Leary (The Good House, 2013, etc.) writes about nutty, pedigreed New Englanders in this noirish comedy in which financial wrangling and emotional secrets are kept under wraps within a well-born Connecticut family until the arrival of an interloper from west of the Rockies.
Single, childless 29-year-old narrator Charlotte is a typical Leary character—likable but slightly bent. Charlotte makes a good living writing a fake mommy blog and swears she doesn’t have agoraphobia although she hasn’t left her home during the day since shortly after her beloved stepfather Whit’s death three years ago. Charlotte’s home is “Lakeside Cottage,” where she and her older sister, Sally, grew up with Whit and their mother, Joan. Wealthy, eccentric Whit had two great passions: Joan and the banjo. He and Joan didn't believe in talking about, let alone spending, money. Although his two sons from his first marriage, Perry and Spin, have inherited the once-grand, now increasingly dilapidated family house, Whit requested that Joan be allowed to live there until her death. Enter Spin’s new girlfriend, soon to be fiancee, Laurel, from Idaho. Laurel’s resume—Olympic-level skier, MFA from USC, huge advance for her first novel, a relative of Ernest Hemingway—is as intimidating as her aggressively friendly manner. While Charlotte warms to Laurel’s questionable charm, Sally, who has moved home after losing her job as a violinist in Manhattan, remains suspicious. But Sally, who has a history of sneakiness, sexual misbehavior, and mental illness, may not be the best judge of character. And Charlotte may not be, either; she's fascinated by Laurel’s knowledge of what she calls "life hacks"—actually scams, like ways to use a fancy hotel's amenities without staying there—which are supposedly research for her novel. Leary is by turns affectionate and vicious toward her characters. So, is Laurel trustworthy? Was Whit? And what about Charlotte’s off-and-on lover, Everett, who lives rent free on the property as a kind of caretaker and is not above flirting with an attractive woman like Laurel?
In this deeply satisfying novel about how unknowable people can be, intrigue builds with glass shards of dark humor toward an ending that is far from comic.
In the latest by TV writer and novelist Hawley (The Good Father, 2012, etc.), a struggling artist becomes a hero twice—first by saving a young boy’s life, then by outsmarting the anchor of a Fox-like conservative TV network.
A small charter plane mysteriously crashes into the water off Martha’s Vineyard, leaving only two survivors: the painter Scott Burroughs and JJ, the young son of the network owner who chartered the flight. In a well-turned rescue sequence, Scott braves the waves and sharks and makes dry land with JJ on his back. From there, the book is part whodunit and part study of Scott’s survivor’s guilt. Flashbacks trace the back story of each doomed passenger: network head David Bateman and his wife, Maggie, who may have had a thing for Scott; financier Ben Kipling, about to be tried for laundering terrorist money; flight attendant Emma Lightner, who recently jilted co-pilot Charlie Busch. While the rescue team works to figure out who crashed the plane, Scott struggles to get his bearings—no small feat when wealthy socialite Layla Mueller is trying hard to get him into bed and when O’Reilly-like anchorman Bill Cunningham is harassing him for an interview.
Like the successful screenwriter that he is, Hawley piles on enough intrigues and plot complications to keep you hooked even if you can spot most of them a sea mile away.
Adams’ sensitive debut follows a tightknit quartet of college friends as they navigate their shifting relationships—and evolving identities—over the course of two decades.
