On the Italian Riviera, a wounded young man rediscovers his appetite for life through the intervention of a fugitive soccer celebrity, in the heartwarming second novel from award-winning writer Pasulka.
Unusually, Pasulka (A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, 2009) not only introduces a lot of soccer into her love story, but also narrates it from a male perspective, that of 22-year-old Etto, son of the village butcher in San Benedetto, a seaside tourist resort in Liguria. Still mourning the loss of his brother, Luca, and his heartbroken mother’s subsequent suicide, Etto (who often swears, usually in Italian) is a walking storm of unresolved emotions: loss, anger, guilt, restlessness and uncertainty. But a catalyst for change appears—Yuri Fil, a Ukrainian soccer celebrity, in hiding after a match-fixing scandal. Etto cares little for soccer but does find himself attracted to Yuri’s tough sister, Zhuki, and becomes a secret nighttime pupil of Yuri’s. When the celebrity’s presence eventually becomes known, the whole community is swept up in the excitement and organizes a soccer tournament. Events reach a head at the Ferragosto Festival, and although, by now, Pasulka has lost some of her plot's sure-footedness, she does succeed in bringing all her players safely home.
Pasulka scores a refreshing success with her affectionate portrait of a small-town community and her fresh angle on an aching heart.
A postmodern view of a dystopian, bombed-out New York City, as recounted by Spademan, a hired assassin.
Spademan is a cynic, as any assassin worth his salt should be, but in this case, even his cynicism is tested when he’s called upon to kill the 18-year-old daughter of T. K. Harrow, a famous evangelist. (Spademan kills men and women with ease but has always drawn the line at killing children because “that’s a different kind of psycho.”) The daughter, whose name is Grace Chastity but who goes by the more appropriate name of Persephone, is an elusive figure whom Spademan needs to track down, and when he finds her, she’s five months pregnant. Her story is both horrifying and tragic, for she claims her father, the revered religious figure, is himself the father of her unborn child. Spademan finds his mission changing, for not only does he refuse to kill Chastity/Persephone, but instead decides to track down the well-protected Harrow. Along the way, he meets a raft of unsavory sociopathic types (is there any other kind?), like Simon the Magician, Harrow’s head of security, a sadist of the first order. In this bleak, futuristic world, the rich immerse themselves in virtual reality for weeks at a time while the rabble has to contend with the charred remains of Manhattan. Spademan, who used to be a garbage man, discovers that dealing with the human detritus of New York is not that different from his previous profession.
Telegraphic in style, this book is tough, sordid and definitely not for every taste.
Dark events in Carthage, a town in upstate New York—a war hero returning from Iraq, a broken engagement, a mysterious murder—but not everything is as it seems.
Carthage seems to embody the values of small-town America, for its citizens are independent and patriotic, but in early July 2005, things start to go dreadfully wrong. Juliet Mayfield, older daughter of former Carthage mayor Zeno Mayfield, is planning her wedding but finds her fiance, Brett Kincaid, broken and strangely different when he returns from duty in Iraq. Cpl. Kincaid is on a passel of meds, walks with a limp and has obviously experienced a severe trauma while on active duty. Meanwhile, Juliet’s cynical and smart-mouthed younger sister, Cressida (the “smart one” as opposed to Juliet, the “beautiful one”), disappears one Saturday night after uncharacteristically visiting a local bar. The next day, Kincaid appears, hung over and largely inarticulate, and blood is found on the seat of his Jeep. Although his mother defiantly defends him as a war hero, Kincaid eventually confesses to having murdered Cressida. The scene then shifts to Florida, seven years later, when an eccentric psychologist is interviewing Sabbath Mae McSwain for an intern position. She’s defensive about a name that seems obviously made up, though she carries a birth certificate around with her, and becomes visibly nervous when the psychologist starts probing about her past. The psychologist has been writing a series of exposés entitled SHAME! and is currently working to expose conditions on death row. The novel then shifts once again, this time back to the past, to reveal how Cressida transformed into Sabbath, what horrors Kincaid experienced in Iraq and how Cressida got entangled with Kincaid on his return home.
Let’s suppose, as Sansom does in this long, engaging bit of speculative fiction, that the Nazis had won the war. Or, perhaps more specifically, that they had stared the British down, won concessions from Lloyd George (who had “spent the thirties idolizing Hitler, calling him Germany’s George Washington”) and effectively made the United Kingdom a satellite of the Third Reich. Winston Churchill, pressed to join the Quisling government, instead spearheads a vee-for-victory resistance movement, while German racial purity laws gradually come into effect on the streets of London, with most residents only too glad to be rid of the Jews; meanwhile, critics of the regime, such as W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster, have been silenced. To judge by his name and appearance, David Fitzgerald should have no trouble in the new Britain, but his bloodline tells a different tale: “He knew that under the law he too should have worn a yellow badge, and should not be working in government service, an employment forbidden to Jews”—even half-Jews, even Irish Jews. His wife, for her part, is content at first to keep her head down and her mouth shut until the Final Solution comes to the sceptered isle. If there is hope, it will come from America, where, as one dour Brit remarks, “they love their superweapons, the Americans. Almost as bad as the Germans.” Sansom’s scenario is all too real, and it has sparked a modest controversy among it-couldn’t-happen-here readers across the water. More important than the scenario is his careful unfolding of the vast character study that fascism affords, his portraits of those who resist and those who collaborate and why. That scenario, after all, is not new; Philip K. Dick, Len Deighton and Philip Roth have explored it, too. What matters is what is done with it, and Sansom has done admirably.
