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!
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?
Romance columnist Christie Ridgway calls Megan Mulry's debut, A Royal Pain, "a modern love story fizzing with bubbles of Cinderella fantasy."
She isn't kidding about the "modern": Bronte Talbott is a classically independent American woman, and when she finds out that the guy she's dating—cute British doctoral student Max Heyworth—is actually the Duke of Northrop, she's not exactly ready to be swept off her feet. Amid all the falling-heads-over-heels for each other, there are financial differences, a disapproving mother and a ocean-sized question of trans-Atlantic distance.
We chatted with author Megan Mulry—who is not British, by the way—about royal gossip, sexy scenes and what she's reading in a 7 questions interview. When it comes to dinner party guests, I like her style:
"All the best people, darling! Julia Child, Christopher Hitchens, Coco Chanel, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Duchess of Devonshire, Caitlin Moran, Colin Firth, Anthony Bourdain, Vita Sackville-West and some of my real-life friends to round out the numbers. David Gandy would be the waiter."
It was hard to say which one of them had been more flummoxed by the other’s transformation. Having only seen each other in a parade of T-shirts and jeans for the previous days and weeks, when Max opened the door to Bronte’s flat and saw her in the little red Valentino dress, he clasped both hands over his heart, as if to stave off an attack. Bronte was similarly stunned by Max in full, debonair splendor.
His broad shoulders and trim waist were even more appealing in his perfectly tailored navy suit, a few curls of brown hair touched the collar of his crisp white shirt, and he had finished it off with a pale-green Hermès tie. (They were going to have fun with that tie later, Bronte promised herself.)
Max hired a car and driver to chauffeur them around for the night, and Bronte winced slightly at the needless expense. He called her out.
“If you are constitutionally unable to enjoy spending a little bit of dosh on a night out, we need to have a talk.”
She laughed and decided, for one night at least, to let go of her financial hang-ups. “Fine! All right! I give in. Go ahead and spend. I’ll do my best to turn a blind eye to all this wild extravagance.” He obviously wasn’t the starving student she thought he was if that suit was any indication.
Max looked out the window of the relatively grimy dial-a-car and hid his amusement at Bronte’s idea of extravagance. She was in for a few surprises when she came to London. And it was definitely when she came, because as far as Max was concerned, there was no if about it.
They arrived at a small French restaurant and Bronte gave a brief note of thanks to the powers that be that she had never been wined and dined by any Texan suitors at this particular establishment.
“Since you have rescinded financial equality,” Max said after they were settled side by side in an intimate booth and looking over the outrageously expensive menu, “I was thinking maybe I should just take the reins altogether. I think I’ll order for you, feed you, intertwine my arms through yours as we drink a memorable bottle of Léoville-Las Cases . . .”
He brought his water glass to his lips and watched her face transition from brief, affronted shock, to humor, to something seductive and willing.
Right before he took a sip, he said, “Oh, Bron, please don’t look at me like that until we’re finished with dessert.”
"Okay,” she purred with false compliance. “Whatever you say, Your Grace.”
He almost spewed his water at her offhand remark, but instead pretended it had gone down the wrong tube and brought his napkin to his eyes to conceal his surprise.
She patted him on the back gently. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he sputtered, “fine, just excited I guess.”
Bronte finished rubbing his back then put both of her hands in her lap. “Me too. And nervous all of a sudden.”
He took one of her hands in his and gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t say that. It’s one of my favorite things about you. You are never nervous.”
Her blood sped at the idea that he already had a favorite thing about her—one of many, apparently—then she swatted herself back into reality.
“Everybody’s nervous sometimes.” Bronte reached for her water glass. “Even Kate.”
Max looked at her with confusion. “Who?”
“You know, the Duchess of Cambridge.”
If he had been drinking water that time, Max would have spewed that mouthful for sure. The way Bronte had phrased the sentence made it sound like you know the Duchess of Cambridge. Whom he did, in fact, know.
He paused again, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Either Bronte had spent the past two days scouring the Internet and knew all about his family and connections and had decided to taunt him into confessing, or she just happened to be stumbling blindly into it.
Bronte burst out laughing. “I mean, of course you don’t know her know her. But you know what I mean. She’s always so authentic and calm and pretty and smiling and, you know, perfect.”
How the hell was he supposed to reply to that? Silence was always one of his best allies.