After graduating from university in Bristol, Benedict, Eva, Sylvie, and Sylvie’s brother, Lucien (technically not a student but a group member nonetheless), are on the cusp of their futures. Eva, a quietly rebellious physics grad, is poised to start a fancy finance job in London. Benedict—posh, studious, and in love with her—is staying on for a Ph.D. Artistic and free-spirited, Sylvie is off to travel for a year with Lucien, a caddish playboy who has long monopolized Eva’s romantic attentions. The world seems alight with possibility; their bond feels unshakable. But as the years pass, and the disappointments of adulthood accumulate, the ties that once bound them begin to fray. Once, they hiked through Spain together; as they approach their 30s, they meet occasionally for distracted lunches and harried drinks. Their lives don’t look the way they’d imagined they would: despite her talent, Sylvie isn’t famous; despite their connection, Benedict and Eva haven’t ended up together. And then—one personal crisis at a time—the four friends find their ways back to each other, forging new relationships that are deeper and more complicated than the ones they’d had at school. Adams doesn’t stray far from convention here, but it hardly matters: her characters are nearly impossible not to root for, and she captures their often troubled dynamics with tremendous empathy and charming wit. And while the novel wraps up just a touch too neatly—the resolution isn’t quite as much fun as the struggle—there is something pleasantly satisfying about its profound sense of hope.
This debut novel about two close childhood pals trying to maintain a friendship as their adult paths gradually diverge has an amiable familiarity.
Lauren and Sarah have been BFFs since sixth grade, when Lauren, an 11-year-old from a middle-class New Jersey family, snagged a scholarship to a fancy private school in Manhattan and was immediately befriended by popular Sarah, her ambassador to the world of the wealthy. Sarah is rich. Lauren is pretty. Sarah volunteers for worthy projects and works part time in a charity thrift store, goes to the gym, lunches with friends, has Sunday night dinner with her conservative political adviser father and her mother, a retired singer of moderate renown, in their large, eclectically elegant home. Lauren lives in a tiny yet stylish Brooklyn apartment and ekes out a modest living in book publishing, slowly climbing the editorial ladder and, for a while anyway, bedding the temp. Sarah lives in a Manhattan two-bedroom with a foyer, a separate kitchen and ample closet space (ah, fiction) and is busily planning her wedding to her doctor fiance—trying on dresses, sampling slices of cake. Lauren, her maid of honor, is uninterested in committing to a romantic relationship and not above a casual tryst with, say, a waiter at a resort hotel during Sarah’s pre-wedding girlfriend getaway. These women still understand each other in a way no one else may, but they’ve drifted apart since the days of middle school sleepovers, high school and college parties, and a stint as post-college roomies. “Things change, in life—of course they do,” Alam writes, of Sarah’s perspective. “People grow up, become interested in new things, new people. Our way of being in the world is probably a lot less fixed than most people think. But Lauren is a part of her world, and she’s a part of Lauren’s.” Lauren, though, wonders if her friendship with Sarah has survived solely by “force of habit.” Although Alam seems to have no deep new insight to share and his story is thin on plot, his characters are real and rounded enough to escape being entirely cliché, and he displays a robust understanding of and affection for the nuances of female friendships as they evolve over time.
Alam captures something truthful and essential about the push-pull of friendship—the desire for closeness as well as the space to define ourselves—and admirably resists the urge to look down on his characters.
A blogger and nonfiction writer’s account of how she survived both new motherhood and her eccentric parents’ federal imprisonment for fraud.
Fedden was 36 years old and nine months pregnant when she had her first encounter with the federal agents who raided her parents’ luxurious South Florida home. She already knew that her wisecracking mother, Cecily, had once dabbled in drug dealing. Alongside her husband, Joel, a man who produced softcore pornography for cable TV, Cecily made “deals” that the pair never discussed. Despite the questionable nature of their business, arrest—and eventually, incarceration—was not what Fedden expected would happen to the parents whose friends included John Gotti’s nephew and the “hooker who claimed to have screwed Mohammed Atta the week before 9/11.” The author and her husband tried to build a quiet, relatively conventional life together, but inevitably, they became unwitting witnesses to the chaos that enveloped their parents’ lives. Cecily emptied out checking accounts to “stick it straight up [the] asses” of government officials bent on destroying her life. Not to be outdone, Joel cheated on her with women who were either younger or crazier than she was. Meanwhile, Fedden struggled through the rigors of early motherhood. Feeling “defective as a woman” and generally incompetent in comparison to her apparently “perfect” sister, she explored yoga and New Age teachings, which she ridiculed at first but grew to love. As her parents’ glittering world began to crumble, Fedden muddled her way to understanding that a “beautiful life” was less about finding perfection and more about accepting, and loving, flaws, especially in family members. At once disturbing and appealing, Fedden’s book charts a refreshing path through family dysfunction and personal redemption.