A rich and densely plotted story that will make Winston Churchill buffs admire the man even more.
McCabe’s debut novel echoes with the Civil War battlefield’s ear-shattering noise and gut-wrenching smells, but its heart is a shining story of enduring love.
In 1862, Jeremiah Wakefield, New York country boy, hears the Union’s call and the lure of an enlistment bonus that will finance a farm. Friends too are eager to join the 97th New York Volunteers. Rosetta Edwards will have none of it. Rosetta may be a tomboy and her father’s farmhand, but she’s shared kisses and promises with Jeremiah. If he’s intent on soldiering, they’ll marry first. They wed and enjoy a few weeks of housekeeping in a cabin. It’s there that Jeremiah stumbles over Rosetta’s rock-hard stubbornness, a quality that later inspires her to chop her hair, dress in men’s clothing and become "Ross Stone." Rosetta passes a "you’ll do" physical and lands in Jeremiah’s unit, telling her stunned husband, "I signed on for this and there ain’t a thing I have ever been made to feel proud of in my life but the doing of a job that needs doing." Sketching a hardscrabble portrait of subsistence farm life, McCabe portrays Rosetta brilliantly—think True Grit’s Mattie Ross—as she narrates her story with energy, self-perception, courage and unremitting love for Jeremiah. McCabe’s thorough research lends verisimilitude to army life, all cook fires, salt pork, hardtack, thin blankets and marches into terror. McCabe’s descriptions of battle’s chaos and mayhem—"I just want to walk into that water, any water, and wash myself clean, my clothes and all, letting the blood and everything swirl away"—is reminiscent of Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. Rosetta echoes the period perfectly, playing off against gender expectations in letters home and in conversations with the company commander’s wife, the first to suspect her disguise, and with Will, a gentle, religious boy confused about his sexuality.
Based on often overlooked history, McCabe offers an extraordinary novel, one creating a memorable character through which we relive our national cataclysm.
A modern retelling of the story from the Hebrew Bible, with a corporate lawyer standing in for Jonah and Amsterdam for the belly of the whale.
In the beginning, Jonah Daniel Jacobstein seems to be on top of the world. He’s got two girlfriends, is making lots of money and is about to be made a partner at his law firm. But coming in on the subway one day, he has an encounter with a Hasidic Jew who questions him about the biblical Jonah, and this conversation profoundly unsettles Jacobstein, a nonobservant Jew. Still, life is good—or seems to be—but then things quickly begin to unravel. He decides to break off one romance (with Zoey) and commit to another (with Sylvia), but then both of these relationships end up falling apart. His law firm assigns him a prestigious and lucrative client, but he sends a compromising email and gets fired. His life, in other words, is scarcely what it seems and in fact is subject to almost Job-ian reversals. Parallel to Jonah’s story is that of Judith, a precocious child and then a promising academic art historian who’s lost both her parents in the 9/11 attacks. After his life falls apart, Jonah drifts to Amsterdam, where he lives a calm but somewhat drug-addled life, and eventually, his path crosses with that of Judith’s (now Judy), who’s also adrift.
Feldman is clever in his use of the Jonah story, and his novel is of the same strange and enigmatic quality as the original.
A visit from a wartime companion’s daughter stirs up unwelcome memories for an embittered ornithologist in this follow-up to Greenway’s Los Angeles Times Book Award–winning debut White Ghost Girls (2006).
Ignoring his doctor’s warnings to quit drinking and smoking, Jim Carroway winds up having a leg amputated in the winter of 1973. No longer able to get around Manhattan independently, he abruptly abandons his work at the American Museum of Natural History and retreats to his childhood summer home on Fox Island in Maine. Jim seems likely to drink himself to death there, perhaps as penance for the unspecified disaster that claimed his wife, Helen, many years earlier, perhaps to finally extinguish the bleak knowledge that “[h]e’d been stuck since the war.” He’s not thrilled to be distracted by the arrival of Cadillac, whose father, Tosca, worked with Jim as a scout in the Solomon Islands, preparing for the U.S. invasion in the summer of 1943. Cadillac is headed to medical school at Yale, and it gives Jim some pleasure to know that the bird-skinning skills imparted to Tosca long ago played a role in lifting his family from poverty and getting his daughter educated. But bleak memories—of Jim’s mean, judgmental grandfather; of his beloved, ultimately doomed Helen; of his grim experiences on Layla Island—make it clear how damaged Jim is. The foreboding mood is somewhat alleviated by the tender friendship that grows between Cadillac and Jim’s son Fergus, but frequent references to Hemingway and to Treasure Island (a book with which Jim is obsessed) do not bode well. Readers who don’t mind the novel’s leisurely pace and brooding tone will appreciate Greenway’s limpid, poetic prose; her richly nuanced portraits of a nicely varied cast of characters on both Fox and Manhattan islands; and her evocative depiction of natural landscapes and the birds whose study gave Jim the only peace he has known.
