Historical novels that use real people, eras and achievements as a springboard can sometimes become overworked lessons of the history on which they’re treading. Other times, they can be inspired, original works that remind us of both the importance of history and the timeless concerns of our own humanity. Thankfully, The Architect’s Apprentice is the latter.
So much can happen in one day. And when it comes to Eddie Joyce’s first novel, so much is remembered in one day: Small Mercies is the story of the Amedolas, an Irish-Italian family living on Staten Island. The story is set in the current day, but it stretches back through generations with a particular emphasis on September 11, 2001, the day they lost Bobby—he was a firefighter, but he was also a son, brother, father and husband.
“When you stopped trying to be one perfect person, you could be many.” A small-town Tennessee girl flourishes into a classic, yet never cliché, femme fatale in Rebecca Scherm’s provocative coming-of-age debut, Unbecoming.
It’s easy to forget that by the time he was 41, F. Scott Fitzgerald was washed up. His books were out of print, magazines weren’t interested in his stories and his monthly royalties were down to pocket change. In 1937, he went to Hollywood, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays, barely staying one step ahead of his creditors. It is these lean years that Stewart O’Nan examines in his brilliant biographical novel West of Sunset.
Rebecca Makkai’s second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is an appealing mix of archival mystery, ghost story and historical novel. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt set in a former artist’s colony, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place. I was able to catch up with Rebecca at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books.
If the mark of a great author is not merely how much she incites the imaginations of readers but the extent to which she inspires fellow writers, then there can be no doubt that Jane Austen is the greatest author of them all. Just when you think the market for Austen spinoffs has reached capacity, a new book comes onto the scene that turns the genre on its head. Such is the case with First Impressions, Charlie Lovett’s delightful new novel.
North Carolina author Charlie Lovett has always had a passion for books and writers—his father was an English professor, and Lovett is an expert on the Victorian writer Lewis Carroll and a former antiquarian bookseller. His 2013 novel The Bookman’s Tale combined these interests to create a compelling story about a bookseller who uncovers a mystery in a used bookstore. In his latest novel, First Impressions, Lovett again combines antiquarian intrigue and a literary mystery—and this time, Jane Austen herself is at the center. We asked Lovett a few questions about books, collecting and, of course, Jane.
“Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, we’ve all been there.” So says war correspondent Michael Herr on the persistent reality of a war curiously prone to re-examination. In The Lotus and the Storm, by Vietnamese-American author Lan Cao, this revisiting takes the form of a dialogue of sorts between a daughter and a father, lotuses swept to America’s shores by the storm of the American intervention.
For most mere mortals, a position as a full-time historian and tenured professor at the University of Southern California would be sufficiently demanding. But not for Deborah Harkness, who has also managed to squeeze “best-selling novelist” onto her list of already impressive credentials.
Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-Year House is an appealing mixture: part archival mystery, part ghost story, part historical novel, starring a house with as much personality as Manderley or Hill House. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place.