An inquiry into why we’ll probably be wrong about almost everything.
The ever smart, witty, and curious Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), 2013, etc.) takes on the notion that it’s “impossible to understand the world of today until today has become tomorrow.” One might call that a “klosterism,” and the book is full of them. It’s also full of intelligence and insights, as the author gleefully turns ideas upside down to better understand them. Klosterman is currently obsessed with ideas that are so accepted we dare not dispute them—e.g., gravity. Once upon a time, Aristotle believed things didn’t float away because they were in their “natural place.” Then Newton came along 2,000 years later and changed the way we think. Then Einstein said gravity was really a warping of time and space. Now, scientists are trying to “rethink gravity itself.” Therefore, the author posits, in the future, whenever that may be, we’ll know we were wrong about whatever we thought “gravity” was back then. In each chapter, Klosterman takes on a different topic, applying “Klosterman’s Razor” to it: “the philosophical belief that the best hypothesis is the one that reflexively accepts its potential wrongness to begin with.” He seeks out a variety of experts to assist him. George Saunders and Franz Kafka help him sort out why future literary greats are “at the moment…either totally unknown or widely disrespected.” Physicists Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Greene help him explore the concept of a multiverse universe. Others assist Klosterman in taking on the future of rock ’n’ roll (“there are still things about the Beatles that can’t be explained”), time, dreams, democracy, TV shows (Roseanne is an overlooked work of “genius”), and sports. Klosterman is fond of lists and predictions. Here’s one: this book will become a popular book club selection because it makes readers think.
Replete with lots of nifty, whimsical footnotes, this clever, speculative book challenges our beliefs with jocularity and perspicacity.
When 54-year-old doctor Georgia Young learns that her college crush Raymond Strawberry has died unexpectedly, she decides to hunt up all the men she's loved in her life and tell them what they meant to her.
Georgia’s plan quickly becomes bigger than lost love: along the way she decides to quit her job as a successful optometrist, sell her house, and travel Canada by train to try to discover just what it is she's always wanted to do with her life. For Georgia, the trip will be "a long, meditative prayer” that “will help me not to worry about the end of my life but encourage me.” But the world is not always respectful of our dreams; and Georgia’s children and business partner—not to mention new and old loves—crash-land in her life with turmoil and drama of their own, forcing Georgia’s best laid plans to go awry. "We all take a path we thought we wanted to take, and then we find out there are other paths we can still explore," one of Georgia’s long-lost former lovers tells her toward the end of the novel. For Georgia, this means coming full circle to recognize what she has overlooked and realize the extent of her present happiness and talents. While some readers may stumble over Georgia’s attitude toward her children and grandchildren—ambivalence verging on coolness—as well as some key plot gaps and a somewhat uneven narrative that meanders as much as Georgia’s uncertain quest for something different, fans of McMillan (Who Asked You, 2013, etc.) will welcome this new addition to her oeuvre. Here is McMillan’s trademark style in full, feisty effect: strong, complicated female characters, energetic prose, and an entertaining, seductive narrative.
A heartwarming story that reminds us of the pure joy of believing in love.
A lonely writer and his aging dachshund confront a mythic enemy.