Perfume heiress turns unwilling sleuth in Elo’s suspense series launch.
Pirio Kasparov is learning scent sense from her irascible father, who still runs the Boston-based perfume empire founded by Pirio’s late mother after the family emigrated from Russia. Although she expects to inherit the business one day, a hefty allowance and flexible work schedule allow her plenty of time for extracurricular activities, including going on a lobstering trip with her friend Ned Rizzo aboard his new boat, the Molly Jones. Their outing proves disastrous when, although they are nowhere near a shipping lane, the giant hull of a freighter cleaves the smaller craft in two, killing Ned and leaving Pirio drifting on a board in the freezing Atlantic. She is rescued, and the fact that she survived in cold water much longer than average, without succumbing to hypothermia, has elicited the interest of the U.S. Navy, which wants to study her. But she has little time to be a guinea pig for her country: She has her hands full with Ned’s son, Noah, and Noah’s unreliable, alcoholic mother, Thomasina, Ned’s ex-girlfriend. Clues unearthed during one of Thomasina’s drunken escapades fan Pirio’s vague suspicion into a full-blown conviction that Ned’s death was no accident. Apparently, Ned purchased the Molly Jones for $1 from his former employer, a mega-fishing concern called Ocean Catch. A chance encounter with an Ocean Catch insider leads to another startling revelation: Before suddenly leaving (or being fired?), Ned had crewed on the giant fishing trawler Sea Wolf. That boat’s crew was receiving periodic, off-the-books cash bonuses despite hauling in a minimal amount of legal catch. Was the Sea Wolf hauling contraband? Had Ocean Catch, or someone else, tried to buy Ned’s silence with the gift of a lobster boat? Who stood to gain by his death? Elo’s lively style and the vivid characters lend credence and heft to an original, if ungainly, conspiracy-thriller plot.
The groundwork is well-laid for future Pirio Kasparov adventures.
When her beloved brother is declared missing in action, smart, flinty Juliet Dufresne, training to be a nurse, goes to Italy to find him, in an empathetic, oblique take on the layers of damage done during war.
Part mystery, part coming-of-age tale, part World War II novel, Vanderbes’ (Strangers at the Feast, 2010, etc.) overlong but incrementally moving latest is written from the perspective of a bright Southern teenager who is forced to become an adult too soon. Losing her mother at age 3 has left Juliet especially close to her brother Tuck, so when he disappears while fighting in Europe, she forges her birth certificate so she can enlist immediately after graduating from the Cadet Nurse Corps. Soon, she is tending injured men on the Italian front, one of whom is Barnaby—a deserter who has attempted suicide—who was in the same squad as Tuck. Working with the attractive psychiatrist Dr. Willard, Juliet tries to discover what Barnaby knows about Tuck’s last movements while all around her, young men and even her colleagues are being wounded and destroyed. With Barnaby sentenced to death, Willard and Juliet find themselves involved in a wild effort to save him, a journey which leads to truths Juliet will fully understand when the war ends.
What begins as formulaic turns unusual and affecting as the emotional depths of Vanderbes’ story slowly emerge.
The earmarks of the renowned novelist’s work are here—the impressive intellect, the patterns connecting music and science and so much else, the classical grounding of the narrative—but rarely have his novels been so tightly focused and emotionally compelling.
With his “genius” certified by a MacArthur grant, Powers (Generosity, 2009, etc.) has a tendency to intimidate some readers with novels overstuffed with ideas that tend to unfold like multilayered puzzles. His new one (and first for a new publisher) might be a good place for newcomers to begin while rewarding the allegiance of his faithful readership. His Orpheus of the updated Greek myth (which the novel only loosely follows) is a postmodern composer who lost his family to his musical quest; his teaching position to his age and the economy; and his early aspirations to study chemistry to the love of a musical woman who left him. At the start of the novel, he is pursuing his recent hobby in his home lab as “a do-it-yourself genetic engineer,” hoping for “only one thing before he dies: to break free of time and hear the future.” Otherwise, his motives remain a mystery to the reader and to the novel’s other characters, particularly after discovery of his DNA experiments (following the death of his faithful dog and musical companion, Fidelio) sends him on the lam as a suspected bioterrorist and turns his story viral. While rooted in Greek mythology, this is a very contemporary story of cybertechnology, fear run rampant, political repression of art and the essence of music (its progression, its timelessness). “How did music trick the body into thinking it had a soul?” asks protagonist Peter Els, surely one of the most soulful characters that the novelist has ever conjured. Els looks back over his life for much of the narrative, showing how his values, priorities, quests and misjudgments have (inevitably?) put him into the predicament where he finds itself.
By the author’s standards, this is taut, trim storytelling, though it characteristically makes all sorts of connections and proceeds on a number of different levels.