It starts with one teenage girl—the severe tics, the twitching. Then it spreads to another, then another, then another. Is it a virus? Anxiety? Are the girls faking it? Soon, a dozen or more girls are twitching, and mass hysteria has an entire town in a panic.
I could be talking about the notorious Salem Witch Trials, the girls in LeRoy, New York, in 2012—or the two novels coming out this summer, one for adults and one for teen readers. Both novels were sparked by the mass hysteria in 2012 and tell the same general story—with some key differences. Both blend the thrills of a plague narrative with the psychological tension of paranoia and guilt.
We'll never forget how Megan Abbott addressed the cunning powerplays and precarious hierarchies of high-school girl world in her dark and twisted novel, Dare Me. In her new adult novel, The Fever, coming June 17 from Little, Brown, teenage girls fall one by one to unexplained seizures, sending the town into chaos. There's something distinctly sexual about the girls' twitching, and Abbott's dreamlike prose gives these events a haunting, disturbing quality.
YA novel Conversion by Katherine Howe, coming July 1 from Putnam, heads in a more supernatural direction and makes the satisfying connection between past and present twitching. Howe is a direct descendent of two of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, which has inspired her before. Conversion moves between Salem Village in 1706 and an all-girl's high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 2012. When girls start twitching and people start panicking, a parallel is drawn: Danvers was once Salem Village.
It seems the mass hysteria narrative is catching. I suspect we will see several more novels featuring twitchy girls before the end of the year.
Though William Shakespeare's exact date of birth went unrecorded, it's typically observed on April 23, the day he died on 52 years later—a neat piece of symmetry for such a literary life.
In the years since, the scant biographical facts available about the poet have combined with his singular status to ignite countless imaginations. This spring brings three additions to the lengthy list of Shakespearean tomes.
How did the son of a glovemaker rise to the heights of literary fame? This question has engendered many hypothetical answers over the years—including the well-known assertion that Shakespeare did not, in fact, write the plays he is credited with. Historical novelist Jude Morgan comes up with his own Bardic backstory in The Secret Life of William Shakespeare (St. Martin's), which opens in 1582, shortly before Shakespeare meets his wife-to-be Ann Hathaway. Morgan's Shakespeare adores his father and has a close relationship with his sister, Joan. He also feels a genuine passion for Ann, one that competes with his calling as a poet.
In Dark Aemilia (Picador), we move from investigating the source of Shakespeare's genius to unveiling the inspiration for the "Dark Lady" of his sonnets, the mistress whose "hair is nothing like the sun." Author Sally O'Reilly posits that the woman in question is a real-life contemporary, Aemilia Lanier—the fourth woman to ever publish a book of poetry in English. Lanier's biography is as sketchy as Shakespeare's own, leaving O'Reilly plenty of room to weave in a tumultuous romance with fellow poet Will while he's out and about on the London theater scene.
Finally, for those who don't take their Shakespeare too seriously, there's William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return, the final Star Wars/Shakespeare mashup from Ian Doescher. The first, Verily, a New Hope, was a surprise hit back in 2013, and fans can't seem to get enough of the Star Wars story told in iambic pentameter.
If none of these suits your fancy, hold on until 2016, when Hogarth books will launch the "Hogarth Shakespeare Collection," a series that allows modern-day authors to turn several of Shakespeare's most popular plays into novels.
Those who prefer a "just the facts, ma'am," approach might try Germaine Greer's 2008 biography of Ann Hathaway or Stephen Greenblatt's National Book Award Finalist Shakespeare biography, Will in the World.
What's your favorite Shakespeare-inspired work? Or do you believe the play's the thing?
Our teen top pick for April is Printz Award winner John Corey Whaley's refreshingly unique novel, Noggin. When 16-year-old Travis Coates is faced with terminal cancer—acute lymphoblastic leukemia—he decides to donate his head to a cryogenic lab. But instead of "waking up" to a future of flying cars and jet packs, he's reinstated just five short years later with the body of a teen who suffered from brain cancer.
Travis is suddenly thrust back into a world that has moved on without him: his girlfriend and first love is engaged to someone else, his parents grieved, his best friend is navigating college and yet Travis is the same high schooler he was five years ago.
With plenty of wit and head puns, Whaley makes a bizarre concept absolutely lovable and surprisingly moving.
Check out the quirky trailer from Simon & Schuster below:
What do you think, readers? Interested in picking up Whaley's second teen novel?
London writer Eleanor Moran's fourth novel, The Last Time I Saw You (Quercus), is a gripping psychological thriller that investigates the twisted roads a female friendship can travel. Inspired in part by the du Maurier classic, Rebecca, it is the story of two best friends from university, Olivia and Sally, whose relationship was destroyed by a shocking betrayal. When Sally dies in a car crash, Olivia is drawn back into the tangled history of their friendship—and into the arms of Sally's grieving husband.
