In lesser hands, the story told in Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare would be sentimental or even clichéd. An emotionally needy white woman takes in a tough inner-city girl whose life is transformed when she learns to ride horses at the neighboring stables. Cue the swelling music as the girl and horse ride into the sunset. But Gaitskill, whose novels and short stories have always delved full force into the most uncomfortable of situations, has instead produced a complex and nuanced look at love, loss and limitations.
For more than 400 years, Shakespeare’s works have been performed throughout the world— retold, reinterpreted and reinvented for each generation. Now, the Hogarth Shakespeare series is giving that opportunity to several of the most acclaimed contemporary novelists of our day. British writer Jeanette Winterson is the first to take on the challenge with The Gap of Time, a refashioning of The Winter’s Tale. Winterson’s own experience as an adopted child gives a special meaning to this story of an abandoned daughter.
Lauren Groff explored the strengths of community in her first two novels, The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. In Fates and Furies, she narrows her focus to the ultimate microcosm: a marriage. Told in two parts, first by a husband and then a wife, this unsettling novel looks at the myriad ways even the most devoted of couples keep secrets, betray one another and risk deceiving themselves.
Parnaz Foroutan’s debut, The Girl from the Garden, explores the fortunes of the Malacoutis, a wealthy Jewish family in Iran at the turn of the 20th century, as remembered by the family’s only surviving daughter, Mahboubeh. Now elderly and living in Los Angeles, Mahboubeh wanders her garden, awash in memories that seem more real than her California home.
Susan Barker’s daring new novel, The Incarnations, begins in 2008, just months before the opening of the Beijing Olympics. The city is grimy and polluted behind the burst of new construction. After nights spent in the dense traffic of the city’s multiple ring roads, taxi driver Wang returns home exhausted to his wife and daughter. A rare visit with his invalid father and vicious stepmother, an aging femme fatale, doesn’t add much pleasure to Wang’s already lonely existence, but things take a turn for the bizarre when an anonymous letter, tucked into the visor of his cab, assures Wang that he is the reincarnated soul mate of the sender.
Rebecca Makkai’ s novels—The Borrower and The Hundred Year House—have established her as one of the most talented literary voices today. Her short fiction has been selected for The Best American Short Stories four years in a row. Now the acclaimed writer returns with Music for Wartime, an anticipated collection of short stories, several of which were inspired by the lives of her paternal grandparents.
We asked award-winning novelist Kate Walbert a few questions about her luminous new novel—and her own relationship with New York City.
Brenda Bowen’s Enchanted August opens with two women spotting a battered index card on a bulletin board promising a summer of spring water, blueberries and sea glass on Little Lost Island, Maine. If this sounds familiar, it may be because of the similarity to the opening of Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim’s beloved 1922 novel of four women whose lives are transformed by a summer in an Italian castle. Bowen has refashioned the classic, relocating the action but keeping the character names and the spirit of lives reinvented by new surroundings.
Kate Walbert has always been a keen transmitter of women’s voices, from conforming suburban wives in the 1950s to British suffragettes during World War I. In her most recent novel, The Sunken Cathedral, Walbert tunes in to a complex chorus of female characters in contemporary Manhattan, a city recently altered by climate change, tragedy and new wealth.
Readers met the Langdon family in Some Luck, the first novel in Jane Smiley’s trilogy about an American family and an Iowa farm. A straightforward, almost old-fashioned novel, it opened in 1920 and covered the following 33 years—one year per chapter—in the lives of Walter and Rosanna Langdon and their six children with tenderness and surprisingly subtle humor. Now, in the more ominously titled Early Warning, Smiley casts an even wider net, as the Langdon children, now grown to adulthood and with children of their own, navigate the immense social changes of the 1960s and ’70s.