“Oh forget it. You men are all the same, pretending it’s all silly princess worship or whatever. Still, I bet it’s hard work being perennially cheerful all the time, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that in a million years.”
Well, Max thought, that wasn’t an acceptable alternative either. He smiled suggestively. “I’m sure her position has its . . . advantages, wouldn’t you say?”
Bronte took the bait. “Oh, all right. William is pretty cute, I’ll give you that.”
Max didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that the future king’s cuteness was at the top of Bronte’s list of royal inducements.
Eloisa James has put her Regency romance twist on a handful of fairy tales: Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, the Princess and the Pea. Her newest novel and our Romance of the Month, The Ugly Duchess, puts a sexy spin on that unattractive duckling (technically—spoilers!—a cygnet) with the story of childhood friends Theodora Saxby and James Ryburn.
Theo and James marry in their teens—Theo for love, but James to save his family's reputation. When Theo discovers the truth, she tosses James out. Years later, James has become a pirate, and Theo is a successful fashion leader. Describes romance columnist Christie Ridgway, "Time brings wisdom, and James returns to his wife, determined to heal the rifts of the past. Can Theo recognize the boy she loved in the commanding man who has returned? Dare she risk her heart once again?"
Author Eloisa James answered a 7 questions interview, where she shares her choice for Shakespeare's most romantic line and this explanation for her love of romances:
"The simple answer is that I love a happy ending. But a more complicated answer is that romance has a rhythm and a promise to it that appeals to me. I know the world is a tough and cold place; I’ve lost my mother and I have a child with a chronic illness. But—and this is a big but—I also know that love and joy make all the difference. Romance reminds me that if there’s a pattern to the universe, it’s one shaped around and by love. We can all use that reminder now and then."
"She loathed her profile almost as much as she loathed the dress. If she didn’t have to worry about people mistaking her for a boy—not that they really did, but they couldn’t stop remarking on the resemblance—at any rate, if she didn’t have to worry about that, she would never again wear pink. Or pearls. There was something dreadfully banal about the way pearls shimmered.
For a moment she distracted herself by mentally ripping her dress apart, stripping it of its ruffles and pearls and tiny sleeves. Given a choice, she would dress in plum-colored corded silk, and sleek her hair away from her face without a single flyaway curl. Her only hair adornment would be an enormous feather—a black one—arching backward so it brushed her shoulder. If her sleeves were elbow-length, she could trim them with a narrow edging of black fur. Or perhaps swansdown, with the same at the neck. Or she could put a feather trim at the neck; the white would look shocking against the plum velvet.
That led to the idea that she could put a ruff at the neck and trim that with a narrow strip of swansdown. It would be even better if the sleeves weren’t opaque fabric, but nearly transparent—like that new Indian silk her friend Lucinda had been wearing the previous night—she would have them quite wide, so they billowed and then gathered tight at the elbow. Or perhaps the wrist would be more dramatic …
She could see herself entering a ballroom in that costume. No one would titter about whether she looked like a girl or a boy. She would pause for a moment on the top of the steps, gathering everyone’s gaze, and then she would snap open her fan … No, fans were tiresomely overdone. She’d have to come up with something new.
The first man who asked her to dance, addressing her as Miss Saxby, would be treated to her slightly weary yet amused smile. “Call me Theo,” she would say, and all the matrons would be so scandalized they would squeak about nothing else the whole night long.
Theo was key: the name played to all those infatuations men formed on each other, the way their closest relationships were with their friends rather than with their wives. She’d seen it with James: when he was thirteen he had positively worshipped the captain of the cricket team at Eton. It stood to reason that if she wore her hair sleeked back, along with a gown that faintly resembled a cricket uniform, all those men who had once adored their captains would be at her feet.
She was so caught up in a vision of herself in a severely tailored jacket resembling the Etonian morning coat that at first she didn’t even hear the pounding on her door. But an insistent “Daisy!” finally broke through her trance, and she pushed herself up from the settee and opened the bedchamber door.
“Oh hello, James,” she said, unable to muster much enthusiasm at the sight of him. The last thing one wants to see when in a melancholic fit is a friend who refuses to attend balls even when he knows perfectly well that all three weeks of her first season had been horrific. He had no idea what it was like. How could he? He was devastatingly handsome, rather charming when he wasn’t being a beast, and a future duke, to boot. This embarrassment of riches really wasn’t fair. “I didn’t realize it was you.”
