After accidentally shooting his friend and neighbor’s young son, a man on a Native American reservation subscribes to “an old form of justice” by giving his own son, LaRose, to the parents of his victim.
Erdrich, whose last novel, The Round House, won the National Book Award in 2012, sets this meditative, profoundly humane story in the time just before the U.S. invades Iraq but wanders in and out of that moment, even back to origin tales about the beginning of time. On tribal lands in rural North Dakota, the shooter, Landreaux Iron, and his wife, Emmaline, trudge toward their neighbors’ house to say, “Our son will be your son now.” As both families amble through the emotional thickets produced by this act (the wives are half sisters, to boot), Erdrich depicts a tribal culture that is indelible and vibrant: Romeo, a drug-addled grifter still smarting from a years-ago abandonment by his friend Landreaux (and whose hurt makes this novel a revenge story); war vet Father Travis, holy but in love with Emmaline; and LaRose, his father’s “little man, his favorite child,” the fifth generation of LaRoses in his family, who confers with his departed ancestors and summons a deep, preternatural courage to right an injustice done to his new sister. Erdrich’s style is discursive; a long digression about the first LaRose and her darkness haunts this novel. Just when she needs to, though, Erdrich races toward an ending that reads like a thriller as doubts emerge about Landreaux’s intentions the day he went hunting.
Electric, nimble, and perceptive, this novel is about “the phosphorous of grief” but also, more essentially, about the emotions men need, but rarely get, from one another.
Two absorbing narrative lines follow an imagined perpetrator and potential victims in the 1984 bombing that targeted Margaret Thatcher and other Conservative Party notables meeting at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England.
Lee (Who Is Mr Satoshi, 2010, etc.) uses few historical characters as his story toggles within a fictional trio: Dan, an accomplice to the bombing; the hotel’s deputy manager, nicknamed Moose; and his feisty daughter, Freya. After initiation into the Provisional Irish Republican Army at 18, Dan is shown briefly working on smaller “ops” but mainly sharing with his widowed mother a fairly normal life in Northern Ireland. His role in the bombing begins when he checks into the hotel and offers cover for an IRA explosives expert. Moose is caught up in preparations for the Conservative Party conference that will have Margaret Thatcher and Cabinet members staying at the Grand. If it goes off well, so to speak, he expects to become the general manager. The divorced father worries about Freya, 18, who is marking time before college with a job on the hotel’s front desk, finding and losing a beau, and fighting with or fretting over her dad. The fragile normalcy of these lives on both sides of the Irish Sea is nicely conveyed, with smaller points of tension adding to the reader’s anticipation of the known climax, such as Dan’s sense of a growing threat to his home and mother or Moose’s loss of managerial control when he suffers a heart attack. The bomb itself is the main slow-burning fuse of suspense, detonated late in the tale. As one character says of movies, “sometimes the before is more interesting than the after.”
Lee’s writing has a marked freshness, his pacing and dialogue are exceptional, and every scene is deftly handled. This is a real craftsman at work.
Recently suspended twice for school fights, 17-year-old Abraham grapples with a propensity for violence.
The Latino teen’s grandmother can’t seem to bear his fighting anymore and decides that “Abram needs to learn how to be a man.” She enlists the help of Claudio, Abraham’s boorish, hostile uncle. With Uncle Claudio’s impending return, Abram fears the worst. Although his mother’s absence and his father’s death—a topic not broached in his family—also gnaw at him, he finds solace in his relationship with almost-girlfriend Ophelia, who urges him to root out the source of his aggression. “If you keep fighting….Nothing good can come from this, Abraham.” In his debut for teens, Jiménez (The Possibilities of Mud, 2014) explores shades of manhood and all it entails with a deft, poetic hand. Utilizing a second-person narration, the author revels in offering intense sensory details, portraying a firm sense of Abram’s inner turmoil. Uncle Claudio’s arrival marks the beginning of an ill-fated path for his nephew. After taking him to the gym to hone his strength, Uncle Claudio wants to prepare Abram for a career in boxing. Falling deeper for Ophelia, Abram considers his uncle’s offer as he muses on the “prospect of bills and a job and a family to lead.” When Uncle Claudio signs him up for dubious fighting matches, it all comes crashing down on Abram. Revelations come in disorienting wallops.