If it wasn’t for one thing, Rowley’s debut novel might be viewed as a lightly fictionalized, heart-wrenching account of the author’s last six months with his adored 12-year-old dog, Lily, who succumbed to a brain tumor. That one thing, however, is pretty big. It’s the “octopus” of the title. “It’s Thursday the first time I see it. I know that it’s Thursday because Thursday nights are the nights my dog, Lily, and I set aside to talk about boys we think are cute.…We get into long debates over the Ryans. I’m a Gosling man, whereas she’s a Reynolds gal.” The thing Ted notices that fateful Thursday is an octopus. It “has a good grip and clings tightly over her eye.” For almost all of this novel that thing over Lily’s eye remains an “octopus,” an evil eight-legged sea creature that snarks and schemes and wages battle. Even Ted’s best friend and therapist give in and call it an octopus, and a good deal of plot is built around pretending that it is, in an elaborately developed, magical realist way. This is not the best thing about the book. In fact, it becomes a little much. But more than balancing it are the portrait of Lily in all her bedclothes-burrowing, ice cream–eating, stubborn dachshund glory and the intensity of this particular interspecies bond. The octopus talks to Ted, but Lily does too, for example when she’s licking tears off his face: “THIS! EYE! RAIN! YOU! MAKE! IS! FANTASTIC! I! LOVE! THE! SALTY! TASTE! YOU! SHOULD! MAKE! THIS! EVERY! DAY!” As anyone who has a dachshund knows, this is exactly how they talk. If you have an older dog, or any dog, he or she is going to be licking plenty of eye rain off your face through the final chapters of this book.
In his funny, ardent, and staunchly kooky way, Rowley expresses exactly what it’s like to love a dog.
A stunning novel about sacrifice for the sake of survival in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters.
For her first novel, Glaciers (2012), Smith was a finalist for the Ken Kesey Award and selected for World Book Night. Her second is written with the same precision and affect. Lucie left Orwell Island, an islet off the northwest coast of Washington, after a devastating earthquake in 1993 killed her father and caused a ruinous fire at the local refinery on nearby Marrow Island, a catastrophe made worse by the petroleum, flame-retardants, and oil-dispersing chemicals that poisoned the groundwater and soil. Two decades later, to recuperate after losing her job as an eco-journalist in Seattle, Lucie returns to her family cottage on Orwell. There, she reconnects with her dearest childhood friend, Katie, who is living on Marrow—still believed to be contaminated and deserted—in a colony of 36 adherents led by the magnetic Sister Janet. The colony is invested in experimental environmental remediation efforts. Their intentions are noble and their methods are inspired, but while success appears imminent, their project breaches the boundaries of safety and legality. A suspenseful story that shifts back and forth through time as it climbs to its harrowing climax, this book illustrates “how easily the fight for something fundamentally good can go astray in human hands.” As Smith writes, “It’s still a fight; fights get bloody.” In graceful and dolorous prose, she captures a dense and dramatic landscape, evoking questions of what it means to harm—ourselves, our surroundings—and to heal.
Old habits die hard, and sometimes cause collateral damage, in this character-driven crime story.
Retired D.C. cop Frank Marr works as a private investigator. He's a pro at the job but uses it as a means to fuel his drug addiction. While looting a house of its stash—he had it under surveillance for just this reason—he finds a kidnapped girl, and doing the right thing threatens to unravel the life he's built. Author Swinson, himself a former D.C. police detective, brings the neighborhood and its criminal underworld to gritty life and gives the drug trade's handoffs and turf disputes an insider's intimate view. Marr is a compelling mess, saving the day not once but twice while constantly checking his nostrils for powder residue or the odd trickle of blood. When it suits his purpose (or covers his hobby) he'll take a life, but the lines he will or will not cross seem to be in constant motion, and that unpredictability keeps the tension high. Threats from some who know Marr's "early retirement" was a de facto firing don't cow him so much as push him to rebel. If the bad guys kill first and worry about the details later, doesn't justice require someone equally unconstrained to take them on? Marr may be a disaster on legs, but he gets inside a reader’s head with ease; when he leaves someone to die then doubles back with second thoughts, it's shocking to note how infectious his perspective is. The ethical questions about his lifestyle aren't settled here, so it’s good news that this is merely an introduction to a character who plans to return.
An auspicious, and gleefully amoral, series debut.