is there something unifying in a cycle of destruction? Here, Eli muses on the Western mentality:
With the exception of Nuukaru and Escuté, I had no doubts about my loyalties. Which were in the following order: to any other Ranger, and then to myself. Toshaway had been right: you had to love others more than you loved your own body, otherwise you would be destroyed, whether from the inside or out, it didn't matter. You could butcher and pillage but as long as you did it to protect people you loved, it never mattered. You did not see any Comanches with the long stare—there was nothing they did that was not to protect their friends, or their families, or their band. The war sickness was a disease of the white man, who fought in armies far from his home, for men he didn't know, and there is a myth about the West, that it was founded and ruled by loners, while the truth is just the opposite; the loner is a mental weakling, and was seen as such, and treated with suspicion.
What are you reading this week?
The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann
Ecco • $25.99 • ISBN 9780061995347
Published October 23, 2012
If you love historical fiction with settings that are out of the common way, read on. Karen Engelmann's entertaining debut is set in 18th-century Sweden, a country at the height of its political and military power—although King Gustave III, like all monarchs of the time, is keeping a close eye on revolution-era France.
Up-and-coming young merchant Emil Larsson finds himself entangled in his country's fate after a stop at the local gaming establishment. The proprietress, Mrs. Sparrow, has had a vision that predicts his involvement in a pivotal event involving the monarch, and asks to deal his "Octavo," a divination card game she has invented. The basics are explained by Emil early in the book, as he recalls his first visit to Mrs. Sparrow's exclusive establishment:
Mrs. Sparrow held her breath and traced one line on my palm with a long slender finger. Her hands were cool and soft, and they seemed to float above and at the same time cradle mine. All I could think at the moment was that she would excel as a pickpocket, but she was not about folderol—I checked my pockets later—and her gaze was warm and calm. "Mr. Larsson, you were born to the cards, and it is here in my rooms you will play them to your best advantage. I think we have many games ahead." The warmth of that triumph traveled top to toe, and I remember lifting her hands to my lips to seal our connection with a kiss.
That night of cards began two years of exceeding good fortune at the tables, and in time led me to the Octavo—a form of divination unique to Mrs. Sparrow. It required a spread of eight cards from an old and mysterious deck distinct from any I had seen before. Unlike the vague meanderings of the market square gypsies, her exacting method was inspired by her visions and revealed eight people that would bring about the event her vision conveyed, an event that would shepherd a transformation, a rebirth for the seeker. Of course, rebirth implies a death, but that was never mentioned when the cards were laid.
What are you reading this week?
Related in BookPage: check out our review of The Stockholm Octavo and a Q&A with Karen Engelmann.
I'm feeling a teeny bit guilty for blogging so much about 2012 releases lately. But Ron Rash is a real in-house favorite here at BookPage, so when we heard that he was publishing a new book with Ecco in April, we had to spread the news.
The Cove, Ecco's lead title for spring, "captures the wondrous beauty of nature and love and the darkness of superstition and fear in this atmospheric and exquisitely rendered novel set in Appalachia during World War I." (Another for my WWI list!) The catalog also promises that it is "as mesmerizing as the brilliant Serena," which is saying something—if you like memorable heroines, 2008's Serena is a novel that is not to be missed. As reviewer Kristy Kiernan put it in BookPage, Serena "has all the markings of a career-making novel, and should firmly establish poet and novelist Rash as a literary star."
The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
Ecco • $22.99 • 9780061996054
The story begins when 16-year-old Nora Lindell goes missing on Halloween, and a group of suburban boys spend their lives speculating on what happened. The narrative jumps from one possibility to the next, and though the plot does not have a traditional beginning, middle and end, Pittard's writing will nonetheless keep you hooked, and she is skilled at evoking the mood surrounding a tragedy.
The Fates Will Find Their Way is told in a first-person plural voice, a collective viewpoint that I most strongly associate with Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End, although in this case The Virgin Suicides is a more apt comparison. (I will admit that I only saw the movie.) In Ferris' novel, though, it felt like the "we" in each scene was always connected with a specific character, and in Pittard's book it's much more of a hovering voice.
Here's an excerpt from an early scene:
As our curfew drew nearer, the stories became more lurid, more adult, more sinister, and somehow more believable. Sarah Jeffreys—who'd abandoned the girls that night in favor of our company, perhaps for the protection of boys and would-be men, though perhaps merely to avoid the clingy sadness of the girls, their willowy voices, their insistence that It could have been me!—said she drove Nora Lindell to the abortion clinic in Forest Hollow the day before Halloween, which seemed to lend credence to Trey Stephens' claim that he'd had sex with her the month before. Sarah had been sworn to secrecy, which is why she said she would never tell Nora's father. She—Nora—had taken the pregnancy test at school, while Sarah waited one stall over. Sarah said someone had left the window open in the girls' bathroom in the gymnasium and that Nora had complained that it was too cold to pee. Details like this we found convincing. A detail we didn't find convincing was that we'd never seen Sarah and Nora together before. We pointed this out. "Anyway," said Sara. "Three hours after I dropped Nora off, I picked her up. She was standing right where I'd left her. We drove back to town together."
What are you reading today?