A moving, almost-suffocating, haunting exploration of what defines manhood.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
The tale of a devoted collector of manuscripts who outwitted militant jihadis.
Throughout Timbuktu’s tumultuous history, writes Hammer (Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire that Helped Forge the Path to World War II, 2006, etc.), the city “seemed to be in a constant state of flux, periods of openness and liberalism followed by waves of intolerance and repression” involving the killing of scholars in the 1300s, the banishment and imprisonment of Jews in the 1490s, and the implementation of Sharia law in the 1800s. In this vivid, fast-paced narrative, the author recounts another period of devastating repression when extremists took over the city in 2012, threatening both inhabitants and Mali’s cultural heritage. As a former bureau chief for Newsweek and current contributing editor to Smithsonian and Outside, Hammer draws on many—often dangerous—visits to the city and interviews with major players to chronicle the efforts of Abdel Kader Haidara to save priceless literary and historical manuscripts. Since the 1980s, working for Mali’s Ahmed Baba Institute, Haidara traveled by camel, canoe, and on foot, crossing perilous terrain, to acquire ancient manuscripts that had been hidden for safekeeping, sometimes in caves or holes in the ground. Some had decayed to dust or been eaten by termites, but in Mali’s dry climate, many thousands had been preserved. After nearly a decade at the institute, he had collected 16,500 manuscripts. Eventually, he amassed hundreds of thousands. As Hammer portrays him, Haidara was tireless, ingenious, and single-minded. Besides recounting Haidara’s efforts as collector, fundraiser, library builder, and publicist, Hammer conveys in palpable detail the rise and radicalization of al-Qaida militants. By 2006, Timbuktu had evolved into a modern city, with five hotels catering to growing tourism and three Internet cafes. Six years later, hundreds of extremists took over, arresting, executing, holding foreign hostages for exorbitant ransoms, and determined to purge the city of music, art, and literature.
A chilling portrait of a country under siege and one man’s defiance.
Prentiss’ sweeping debut follows three intertwining lives through the swirling energy, burning excitement, and crushing disappointment of New York City’s rapidly shifting art world at the dawn of the 1980s.
It’s Dec. 31, 1979, and James Bennett, a synesthetic rising star of art criticism, and his also-brilliant pregnant wife are toasting the new decade at the kind of swanky art-scene party they prefer to avoid. Also at the party: painter Raul Engales, a charismatic Argentinian expatriate who's done his best to erase his past life and is now poised, though he doesn’t know it yet, to become the darling of the art world. And: in a bar downtown later that night, Raul catches the (gorgeous) eye of 21-year-old Lucy Marie Olliason, recently transplanted from Ketchum, Idaho, in love with the city, and ready to fall in love with the artists in it. Their stories crash into each other like dominoes—the critic, the artist, and the muse—their separate futures and personal tragedies inextricably linked. The particulars of their connections, romantic and artistic, are too big and too poetic to be entirely plausible, but then, this is not a slice-of-life novel: this is a portrait of an era, an intoxicating Manhattan fairy tale. Prentiss’ characters—rich, nuanced, satisfyingly complicated—are informed not only by their emotional lives, but also by their intellectual and artistic ones; their relationships to art are as lively and essential as their relationships to each other. But while the novel is elegantly infused with an ambient sense of impending loss—this is New York on the cusp of drastic gentrification—it miraculously manages to dodge the trap of easy nostalgia, thanks in large part to Prentiss’ wry humor.
As affecting as it is absorbing. A thrilling debut.
A brilliant, introspective, socially awkward software engineer navigates corporate and personal challenges.