In a guest blog post, Moran explains the universality of what she calls "Rebecca Syndrome"—the doubts that you can ever measure up to a past love.
I was a geeky, bookish 13-year-old when I first laid hands on a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the story of a nameless young girl who falls passionately in love with aloof widower Maxim De Winter, only to find that their marriage is haunted by the spectre of his dead wife, Rebecca. Even when I discovered Maxim was a murderer, who’d killed his first wife to protect his beloved Manderley, I still rooted for their relationship. It was partly because I identified with the second Mrs. De Winter’s dogged version of love: I’d grown up with a distant and unknowable father whose approval I fought an endless battle to win. But it was also because, even in my youthful naivety, I recognised the universality of her dilemma. Who amongst us has escaped the painful mental rat run of comparing herself to a partner’s previous love? In my head I call it “Rebecca Syndrome,” and it underpins my new novel, The Last Time I Saw You.
Who amongst us has escaped the painful mental rat run of comparing herself to a partner’s previous love?
In my early 30s, I found myself on the brink of marriage, a gnawing doubt permeating all the happy times. We’d been together three years, we loved each other, and I longed for the conventional setup I’d never had growing up. And yet . . . I knew it was wrong, that ultimately we wouldn’t make each other happy. The separation was messy and painful but ultimately loving. Now it was time to step into the unknown.
Having left single life behind as a twenty-something, I discovered that the thirty-something version was a foreign country that I wished I didn’t have a passport for. My ex sent his back immediately: he re-coupled within a few short weeks and, a few months later, announced he was expecting a child. Even though I’d initiated our split, I was cut to the quick, obsessing about this woman who had stepped so seamlessly into my onetime future. The crate of uncomfortable shoes I’d failed to take with me when I moved out of his apartment, the boxes of old magazines. Did those traces of our old life bother her, or did she simply dismiss them as no more than a practical inconvenience, a trip to the thrift store?
I soon got to experience the situation from the other side. I fell for a man who looked perfect on paper, but was consumed by court battles with an ex-wife he’d divorced years previously. He told me all about it on our first date, wanted it all out in the open, but over the coming months, I found myself wondering how thin a line it really was between love and hate. I would ask him what he’d loved about this complicated, mercurial woman, obsessively analysing his opaque replies. Words like “chemistry” could trigger a whole painful fantasy about chandelier-swinging sex. “The highs and lows” that he said characterised the relationship made me feel as exciting as day-old rice pudding. Were my anxieties paranoia, or warning bells? A gay friend, practical and optimistic, told me to pull myself together, pointing out that if you took my logic to extremes, I’d have to start seeking out 35-year-old virgins. I understood his logic, and yet the relationship couldn’t survive the haunting.
Livvy is left wondering if she can ever find happiness in the shadow of the complex and charismatic Sally.
In The Last Time I Saw You, Olivia, my heroine, experiences the most extreme version of Rebecca Syndrome. When she gets the call to tell her that her onetime best friend Sally has been killed in a car wreck, she’s forced to re-examine their turbulent college relationship. Her friendship with Sally was a heady roller-coaster, until Sally betrayed her in the worst possible way. Sally’s widower reaches out to Olivia, desperate to get to the bottom of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the accident. But as feelings gradually develop, Livvy’s left wondering if she can ever find happiness in the shadow of the complex and charismatic Sally.
I believe we have to grieve our “dead”—the relationships we’ve left behind—and then move on to the next with a heart that’s hopefully bruised but not broken. We just have to watch out for the partner who is still in the emergency room, claiming a clean bill of health.
Author photo by Ben Lister.
Maggie Shipstead's second novel, Astonish Me, is our Top Pick in fiction for April. Our reviewer describes it as "a request, a demand, a dare, all wrapped up in two little words, heavy with promise. And like the prima ballerina at the heart of the novel itself, Shipstead delivers a glorious story that does exactly what it says it will." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Shipstead has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This had been on my to-read list forever, and when Adichie won the NBCC Award for fiction, I finally remembered to go out and buy it. What a truly spectacular book. Everything about it is alive and essential and harmonious: the flawless prose, the fully-realized characters, the looping shape of the narrative, the vividly textured settings. Although Adichie's story speaks to big, thorny issues like race and class and immigration (not to mention love), her characters all feel like complete, complex people, not props for an argument, and the novel has a gentle archness and lightness of tone that makes its remarkable depth and insight seem effortless.
