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.
As black men are cut down by the police and self-appointed vigilantes, an activist wrestles with competing claims—from his family and community, his historically black university, the media, and white America—on his blackness and how it is to be lived.
Nation contributing writer Smith, who was raised in a strict military household and surreptitiously listened to hip-hop under the covers at night, writes of the tension between his straight-laced parents and the brash anti-establishment views of his artistic heroes. His political awakening was framed by a litany of names, men and boys like Trayvon Martin, whose death “places us in the unenviable position of wishing that our martyrs could have survived to become tokens.” Voting for Barack Obama was his father’s proudest memory, but the author did so unenthusiastically, feeling that the “potency of black political activism is undercut by the unfounded belief that we can find a place within the system and thrive.” Smith uses deeply personal, often haunting imagery to describe his formative years at a historically black college and his struggles with mental illness that left him a few credits shy of a degree. He gradually came to realize that, in his internal worldview, women had been nearly as invisible and agentless as black men in the white imagination and that the names of black women and black gay men who meet similar fates as Martin are quickly forgotten. “We use our anger at the state as a justification for the violence we enact on black women, then tell them not to hold us accountable until we have defeated racism,” he writes, and he connects sexism and homophobia to the structural and systematic oppression of black men in America.
Realizing that he has more questions than answers, Smith cautiously sketches a useful blueprint for radical and intersectional politics in a country where a black child can grow up to be president but where living while black is still dangerous.
Privileged young Londoners lose their sense of entitlement and their moral innocence in Cleave’s (Gold, 2012, etc.) romantic but very adult World War II love story.
In 1939, Mary North and her friend Hilda are cosseted upper-class girls used to servants and tea at the Ritz. But as soon as England declares war, 18-year-old Mary quits finishing school and signs up to serve through the War Office. Sent to an elementary school, she is disappointed when practically her first task is to help evacuate her students from London. Looking for another teaching position, she meets 23-year-old Tom Shaw, who runs the school district. Melancholy iconoclast Tom does not enlist, believing “someone must stay behind who understands how to put it all back together,” but his more debonair roommate, Alistair, a conservator at the Tate, does join up. At first Alistair’s brutal experiences on the battlefront offer a stark contrast to the ease of the Londoners’ lives. Mary relishes teaching misfit children who remain in London, forming a particular bond with 10-year-old Zachary, a black American—the era’s racial prejudice becomes an undercurrent throughout the novel. Mary and Tom fall into heady love. Hilda remains a boy-crazy snob. When Alistair comes home on leave, the four spend an evening together. Hilda is attracted to Alistair, who is drawn to Mary, who is attracted back but does her best to remain loyal to Tom, who secretly tries to enlist but is turned down. Alistair ends up on Malta facing dire conditions under the Axis blockade. Meanwhile, the Blitz hits London. Suddenly no one is safe, and all face harsh realities. While Mary, Tom, and Alistair are all deeply complicated beneath their bantering wit, it is secondary character Hilda who grabs the reader’s heart as she evolves from Noel Coward joke into full-fledged human being.
Among all the recent fictions about the war, Cleave’s miniseries of a novel is a surprising standout, with irresistibly engaging characters who sharply illuminate issues of class, race, and wartime morality.
A distinguished Atlanta attorney remembers his lawyer father, who defended a black man against charges that he raped a white woman in pre–civil rights era Alabama.