Hipps’ classy debut novel bears an epigraph from The Moviegoer—“Businessmen are our only metaphysicians”—and earns comparison to Walker Percy’s classic in its exploration of their shared premise. Here the businessman is Henry Hurt, head of the tech department at a firm called Cyber Systems, located in an office tower in an unnamed Southern city. Though he loves his job and is exceedingly good at it, Henry doesn’t actually give a damn about Internet security software: “What moves me to work is money’s comforts, yes, and also a community of smart, mostly efficient people; the sense of place that a good office gives.” This sense of place has become all the more essential since the death less than a year ago of Henry’s mother, back in Minnesota where he was raised and where he ends up several times on business trips in the course of the story. There, he visits his failing father and younger sister, Gretchen, the closest person in his life. Rocked by his loss at a nearly preconscious level, Henry pours his psychic energies into the “adventures” of the title, one being the need to help save his company from a massive shortfall in sales; the other, a similarly massive crush on a married co-worker. The writing is just about perfect: incisive, eloquent, philosophical, and witty by turns, whether describing a NASCAR race, a hotel lobby, a corporate meeting, the comportment of the slick, devious, hard-drinking sales manager Henry works with, or—most profoundly—what it is like to lose one’s mother. “What were you doing in her closet?” Gretchen asks. “You know perfectly well,” Henry replies. “Yes,” she says. He explains to the reader: “I wanted to have a look at her bedroom slippers. The terry cloth inside is worn to a dark shine. They seemed among the most unlikely things in the world.” Like Richard Ford, Hipps finds illumination about the meaning of life everywhere he looks.
Radiant essays inspired by “slivers and bits” of real women’s lives.
The Dreamland was both a real dance club that burned down in 1923 and a dreamscape, where Livingston (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis; Queen of the Fall: A Memoir of Girls and Goddesses, 2015, etc.) reunites women as disparate as activist Susan B. Anthony, tightrope walker Maria Spelterini, artists’ model Audrey Munson, and poet Adelaide Crapsey. The author calls her startlingly original essays literary nonfiction, but some read more like historical fiction, spun as they are from documented sources; and some—a brief evocation of Virginia Dare, for example—read like lyrical prose poems. Livingston is taken with wild women: daredevils and rebels who do not “stick to crosswalks and curfews and submit to regular cholesterol testing.” Human wildness, she writes, “is a precious and fleeting thing,” worth celebrating. Among the subjects in her panoply are schoolgirl Alice Mitchell, who fell in love with Freda Ward and proposed that they elope, Alice dressed like a man. Freda’s family quashed the plan, leaving Alice so bereft that she cut Freda’s throat. Insanity was the verdict at her trial: her love for a girl, in turn-of-the-century Memphis, “was considered more outrageous than the act of murder.” Based on scanty correspondence given to Livingston by her mother-in-law, she revives the mysterious Manuela Grey, who sailed on the Saturnia for Bologna, to be treated at an orthopedic hospital for arthritis in her hip. It is 1935, and Livingston pictures her as Claudette Colbert, a fashionable sophisticate who reads Edna St. Vincent Millay. In portraits of 15-year-old May Fielding, a white slave; Krao, a girl exhibited as Charles Darwin’s missing link; and a shunned Filipino classmate, the author displays uncommon empathy: “Aren’t we all looking for something to connect us to others while locating the truth of who we are?”
Orphaned by the Sri Lankan civil war, a young man hopes an arranged marriage might make his last days in a refugee camp more meaningful.
Under constant fire, Dinesh tends to the wounded in a makeshift clinic, where amputations occur as often as bombs—and without the niceties of anesthetic or surgical tools. As troops surround the camp—pushed to the edge of the sea by fighting—Dinesh meditates on what he feels may be his last moments: “All his life he had used his hands and feet, his fingers and toes, and knowing that soon he’d no longer be able to rely on them made him feel abandoned suddenly and alone.” His world, like the world of his fellow refugees, shrinks to the size of the camp: its trenches, an occasional bowl of rice, the wounded and dead and dying. When a desperate father approaches Dinesh with an offer of marriage to his only surviving daughter, Ganga, Dinesh accepts, hoping to ease the isolation caused by war and offer what little protection he can. “What they would do together, he didn’t know,” Dinesh thinks. “How husbands and wives spent their time he had no idea, but at the very least he would be able to sit beside her, to eat beside her, and think beside her.” With care and precision, Arudpragasam delivers a deeply contemplative, psychological portrait of war and how quickly language and memory fall away in the face of constant terror. Even the simplest acts—washing clothes and the body, walking—become opportunities for Dinesh to mourn the death of his mother or celebrate his new life as a husband. Arudpragasam writes in long, breathless passages, following the trail of Dinesh’s apprehensions about sex, survival, and intimacy. For all the bombs that devastate Dinesh’s country, this novel offers instead the “strange, weightless stillness” of trauma’s emotional aftermath.
