It's a bit unusual for a literary debut to be followed by a sophomore novel the very next year. But in a world where attention spans are short, publishers seem reluctant to trust that their audience will remember even a standout debut a couple of years hence.
Or at least, that's one of the things that could be implied by the appearance of these two second novels from authors who made acclaimed debuts in early 2012. Both are following up on their success this fall, with books that are quite different from their previous work.
First up is Patrick Flanery, whose first novel, Absolution, was our Fiction Top Pick in April 2012. Set in South Africa, the book was a beautifully crafted, complicated moral tale of memory, guilt and the impossibility of truth that our reviewer called "literary fiction of the finest kind."
Flanery's second novel, Fallen Land, which will be published by Riverhead Books on August 15, is equally suspenseful and layered, but has a completely different setting: America, after the economic collapse. The financial fallout costs Paul Krovik his life as he knows it. Forced to sell his house, Paul moves into an adjoining bunker—unbeknownst to the family who buy the foreclosed home. Their destinies converge in a remarkable and shocking way as Flanery plumbs the depths of the failed American Dream.
Then there's Jennifer duBois, whose sophisticated first novel, The Partial History of Lost Causes, was published in March 2012. By combining the stories of two very different main characters, each facing their own personal lost cause, duBois was able to explore complicated questions about hope and the human spirit. Why do we continue even in the face of impossible odds? (read an excerpt here)
In October, Random House will release duBois' second book, Cartwheel. Like Fallen Land, it's a big departure from her debut. Loosely based on the story of Amanda Knox, Cartwheel is a psychological thriller. Entitled, intelligent, charming and a bit careless, American exchange student Lily Hayes plans to spend her semester abroad soaking up the culture and nightlife of Buenos Aires and perfecting her Mexican-restaurant Spanish. She shares an apartment and a host family with Katy Kellers. From her perfect hair to her "platonic ideal" teeth, contained, driven and regimented Katy seems to be the opposite of Lily in every way. Five weeks after her arrival in Argentina, Katy is murdered, and Lily is the prime suspect. In chapters that alternate between before and after the murder, and are seen through the eyes of Lily, her parents and the prosecutor who takes on her case, readers discover the history of the roommates and must decide whether Lily is guilty.
Did you catch these authors' debuts? Which follow-up sounds most interesting?
Since its publication in 2009, Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Ballantine) has sold 1.3 million copies. That's some debut!
Well, Ford is finally following up on his success: Songs of Willow Frost will be published September 10. Like Hotel, Songs of Willow Frost is historical fiction and features a Chinese-American character and a childhood friendship. This time, though, the story is set in the 1920s and 1930s, where a lonely young boy looks for the mother he longs for. From the publisher description:
Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.
Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.
Did you read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet? Will you be looking for Songs of Willow Frost?
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 194os 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.
Robert Goolrick's debut, A Reliable Wife, became a word-of-mouth hit when it was published in 2009. The story of a woman who arrives in Wisconsin in the winter of 1909 to marry a man she's never met—and turns out to have, shall we say, ulterior motives for doing so—was chilly, twisted and downright gripping.
On June 12, we'll see if Goolrick will once again capture readers' imaginations with his second novel, Heading Out to Wonderful (Algonquin). This one also features the mysterious stranger trope—but this time, it's 1948 Virginia and the stranger is a man, Charlie. Despite the fact that one of the two suitcases he arrives with is full of cash, Charlie takes a job at the butcher shop. But it isn't until he strikes up a romance with the wife of the richest man in town that things really get complicated.
Did you read A Reliable Wife? How do you feel about the premise of Heading Out to Wonderful?
Early reviews, and the opinions of your BookPage editors, indicate that the legendary battle of the "sophomore slump" has been won by two anticipated second novels on shelves this month: Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed and Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves. (Click on the author's name to read a BookPage interview.)
But there are a few other anticipated second novels on the horizon in 2010. Will they be as favored by the publishing gods? Go ahead, judge them by our summary of the publisher's description:
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Horns by Joe Hill (February)
The author of Heart-Shaped Box (and son of Stephen King) returns with a chilling tale of a young man bent on revenge after his girlfriend is murdered.
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel (April)
His second novel needs no introduction (and besides, we've already been there on this blog!). Will it achieve the stratospheric success of Life of Pi?
The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry (May)
The author of The Lace Reader returns with a new novel about a woman who lost her mother to suicide. Now a psychotherapist, she must with the suicide of her most troubled patient.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (June)
Known for her short stories, Bender has published only one previous novel. This magical second work is about a young girl who discovers she can taste people's emotions in the food they cook, and must deal with what she learns about others. Loving the title and the concept on this one—if Bender's novels are as good as her stories, count me in!
Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch (July)
His new work (following the acclaimed Finn) is a “mythic” story about three brothers in upstate New York who live together in isolation—until one dies and the other two are suspected of his murder.
One of the first big releases of January 2010 is Elizabeth Kostova's follow-up to her hit debut, The Historian, a literary vampire story that topped bestseller lists in the summer of 2005. Her new novel, The Swan Thieves, is a tale of love, obsession and art that, like The Historian, goes backward and forward in time to unravel a mystery. We asked Kostova a few questions about the book as a teaser for fans--and a preview of our full-length BookPage interview coming in January.
What elements in The Swan Thieves will most appeal to fans of The Historian?
I think readers who enjoyed The Historian will probably enjoy the mix of historical and contemporary settings in The Swan Thieves, as well as the travel to France and through time.
Impressionist art is frequently referenced in books (yours!) and films (Amelie), and probably adorns 8 out of 10 dorm room walls. What is it about these artists that continues to speak to people today?
I think we still look at and love the Impressionists because they capture something about nature that is both vivid and idealized. As we watch the destruction of natural beauty in our world, we probably value these images in a new and piercing way. I think it's also important to note that many people are understandably sick of Impressionist art from sheer over-exposure to it, and because in reproduction it radiates a certain prettiness. Looking closely at an original Impressionist masterwork is still a radical experience, and very different from looking at a notecard or tote bag.
The mystery of The Swan Thieves revolves around a 19th-century female artist, and the sacrifices women in particular must make to pursue art. Is there a real-life artist who inspired this character?
Beatrice de Clerval is not based on a single real artist, but in developing her I was inspired by the life of Berthe Morisot, one of the six original exhibiting Impressionists, a dedicated and very gifted painter who also protected the conventions of her social and family life.
Who is your favorite character in the new novel, and why?
I think I'm fondest of Andrew Marlow, because he changes the most over the course of the book. I feel very close to him in his struggles to figure out who he is, and I like the way he evolves from vanity to love--rather as Professor Rossi does in The Historian.
How was writing this book different from writing The Historian?
In writing The Swan Thieves, I had to move away from using the models of Victorian literature and into something more exactly fitting my story in terms of language and structure. I also wrote it in large swathes, as different episodes became vivid for me, and then rearranged these in the editing, rather than writing straight through from beginning to end as I did with The Historian. I learned a tremendous amount from writing The Swan Thieves and it is a deeply felt book, for me.