As a young adult, Beck was struck by the similarities between his father and Atticus Finch, the main character of Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Finch, Foster Beck was “idealistic [and] reverent about the Constitution.” His clients included sharecroppers and farmers whom he defended against banks and who mostly compensated him in produce rather than “cash money.” Yet Foster was satisfied because he was following his conscience. When a judge called upon him to defend Charles White, a black man accused of interracial sexual assault, Foster accepted. He believed that future clients would view the fact that he had taken a difficult case—which he believed he could win—as proof of his worth as a lawyer. But Foster soon saw just how tough the case would be. Unlike other blacks he had defended, White was intimidating and demanding. Claiming he was innocent, White refused Foster’s efforts to find a solution because he would not compromise with a racist judicial system determined to send him to the electric chair. Foster found evidence that the woman White had allegedly raped was an uninjured virgin. But he still lost the case as well as the appeal that followed. Not long afterward, he lost his struggling practice as well. Beck’s claim that the highly publicized White trial may have influenced the young Harper Lee is as fascinating as it is plausible, especially given the striking similarities he notes between his father and Atticus Finch. Yet it is ultimately the generosity of spirit that infuses Beck’s recollections that is the most moving part of this memorable story.
Posh Manhattanite Catherine West has everything but the family she’s always wanted. But when she falls for the man of her supposed dreams, she unravels a web of deception that upends life as she knows it.
“I was rich,” begins Huntley’s mesmerizing debut. “I owned a small business, I had a wardrobe I replaced all the time. I was toned enough and pretty enough. I moisturized, I worked out.” And yet, despite the West Village apartment, the trust fund, the weekly massages, and the occasional soup kitchen shift (“I was also a really good person,” she promises), Catherine feels existentially incomplete. So when she encounters William Stockton —at an art gala, obviously—she believes she’s found her missing piece: handsome, well-bred, adoring, if oddly reserved, he is the man she’s been waiting for. Plus, she wants children, and at 43, “the hourglass was running out of sand.” But immediately, there is something amiss about stately William Stockton; just the mention of his name causes her ailing mother to slam shut. Then again, Catherine reasons, “even pre-Alzheimer’s” her mother “had a tendency to hate people for no apparent reason.” And so, within months, the pair is engaged. And still, Catherine cannot ignore the increasingly unsettling signs. Why won’t her mother speak of him? Why is William so alarmed when Catherine sifts through his stash of innocuous childhood photos? And what is the meaning of the note from her former nanny, neatly taped in her mother’s old diary—“we cannot trust anyone to care for us fully”? As elegantly plotted as it is—and it is—Huntley’s debut stands out not for its thrills but rather for her hawkish eye for social detail and razor-sharp wit. It is more than a classic psychological thriller: it is also a haunting—and weirdly moving—portrait of love and family among Manhattan’s flailing upper crust.
A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist investigates the “fluidity and binaries” of “modern transsexuality.”
In 2004, after hardly any contact with her father for 25 years, Faludi (The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post–9/11 America, 2007, etc.) received an email from her, announcing that she had undergone gender reassignment surgery in Thailand. Steven Faludi was now Stefánie. “I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside,” she explained. Aggression is what her daughter remembered: Steven had been an “imperious patriarch, overbearing and autocratic” during the author's childhood. Now she reached out to her, inviting the author to write her story. The author’s discoveries about her elusive, mysterious, dissembling father are central to this gripping exploration of sexual, national, and ethnic identity. Steven grew up in Hungary in a wealthy Jewish family that owned two apartment houses. After World War I, when the nation lost more than half of its population and landmass in a peace agreement, anti-Semitism surged, intensifying during World War II. To save his parents from extermination, Steven impersonated a member of the violent Arrow Cross and led them to safety. Moving to Brazil and later to the United States, he married and had two children. He was roiled when his wife sued for divorce. “As both European Jew and American Dad,” the author writes, “my father’s manhood had been doubted, distorted, and besmirched.” “Now, as a woman, women like me more,” she said. A professional photographer deft at manipulating images, Stefánie proved just as deft in revising her biography, challenging Faludi to ferret out truths from her many lies. The writer communicated with relatives, her father’s few friends, and surgeon; transgender females, in interviews and memoirs, share their often disturbing life stories.
A moving and penetrating inquiry into manifold struggles for identity, community, and authenticity.
An award-winning young author uses Charles Manson and his followers as the inspiration for her first novel.
