Kitty Miller is living the dream. OK, so maybe her life isn’t picture-perfect according to society’s standards; it’s 1962, and she’s an unmarried woman. But after a failed long-term relationship, Kitty has come to accept that life isn’t always meant to be as we imagine. Instead of being married with kids, she and her best friend, Frieda, own a bookshop in Denver. They’re not rich—in fact, sometimes it’s hard to make ends meet—but the pair is so close they refer to one another as Sister. It’s a good life.
Each new book by Booker Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) is, on the surface at least, vastly different from those that have come before. The Buried Giant—his first novel in almost 10 years—is no exception. This fable-like narrative, set in England just after the mythic reign of Arthur, chronicles the adventures of an elderly couple as they journey across a wild and rugged landscape. Old and forgetful, but still endearingly in love, Axl and Beatrice have been cast to the margins of their settlement, not even allowed candles for fear that they may do themselves harm. So, they decide to set out for their son’s village, which they believe they can reach with a few days’ travel. But the landscape abounds with human hostility and ignorance, as well as the shadowy possibility of ogres and other mythical beasts.
It’s a favorite trick among literary novelists: use a classic work of literature as a launching pad for an investigation into favored themes. Jean Rhys did it with Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel of sorts to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. J.M. Coetzee has done it twice, first in Foe, in which he reimagined Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of a woman, and then, more daringly, in The Childhood of Jesus. Now essayist and playwright Caryl Phillips takes the work of a different Brontë—Emily—as the inspiration for his latest novel, The Lost Child.
Halfway through Rachel Basch’s third novel, The Listener, the reader gets the feeling that the title is ironic. Malcolm Dowd is a psychotherapist at the college in his town. His job is to listen; no doubt his skill at listening has saved the sanity or even the lives of the sad people who unburden themselves in his office. But when it comes to his own loved ones, Malcolm Dowd is about as deaf as a stump.
A dose of dark humor, a captivating historical novel and the 2014 National Book Award winner for fiction make great selections for reading groups this month.
Young William Wyeth sets out from St. Louis as part of a fur-trapping brigade in 1826, hoping to prove to his family back East that his wandering, capricious nature can be put to good use. Wrestling with his insecurities spurs him forward into the relatively uncharted land west of the settled United States, filled with wild game, angry natives and endless potential.
In V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, three versions of London exist side by side in parallel universes. There’s Grey London, where magic is basically extinguished; Red London, where it’s abundant; and White London, where it’s somewhere in between (and where the control of it as a resource is jealously and viciously contested). There was also a fourth—Black London—whose inhabitants were devoured by magic and which should no longer exist. Schwab’s male protagonist, Kell, is one of the few with the power to travel between those Londons, and as such, serves as a diplomatic courier of sorts between the monarchies of each.
Susan Mallery is a sparkling conversationalist: She’s funny, smart and easy to talk to about all manner of topics, from her writing career to dog breeds to her favorite eyeshadow brand (it’s Laura Geller).
Reif Larsen waits 200 pages before betraying his literary lineage by using the phrase “gravity’s rainbow.” For in his sprawling, pyrotechnic second novel, I Am Radar, one is never far from Pynchon’s masterpiece, that once-groundbreaking combination of adolescent hilarity and theoretical physics. The authors share a soaring erudition and ambition—evidenced by the length and ostentation of their books. But where Pynchon’s main theme might be a paranoiac fear of annihilation and conspiracy, Larsen’s seems to be an affirmation of the pathetic randomness of life. It’s telling that his previous book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, was made into a film by the director of Amélie, and his new release resembles the joyful, madcap creations of Wes Anderson.
Crime fiction groupies can usually form a pretty quick mental picture of the cop, PI or little old lady detective in any new mystery novel, and that take remains, embedded in the reader’s imagination, for the duration of the story.