I was at a book festival with Arthur Phillips this winter but shamefully hadn't read his books, so I decided to start with his first, Prague, a novel that came out in 2002 and revolves around a group of ex-pats living in Budapest, not Prague, in the early 1990s. (The cheeky fake-out of the title alone is reason enough to love this book.) It's full of wit and casual brilliance and a pleasantly convoluted nostalgia-that-is-also-a-deep-suspicion-of-nostalgia and characters who, like real people, are capable of holding all sorts of endlessly shifting, often contradictory convictions and delusions. On a technical level, the omniscient voice, which I think is incredibly difficult to sustain, is used masterfully and acrobatically throughout to deliver all kinds of structural surprises and to convey a sense of overarching vision.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
By Adelle Waldman
Waldman's debut novel is so sharply observed it's a little frightening. I've read it twice, and both times I felt the continuous sense of recognition that the best fiction inspires, where you keep thinking, "Yes, that's exactly how it is!" The consciousness of the protagonist, Nate, is rendered with an intricate completeness that I found immensely satisfying, but I was also fascinated and moved by the novel's many insights about fickleness of desire and its resistance to intellectual governance. There's a formidably critical mind behind this book, but I'd hesitate to call the novel satirical: Waldman forgoes comic exaggeration in favor of precise, measured, unflinching truthfulness tempered by compassion, even tenderness.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Astonish Me—or any of Shipstead's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Michelle Legro)
South African novelist Lauren Beukes, author of last year's supernatural thriller The Shining Girls, returns this fall with a new violent mash-up of fantasy and crime fiction. Broken Monsters is set to publish on September 16 by Mulholland Books.
Beukes had us on the edges of our seats with her wildly imaginative, uber-creepy second novel, the international best-selling The Shining Girls. With the help of a portal in a mysterious House, an unfathomably cruel serial killer travels through time to hunt his victims—all women. The only one of his targets to ever escape is Kirby, who decides to track down the villain and put an end to his murderous reign.
Broken Monsters once again finds a capital-B Bad Guy who indulges his sick compulsions, this time in abandoned Detroit warehouses. The publisher gives a preview:
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him "Bambi," but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you're Detective Versado's over-achieving teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you are the disgraced journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to investigate what may become the most heinous crime story in memory. If you're Thomas Keen—known on the street as TK—you'll do what you can to keep clean, keep your head down, and try to help the broken and possibly visionary artist obsessed wth setting loose The Dream, tearing reality, assembling the city anew.
What do you think, readers? Looking forward to getting creeped out by Beukes' newest horror-filled vision?
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann (translated by Barbara J. Haveland)
Other Press • $15.95 • ISBN 9781590516676
published April 8, 2014
Norwegian author Linn Ullmann's The Cold Song was a hit with readers and critics when it was first published in Norway in 2011. Lucky for us, an English edition (translated by Barbara J. Haveland) has just arrived stateside. Set in an elegant house on the coast of Norway, the novel takes a peek into the lives of married couple Siri and Jon, and their family. Siri is a super-busy and successful chef with her own restaurant to run. Jon is a novelist struggling with his current book.
The Cold Song doesn't so much unfold as it revolves, around the sudden disappearance of Milla, the young and beautiful summer nanny hired to take care of Siri and Jon's two children. The real "meat" of the novel rests in its keen and unflinching exposure of the inner lives of its characters, revealed in brief spurts of narrative that shift back and forth in time. The result is riveting. Here's an excerpt:
Jon Dreyer had fooled everyone.
He was in the attic room at Mailund, that dilapidated white turn-of-the-century house, where the Dreyer-Brodal family spent their summers. He was looking at Milla.
The room was small and bright and dusty with a view of the meadow and the woods and of Milla picking flowers with his children. His wife, she of the asymmetric back (a little kink in her waist, that's all), owned a restaurant in the center of town, in the old bakery. Siri was her name.
Siri was at work.
He was at work too.
His work was right here. He had his desk, his computer, this is where he was left in peace. He had a book to finish.
But he was looking at Milla.
Will you be adding The Cold Song to your TBR list? What are you reading this week?
The story unfolds in three separate sections, each centered on the larger story of the Hungarian Gold Train during World War II. Readers follow three different men through three different time periods: Jack, a young Jewish-American captain in the war; Amitai, an Israeli-born art dealer in the current day who deals with repatriated items; and Dr. Zobel, a pioneering psychiatrist at the turn of the 20th century in Budapest.
An intricate gemstone peacock pendant holds the key to the novel's decades-spanning mystery, but the male narrators and Waldman's unique female characters (Jack's love Ilona, his daughter Natalie and the suffragette Gizella) truly make this novel shine.
Watch the captivating trailer for Love & Treasure below:
What do you think, readers? Are you interested in this new historical novel?
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our web-exclusive Q&A with Waldman for more on Love & Treasure!