Evie Boyd is in a city park the first time she sees the girls. With their bare feet and long hair and secondhand dresses they offer a vision of life beyond her suburban, upper-middle-class experience. “Like royalty in exile,” they suggest the possibility of another world, a world separate from the wreckage of her parents’ marriage, from the exacting lessons gleaned from teen magazines, from the unending effort of trying to be appealing. What 14-year-old Evie can’t see that day is that these girls aren’t any freer than she is. Shifting between the present and the summer of 1969, this novel explores the bitter dregs of 1960s counterculture. Narrating from middle age, Evie—like the reader—knows what’s going to happen. But Evie has had decades to analyze what she did and what was done to her, and Cline peoples her version of this oft-examined story with carefully crafted characters. The star in Evie’s solar system isn’t Russell, the Manson stand-in. Instead, it’s Suzanne, the young woman who becomes Evie’s surrogate mother, sister, lover, and—finally—protector. This book is, among other things, a love story. Cline makes old news fresh, but she also succumbs to an MFA’s fondness for strenuously inventive language: “Donna spooked her hands dreamily.” “The words slit with scientific desire.” “I felt the night churn in me like a wheel.” These metaphors are more baffling than illuminating. And Evie’s conclusion that patriarchal culture might turn any girl deadly feels powerfully true at first but less so upon reflection. Suzanne and her accomplices don’t turn on their oppressor like righteous Maenads; instead, they sacrifice themselves on his behalf. And there’s also the simple fact that very few girls become mass murderers.
Fortunes and hearts are lost and found in a modern fairy tale set in the 1960s and '70s.
Ausubel’s (A Guide to Being Born, 2013, etc.) trademark combination of realist narrative with fabulist elements shines in this novel that includes everything from Vietnam War casualties and a West Virginia mine disaster to a road trip with a giant, an escape by sailboat, and children on their own in a wood. It begins on Labor Day weekend, 1976, at the summer house of Fern and Edgar Keating and their three children. Fern receives a call from her family lawyer that not a penny is left of the fortune she was to inherit from her recently deceased parents. And while Edgar could “go back and take over the family steel company in Chicago…[i]t was the very last thing he wanted to do. He would not be able to publish the novel he had spent ten years writing because it was about the son of a steel baron who walks away from his father’s money.” This is a first-world problem to be sure, but it rocks the Keatings’ world. Edgar wanders off to a pot party and gets way too involved with a louche woman in white bell-bottoms named Glory. Meanwhile, Fern is inveigled into playing the bride in a fake wedding put on to entertain Alzheimer’s patients in a nursing home, then takes off for California with her groom, who is literally a giant. Both Fern and Edgar leave town thinking the other is still at home—but in fact, their kids are all alone, with only fourth-grader Cricket to take care of her kindergarten-age twin brothers. Interwoven with this '70s story are sections set in 1965, filling in marvelous detail about Fern's and Edgar’s parents, the early days of their love, and the fate of Fern’s own adored twin.
Love between a small-town girl and one of Hollywood’s leading men leads to murder, blackmail, and secrets.
Beverly-Whittemore (Bittersweet, 2015, etc.) returns with another charming page-turner, this time marrying old Hollywood elegance to Midwestern practicality. Fourteen-year-old Lindie may not know much, but she sure knows that marrying Artie Danvers would be the biggest mistake of her best friend June’s 18-year-old life. Enter Jack Montgomery, glamorous heartthrob, who’s come to St. Jude, Ohio, to film Erie Canal, a movie some locals hope will put their town on the map. Jack stumbles into June on the set one day, and it’s love at first sight. Except that Jack’s an already-divorced father and practically engaged to his co-star, Diane DeSoto, who takes an instant dislike to both June and Lindie. Lindie’s efforts to coordinate their Great Romance are thwarted not only by Diane, but also by Clyde—Artie’s older brother, Lindie’s father’s nemesis, and a scheming real estate tycoon wannabe. June and Jack find brief bliss, but the aftermath is catastrophic. Sixty years later, photographer and installation artist Cassie is reeling from a broken relationship. She moves back to Two Oaks, her grandmother June’s neglected mansion in St. Jude, and immediately begins dreaming of the house’s former inhabitants, with star-struck Lindie and June center stage. As if the haunted dreams weren’t unsettling enough, Cassie suddenly finds herself the sole beneficiary of Jack Montgomery’s estate, worth $37 million. Cassie soon finds herself playing hostess to Jack’s movie-star daughter, Tate; Tate’s yogini/barista personal assistant, Hank; and Tate’s very attractive executive assistant, Nick—all of whom intend to stay in St. Jude until the mystery can be solved. Although Beverly-Whittemore interweaves Cassie's and June’s stories deftly, her imagining of Two Oaks’ own consciousness is less successful. "In its excitement, the house ushered forth its crowd of memories, flooding the foyer and the parlors, where Nick and Cassie were discussing Jack and June." At times the house is swirling with all the characters of the past, but the effect is awkward rather than magical.