“How could you not realize it was me?” James demanded, pushing open the door and crowding her backward, now that he knew she was decent. “I’m the only person in the world who calls you Daisy. Let me in, will you?”
Theo sighed and moved back. “Do you suppose you could try harder to call me Theo? I must have asked you a hundred times already. I don’t want to be Theodora, or Dora, or Daisy either.”
James flung himself into a chair and ran a hand through his hair. From the look of it, he’d been in an ill humor all morning, because half his hair was standing straight up. It was lovely hair, heavy and thick. Sometimes it looked black, but when sunlight caught it there were deep mahogany strands too. More reasons to resent James. Her own hair had nothing subtle about it. It was thick, too, but an unfashionable yellowy-brown mixture.
“No,” he said flatly. “You’re Daisy to me, and Daisy suits you.”
“It doesn’t suit me,” she retorted. “Daisies are pretty and fresh, and I’m neither.”
“You are pretty,” he said mechanically, not even bothering to glance at her.
She rolled her eyes, but really, there was no reason to press the point. James never looked at her close enough to notice whether she’d turned out pretty … why should he? Being only two years apart, they’d shared the nursery practically from birth, which meant he had clear memories of her running about in a diaper, being smacked by Nurse Wiggan for being smart."
Romance fans: Why are romances your favorite books?
Our Romance of the Month is the fourth installment in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, Thief of Shadows. This historical romance is all double identities, forbidden romances and really hot love scenes.
Writes romance columnist Christie Ridgway, "A sophisticated widow and a younger man with a dangerous secret clash . . . Winter tries to distance himself from the sensual lady. Not only is he beneath her socially, he’s determined to remain celibate to devote his energies elsewhere. But Isabel proves impossible to resist, even as she discovers his secret—one that threatens their safety."
Read on for an excerpt from Thief of Shadows:
“Moo,” Isabel muttered to herself just as the carriage door opened to admit her lady’s maid, Pinkney.
“Ma’am?” Pinkney asked, her blue eyes wide and startled. Of course, Pinkney’s blue eyes were nearly always wide and startled. She was one of the most sought-after lady’s maids in London and a paragon of the latest fashion, despite being barely past one and twenty and somewhat naïve.
“Nothing,” Isabel said, waving aside her bovine utterance. “Did you find out why it’s taking so long to move the dead man?”
“Oh, yes, my lady,” Pinkney said. “It’s because he’s not dead.” Her pretty dark blond brows drew together. “Well, not yet anyway. Harold the footman is having a time pulling him aside, and you wouldn’t credit it, ma’am, but he’s a comic actor.”
It was Isabel’s turn to blink. “Harold?”
“Oh, no, my lady!” Pinkney giggled until she caught Isabel’s steady gaze. “Er”—the maid cleared her throat—“the not-yet-dead man is. A comic actor, that is. He’s dressed as a harlequin, mask and all…”
Isabel was no longer listening. She’d opened the door and climbed from the carriage. Outside, the gray day was growing grimmer with the advent of nightfall. Fires flared to the west, and she could hear the rumbling of rioters from that direction. They were very near. Isabel shivered and hurried to where Harold and the other footman were bent over a figure on the ground. Pinkney had probably mistaken the costume or the man or the mask or—
Isabel drew in a sharp breath. She’d never seen the notorious Ghost of St. Giles in person, but she had no doubt at all that this must be him. The prone man wore black and red motley. His floppy brimmed black hat had fallen from his head, and she could see that his brown hair was tied back simply. A short sword was sheathed at his side and a long sword lay by one broad hand. A black half-mask with a ridiculously long nose covered the upper half of his face, leaving his square chin and wide mouth revealed. His lips were parted over straight white teeth, the upper lip a little bigger than the bottom.
Isabel snapped her attention up to her footman. “Is he alive?”
“He’s still breathin’ at least, m’lady.” Harold shook his head. “Don’t know for how long, though.”
A shout came from nearby and the sound of smashing glass.
“Put him in the carriage,” Isabel said. She bent to pick up his hat.
Will, the second footman, frowned. “But, m’lady—”
“Now. And don’t forget his sword.”
Already she could see a mass of people rounding the corner down the street. The footmen glanced at each other then as one lifted the Ghost. Harold grunted under the weight, but he made no complaint.
A crowd gathered at the end of the street and someone gave a shout.
The rioters had spotted the carriage.
Is Thief of Shadows on your TBR list?