Jean Hanff Korelitz's new novel, You Should Have Known, is the type of unrelenting page-turner that keeps readers (including myself) up way into the night, simply unable to put it down. Our reviewer calls the taut story of how the comfortable and predictable life of a Manhattan therapist is completely upended "an insightful, compelling tale." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Korelitz has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Blood Will Out
By Walter Kirn
Last week I gave a reading with my friend, novelist Jane Green, at R.J. Julia bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. R.J. Julia is one of the great bookstores—warm and friendly and full of people who love books. The store has a very sweet tradition of thanking writers who come to give readings by letting them choose a book from the stock. Here’s the funny part: thousands of books to choose from and Jane and I both picked the same one: Walter Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out. I’ve been fascinated by the Clark Rockefeller case since I first read about it in 2008, as I am fixated on sociopaths in general. But Kirn, who actually met Rockefeller (or “Rockefeller”) in 1998 and maintained a connection with him for years, had a front row seat to his constant myth making. Kirn’s willingness to examine his own culpability in accepting these falsehoods makes his memoir a powerful examination of deceit and its even creepier cousin, self-deception.
How I Became Hettie Jones
By Hettie Jones
I had dinner at the American Academy of Arts and Letters the other night with my husband (he’s the member, not I!). The room was so full of important writers, artists and composers that even the most determined name-dropper would run out of steam before getting through a fraction of them, but I was most truly thrilled to be sitting with the daughters of Amiri Baraka (who’d been memorialized in a pre-dinner ceremony). I’ve had no special feelings for Baraka, but their mother, Hettie Jones, is the author of one of my very favorite memoirs, the sublimely entitled How I Became Hettie Jones. The book is Hettie’s account of leaving her Queens childhood for Beat Generation art and bohemia in 1950s Greenwich Village, marriage to poet and playwright Baraka (then known as Le Roi Jones), and what it was like to be a white woman married to a black man who ultimately came to feel that he could no longer be a black man who was married to a white woman. Their daughters, who are my age, are characters in a book I’ve loved for twenty years; talking to them and hearing about their lives only made me want to read it again.
By Alison Bechdel
Last fall I was lucky enough to see the Public Theater’s production of Fun Home, a musical adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. I’m not a big fan of graphic anything, and had only vaguely heard of Bechdel, but I was so wowed by the power of Bechdel’s work that I went rushing out to read all of her books. Bechdel is a deeply cerebral writer, processing and reprocessing the motifs of her life with reference to literature, philosophy and psychological theory. Her story may not sound outwardly eventful (father, mother and three children grow up in an old Pennsylvania home; the daughter’s gradual self-identification as a lesbian may or may not create a crisis of identity in her closeted father), but Bechdel manages to funnel an entire world of ideas into and out or her autobiographical material. I loved Fun Home and Bechdel’s more recent Are You My Mother?, but I had the best time of all with the omnibus edition of her hilarious and wonderful syndicated strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Am I converted to “graphic anything”? Nope. But I’ll read whatever Bechdel writes from this point on. And if Fun Home transfers to Broadway, I’m definitely going to see it again.
(Author photo by Mark Czajkowski)
Random House will release Leaving Time, formerly titled “Elephant Graveyard,” on October 14. The story mines territory familiar to Picoult—family, memory and identity—as it follows 13-year-old Jenna Metcalf, whose mother Alice (a scientist specializing in elephant behavior) went missing in the wake of a tragic accident more than a decade ago. Refusing to believe she would be abandoned as a toddler, Jenna scans her mother's old journals for clues and enlists the help of a famous psychic and the now-jaded detective who originally investigated Alice's case.
Read an excerpt from the first chapter below:
My first memory is white at the edges, like a photo with too bright a flash. My mother is holding spun sugar, on a cone, cotton candy. She raises her finger to her lips—This is our secret—and then tears off a tiny piece. When she touches it to my lips, the sugar dissolves. My tongue curls around her finger and sucks hard. Iswidi, she tells me. Sweet. This is not my bottle; it's not a taste I know, but it's a good one. Then she leans down and kisses my forehead. Uswidi, she says. Sweetheart.
I can’t be more than nine months old.
This is pretty amazing, really, because most kids trace their first memories to somewhere between the ages of two and five. That doesn't mean that babies are little amnesiacs—they have memories long before they have language but, weirdly, can't access them once they start talking. Maybe the reason I remember the cotton candy episode is because my mother was speaking Xhosa, which isn't our language but one she picked up when she was working on her doctorate in South Africa. Or maybe the reason I have this random memory is as a trade-off my brain made—because I can't remember what I desperately wish I could: details of the night my mother disappeared.
Are any of you BookPage readers particularly interested in Leaving Time? If so, find more information and an even longer excerpt at Picoult's website.
Author photo by Adam Bouska.