A lightly gothic tale of hearts broken and mended in small-town America.
An ingénue from the Midwest learns the ways of the world, and the flesh, during her year as a back waiter at a top Manhattan restaurant.
A flurry of publicity surrounded the acquisition of this book, which was pitched by an MFA–grad waitress to an editor dining at one of her tables. Danler’s debut novel takes place behind the scenes of a restaurant in Union Square whose rigid hierarchy, arcane codes of behavior, and basis in servitude and manual labor makes it less like a modern workplace than the royal court of 18th-century France—but with tattoos and enough cocaine to rival Jay McInerney. There’s even a Dangerous Liaisons–type love triangle with the beautiful, naïve young narrator at its apex, batted between the mysterious, brilliant waitress who teaches her about wine and the dissolute, magnetic bartender who teaches her about oysters. The older woman says things like, “I know you. I remember you from my youth. You contain multitudes.” The older man “was bisexual, he slept with everyone, he slept with no one. He was an ex-heroin addict, he was sober, he was always a little drunk.” What 22-year-old could ever resist them? The writing is mostly incandescent, with visceral and gorgeous descriptions of flavors, pitch-perfect overheard dialogue, deep knowledge of food, wine, and the restaurant business, and only occasional lapses into unintentional pretentiousness. From her very first sentences—“You will develop a palate. A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-obsessed. You will never simply eat food again”—Danler aims to mesmerize, to seduce, to fill you with sensual cravings. She also offers the rare impassioned defense of Britney Spears.
In which an English author, tired of the high street, takes to the fens and burrows to learn how animals live.
What does an otter do? One imagines a life of lolling in a sparkling tidal pool, nibbling on salmon. Is there more to it? Indeed, writes Oxford ethicist and veterinarian Foster. For one thing, there’s a matter of negotiating rivers down to the sea, “Ruskin on acid; all hanging greenery; soft focus from the spray—it’s too much.” Clearly, this isn’t your grandmother’s Ring of Bright Water but instead a daringly imaginative project to see the world from the viewpoints of various animals that wouldn’t be out of place in The Wind in the Willows: badger, otter, swift, fox, red deer. Their world is fraught with danger, not least because of the too-insistent, too-impingent presence of our kind. The project is daring precisely because it courts the two sins of nature writing, anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism, the latter describing the world as it appears to humans, “perhaps commercially shrewd,” Foster grumps, but “rather dull,” and the former depicting the animal world as being a mirror of the human. It is not: Foster, in inhabiting that world, attempts to get at its essential alien nature, whether routing through badger tunnels whose geography is determined by where the bones of badgers past and passed-away lie or racing against dogs in the guise of a vulpine: “Apart from swifts, foxes were the most obviously alive things I knew.” There’s not an ounce of sentimentality in any of it, but instead good science and hard-nosed thought. Furthermore, Foster has the gift of poetry, and he closes with a meditation on what knowing about the animal orders and the natural world can mean to humans: “If we live in a wood,” he writes, “we acquire the accents of the trees.”
A splendid, vivid contribution to the literature of nature.