As part of our Best Books of 2012 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
John Lanchester’s latest has been called “the British Corrections” and though Capital focuses on the varied residents of a London street, rather than a single family, this closely observed, socially aware novel earns the comparison. Set just before the 2008 economic crash, this engrossing, Dickensian tale takes on terrorism, immigration and the nouveau riche with aplomb.
Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser
Norton • $25.95 • ISBN 9780393082999
On sale July 2, 2012
The title of Scott Lasser's fourth novel got my attention a couple of months back. The book itself had me turning the pages during a delay-filled flight to—where else—Detroit. This is a suspenseful story about homecomings, loss and second chances, as David moves back to Detroit to care for his parents only to discover that his high school girlfriend, Natalie, has been killed in a random shooting with her half brother, Dirk. As the story unfolds, it appears that the shooting may not have been quite as random as it appears, and David could be caught in the crosshairs.
Already optioned for film by Steve Carell, this book will appeal to fans of "The Wire" and The 25th Hour. It's gritty, yes, but not without hope—and humor, as shown in this extract:
"You lack the basic chattel of life—a wife, children, debt. These things give a man purpose."
Maybe, David thought, though he had had all that chattel, and look where it had got him.
His father talked on. "Most men, they get up in the morning, they go off to work, and they know why: They've got a family to feed. It's been that way forever. It drives the world. The animal world, too. You, you get up in the morning and then—why do you go off to work?"
"To make you happy," David said.
"Make me happy?" his father asked.
"Sure, so when someone says to you, 'How's David doing?' you don't have to answer, 'He's home on the couch drinking vodka from the bottle.' "
Capital by John Lanchester
Norton • $26.95 • ISBN 9780393082074
on sale June 11, 2012
Novelist John Lanchester has been best known recently for his incisive, clear commentary on the fiscal follies of the last few years, some of which was distilled in the 2010 bestseller I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay (S&S).
Now, in his first novel since 2002, Lanchester explores the real estate bubble and the banking crisis through fiction that is as enrapturing as it is psychologically acute. Capturing a vast swath of Londoners among the residents of the gentrified Pepys Road, Capital portrays an authentic slice of contemporary life on the eve of change in a way that recalls Franzen—with a welcome touch of wry humor.
Banker Roger Yount and his wife Arabella reside in a constantly upgraded and updated home on Pepys Road. The Younts, with their extensive household help, luxury cars and country estate, exemplify the one-percenter—but times are changing.
Luxury meant something that was by definition overpriced, but was so nice, so lovely, in itself that you did not mind, in fact was so lovely that the expensiveness became part of the point, part of the distinction between the people who could not afford a thing and the select few who not only could, but also understood the desirability of paying so much for it. Arabella knew that there were thoughtlessly rich people who could afford everything; she didn't see herself as one of them, but instead as one of an elite who both knew what money meant and could afford the things they wanted. . . . She loved expensive things because she knew what their expensiveness meant. She had a complete understanding of the signifiers.
What are you reading this week?
Townie by Andre Dubus III
W.W. Norton • $25.95 • ISBN 9780393064667
February 28, 2011
Set in a depressed Massachusetts town, Andre Dubus III's memoir is tough and poignant and hard to read. This is a world where kids get beat up and stolen from; they attempt suicide, deal drugs and have casual sex, and parents struggle to provide three (even one) meals a day. Though we know the outcome of this story going in—Dubus III eventually writes House of Sand and Fog—you'll read with the same anticipation you might feel while watching a hard-scrabble sports movie (think The Fighter). And it doesn't hurt that Dubus III writes clean, beautiful sentences. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the iron-pumping, class-skipping kid with the man who becomes a writer.
In Townie, the narrator's dad, short story writer Andre Dubus, moves out after he and his wife divorce. Dubus III and his three siblings live with their mom in a series of small dirty houses in rough neighborhoods while their dad lives in faculty housing at a local college. The book's title comes from a derogatory term used by students at the college:
One morning between classes I cut through the student union building, its pool table and soft chairs, its serving counter where you could order a cheeseburger and coffee or hot chocolate. A group of them were over by the picture window which looked out onto the raked lawn. I heard one of them say, "That's Dubus's son. Look at him. He's such a townie."
I'd heard the word before. They used it for the men they'd see at Ronnie D's bar down in Bradford Square, the place where my father drank with students and his friends. It's where some men from the town drank, too—plumbers and electricians and millworkers, Sheetrock hangers and housepainters and off-duty cops: townies.
What are you reading today?