Three books following unconventional lives make great picks for reading groups this month.
Colm Tóibín’s new novel, Nora Webster, never strays from the quiet, deceptive simplicity of its storytelling, and yet this persuasive portrait of a compelling woman blossoms into something greater than the sum of its parts. Set in a small town in County Wexford, Ireland, in the early 1970s, it is the story of a mother navigating the first, tentative days and months of a premature widowhood.
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is such an iconic military figure that he is legendary to Civil War scholars and schoolchildren alike. So it’s hard to imagine an author breaking new ground with another Jackson biography. But S.C. Gwynne does just that in Rebel Yell, which deserves comparisons to Shelby Foote’s three-volume The Civil War for its depth of knowledge and graceful narrative. Gwynne, a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Empire of the Summer Moon, casts Jackson as a human being, not as a bronze figure towering over a battlefield. Readers will come away from Rebel Yell with an understanding of the man that goes beyond his military exploits.
Amid the 21st-century glut of overindulgent memoirs, The Removers is a poignant, near-perfect addition to the genre. Andrew Meredith writes of growing up in a crumbling Philadelphia neighborhood, his family quietly imploding in the wake of a scandal that cost his father his university job.
James Joyce’s Ulysses is a novel that is both highly celebrated and much hated. Termed “diffuse” and “pretentious” by the likes of Virginia Woolf, the dense book is the subject of much debate within the literary community, with some dismissing it and others embracing it (but very few fully understanding it). Either way, it’s inarguable that Ulysses has made an indelible cultural mark since its publication in 1922. And the release of Maya Lang’s debut novel, The Sixteenth of June, provides more evidence of its lasting influence.
Stephen King has been thrilling readers for four decades, ever since the 1974 publication of Carrie. So it’s particularly remarkable that such a long-lived (and prolific) writer can still generate buzz for doing something different. But that’s exactly what’s happening with King’s 51st novel, Mr. Mercedes, which is being billed as his first “hard-boiled detective tale.”
There is a near irresistible urge to believe what we want to believe, even in the face of conflicting evidence. Seldom has that regrettable impulse been demonstrated more starkly than in 2006 when three members of the Duke University lacrosse team were charged with raping a woman they had hired to perform at a party as an “exotic dancer.” The accused were white men from well-to-do Northern families and the accuser a poor local black woman with two young children to support. With its overtones of racism, regionalism, gender advantage and class privilege, the situation couldn’t have been more dramatic—or potentially explosive.
10 years after his acclaimed novel Tijuana Straits, author Kem Nunn—whom our columnist credits for the creation of the "Surf Noir" genre—returns with a compelling new psychological thriller, Chance. Set in the foggy Bay Area, the story follows Dr. Eldon Chance, a neuropsychiatrist caught up in a dangerous affair with one of his beautiful, fractured patients, Jaclyn. When her husband's jealousy grows to sinister extremes, Dr. Chance finds himself in the middle of some serious danger.
This month's best new mysteries include a deadly oil spill, a charming francophile's mystery, the finale to Leif GW Persson's Story of a Crime Trilogy, plus an "ink-dark" psychological thriller from Kem Nunn.
BookPage Fiction Top Pick, March 2014
Alice Hoffman’s latest novel has the word “extraordinary” in the title for good reason: The best-selling author of The Dovekeepers has served up another historical novel that will dazzle readers until the last page.