An incisive glimpse into the brutality of war and the tender, human urge to connect in the face of death and destruction.
Like an intense, beautiful, and deeply moving piece of music, Tremain’s captivating historical novel hits all the right notes.
When we first meet Gustav, the protagonist of Tremain’s (Merivel: A Man of His Time, 2012, etc.) exquisite novel, he is 5 years old and living with his none-too-happy widowed mother, Emilie, in their extremely modest apartment in the small Swiss town of Matzlingen. The year is 1947, and the postwar mood is grim, yet Gustav finds patches of color, flavor, and beauty in the drab, gray world he and Emilie inhabit: the dark purple of a nearly new lipstick he discovers in the gratings of the church he and his mother clean to supplement her income from working in a cheese cooperative; the taste of Emilie’s knodel; the bloom of the cherry tree in their building’s courtyard. Gustav’s mother has offered him one chief lesson: he must “master himself,” as, she says, his late father did before him. “You have to be like Switzerland,” she tells him. “You have to hold yourself together and be courageous, stay separate and strong. Then, you will have the right kind of life.” Into this relatively cheerless world walks Anton, a talented yet moody Jewish musical prodigy who becomes Gustav’s most treasured friend. In concert with Gustav’s story, Tremain, who won the 2008 Orange Prize for The Road Home, also tells that of his father, Erich, a strong, handsome assistant police chief who followed his conscience and his heart. Eventually, Gustav’s lifelong friendship with Anton helps him to unlearn the stern lessons of his mother and unlock the secrets and yearnings of his own heart.
Spanning the decades from 1937 to 2002, Tremain’s novel is less sprawling than it is deeply intimate, a soul-stirring song about friendship, conscience, and love.
In this surgical examination of being young, female, and unfulfilled, debut author George employs not just a scalpel, but a whole kit of ominous and eerily specific instruments.
Acerbic and sly, this five-story collection explores the elaborate performance of identity and the palliative comfort of opting out of self-obsessed scenesterism, giving a knowing flick of the hand to artistic imitators and impostors alike. Plunging up to her elbows into the morass of (post)modern living, George picks apart things often mistaken for love (desperation, fearful neediness, projected desires, ego propping) and maturity (partnering, parenting, settling into a beige-and-vanilla existence after a clean break with youthful pursuits). Details accumulate haltingly, stepwise, like bits of a dream remembered upon waking, even as they threaten to slip from the dreamer's grasp, and George walks us through a thick fog with a dim flashlight alongside characters who can't quite apprehend the rules of the familiar-but-foreign places into which they've been flung. In "Guidance/The Party," a woman is brusquely prepped by a recondite entity, known only as "The Guide," for an adulthood more like an afterlife than a continuation of her earlier existence. In the title story, a cross between a reincarnation tale, an anxiety dream, and a particularly prurient version of “The Sims,” the narrator is given the chance to start over—from where, what, and by whom is never revealed—as a young woman of uncertain age in a place like a spurious micronation on the cusp of collapse. Though George occasionally dips into gratuitous weirdness and has a tendency toward list-making that can become tedious, overall these stories satisfy as they spit out one sardonic insight after the next. Take "Futures In Child Rearing," on the confusion, anxiety, and pressures that surround procreation: "I'm trying to have a baby. I'd like to name her Ocean, but I fear the implications: the void, the vast emptiness, the unknown, big whale shits, giant octopuses, or other possible hentai tentacle situations. I put my finger in the ovulation machine: Transaction Declined, it reads on the screen." By the final story, "Instruction," we can't be sure if we've been given a glimpse into a future where our absurdities have played out to their furthest extremes or perhaps the actual present, only we haven't quite realized yet the extent of our collective abjection.
A headlong charge through the process of becoming—an artist, an adult, a nobody, something, anything.
A distinguished novelist and short story writer’s memoir about uncovering a painful family past he had “hidden…in fiction, story after story, book after book.”
Growing up, Slouka (Brewster, 2013, etc.) and his mother, Olinka, were “soulmates, a church of two.” She, along with the author’s father, Zdenek, had witnessed the Nazi occupation of their home country of Czechoslovakia. Despite their outward appearance as successful immigrants, however, it became clear— especially after Olinka divorced Zdenek and returned to live in Moravia—that a soul-destroying madness consumed her. Slouka examines his complicated relationship to his mother and re-creates his parents’ lives in an effort to come to terms with his own grief and guilt. In 1945, Olinka and Zdenek married. But that union, born of desperation rather than love, took place in the shadow of the abortion Olinka had of a child conceived in incest with her Nazi-sympathizer father. By 1948, Zdenek was forced to flee the country and live in exile. Just before the pair left, Olinka fell deeply in love for the first and last time in her life with F., a man to whom she continued to write even after she left Czechoslovakia for Australia with Zdenek. The correspondence ended before the Sloukas came to the United States, but a chance encounter on a trip back to Czechoslovakia nearly 30 years later brought Olinka and F. together again as lovers, until his untimely death several years later. Broken and bitter, Olinka—who could not forgive her soul-mate son for growing up and loving other women—divorced Zdenek and left the U.S. for home. Dependent on pills that accelerated the development of Alzheimer’s disease, she died “raging at the world.” Slouka’s raw candor, narrative skill, and meticulous attention to the traps of his own memory make for powerful reading. However, it is his ability to confront the darkness in his past and acknowledge it as a shaping life force that makes this book especially engrossing.
Sharply detailed exploration of how technology and globalization have transformed participatory audio culture for top-dollar DJs and African ensembles alike.
Clayton, a contributor to n+1 and the Washington Post, among other publications, has toured and recorded as DJ/rupture, reflecting a lifelong obsession with the behind-the-scenes functionality of popular music. “I’ve spent time in music venues all over the world,” he writes, “from bacchanalian raves in Bristol to Egyptian street weddings.” His fundamental thesis is that the current pessimism (and shaky finances) surrounding the music industry conceals remarkable opportunities. “For each of the avenues closed down by the proliferation of digital technology, unexpected new pathways have opened up,” he writes. Though his cultural perspective seems sprawling, this collection is cohesively structured: each essay examines different technological innovations alongside the far-flung musical subcultures utilizing them to leapfrog past relative obscurity. For example, he discusses the controversial song-polishing program Auto-Tune via its embrace by Moroccan Berber pop musicians: “Auto-Tune sound tracks…a bucolic nation made real only in its digital diaspora.” Similarly, Clayton examines how a Brooklyn entrepreneur became a promoter and archivist of the music he’d collected off discarded Saharan cellphones, while controversial self-taught “cut and paste” rapper M.I.A. “sliced across style lines to become [a] must-hear secret.” The author occasionally delves into his own wry tales of incongruous experiences as a globe-trotting DJ, but he minimizes such personalization by focusing on the nitty-gritty of musicianship, showing off the gearhead obsessiveness and deep playlists essential to his career. Clayton writes adeptly about more forms of music than his DJ identity might suggest, contrasting the communities developed by underground rock ensembles like The Ex and Fugazi with the alienating experiences of obscure acts abruptly “discovered” by the hipster hype machine—e.g., Konono No. 1 or Omar Souleyman. “Musical innovation and excitement,” he writes, “emerge from a community experience, wherein the most groundbreaking or influential artists are rarely the most lauded.”
An engrossing tour of the global cutting edge, balanced between memoir, musicology, and technology.