Two star-crossed lovers—one Lebanese and the other Palestinian—meet in New York and try to reconcile their contentious romantic and political feelings in this novel from a Lebanese author who's never been translated into English before.
If the personal is indeed political, then the relationship between Majd and Hilda is loaded from the get-go. Majd designs computer games and has adapted well to the American dream, for his business is comfortably established on the 99th floor of a high-rise in New York City. He remains bitter about the past, however, for he was badly wounded and his mother was killed in the September 1982 massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. He meets and falls in love with Hilda, who’s come from Lebanon to study dance and fashion design. She comes from a conservative Christian family and still prays often and fervently. They begin a passionate affair, which Hilda interrupts—much to the dismay of Majd—by revisiting Lebanon to get back to her roots. Majd fears, not without reason, that the distance between them might bring an end to their affair. To complicate the love theme, Elhassan creates another relationship—between Majd’s Lebanese friend Mohsen (or Mike) and his voluptuous Mexican girlfriend, Eva—that echoes the primary bond between Hilda and Majd. The personal becomes really political when it turns out Hilda’s family were Phalangists and thus perhaps in part responsible for committing the atrocities at Sabra and Shatila. Once Hilda is back in Beirut she faces the difficult decision of whether to remain or to return to the States and try to redeem her relationship with Majd. Elhassan moves her story seamlessly across two time periods—2000, the “present” of the action, and 1982, when the massacre took place.
An intimate and intense novel that shines a light on both the overt and hidden tensions of the Middle East.
A French engineer working on the construction of the Eiffel Tower meets a Glaswegian widow, and their romance is as risky as the tower project itself.
Émile Nouguier is second-in-command to Gustave Eiffel, designing the tower that will mark the centennial of the French Revolution at the World’s Fair of 1889. In 1886, construction of La Tour is just commencing. As her only surviving son, Émile has incurred his aging mother’s disapproval for choosing engineering over active management of the family glass factory. During a tour of the construction site by balloon, Émile meets Caitriona Wallace, 31, a widow who has accompanied, as chaperone, two Scottish young adults, Alice and Jamie, the cosseted niece and nephew of a wealthy, childless Glasgow civil engineer. Cait’s husband was killed in a bridge collapse, but the match would have been doomed by an incompatibility between the couple which Colin handles so discreetly that readers can only guess at its nature until the very end. Now, Cait’s only options are positions such as this one or remarriage, but so far only one rich but repulsive suitor has presented himself. The attraction between Émile and Cait is instant but it takes several chapters of hesitation as each gradually sheds his or her own nationality’s version of Victorian reticence. Émile’s mother is dying and has been urging him to marry soon and produce grandchildren before it's too late, but he knows she will never accept Cait, a foreigner. Meanwhile, his ex-mistress Gabrielle has embroiled herself with Alice and Jamie, abetting the Scottish innocents’ forays into the Parisian demimonde. Cait, oblivious to the full extent of her charges’ indiscretions, dreads confessing what she does suspect to her employer, since it will necessitate a return to Glasgow and her own bleak future. Colin has a sure hand with the atmospheres of both cities and with the mores and dress of the period, and she manages to continually raise the stakes for her characters without ever resorting to melodrama.
Two people try desperately to make a connection in this angry, sad story of damaged lives and the personal and national politics that abet the problems.
The idea of two characters conveyed with much interior monologue as they spend a day moving around a major city until they finally connect in the wee hours may sound familiar. But it's doubtful that Kennedy (All the Rage, 2014, etc.) meant more than a nod to Joyce's Ulysses. Jon is a civil servant of 59, divorced after his wife's blatant infidelity and soured on a London career tidying up politicians' messes. He is plagued by a superior named Harry "the poisoned" Chalice, an utterly odious man who speaks like a John le Carré caricature—and yet a slowly revealed subplot bears real George Smiley resonance. Jon seeks to allay loneliness by offering in an ad to write romantic letters to women in need of same. One client is Meg, a single, recovering alcoholic of 45 who drank away her career and now works part-time in a shelter for rescue animals as she faces the onset of menopause. Their thoughts and rants and pain are rendered constantly in italic passages, giving the novel, along with fine writing throughout, two strong voices that can also be overwrought in both senses—making TMI really OTT ("You have the Hindenburg burning inside you always"). By the day on which all the story's events occur, Jon and Meg have met and months have passed; now they are trying for what could be a crucial tryst, and hour by hour things get in the way, from the wittering Chalice to Jon's boyfriend-abused daughter.
With sometimes-battering extremes of emotion and pain that ranges from personal injury to corrosive political nastiness, Kennedy's urban odyssey offers an unusual and often powerful love story.
On the brink of her marriage, a charmingly quirky, unassumingly intelligent, and winningly warmhearted young woman forges an unusually strong bond with a squirrel.
It’s easy to understand why everyone in Veblen Amundsen-Hovda’s life adores and depends on her. The heroine of McKenzie’s (MacGregor Tells the World, 2007, etc.) disarmingly offbeat novel is the sort of person who not only sews her own clothes and fixes up her own tumbledown bungalow (in ultrapricey Palo Alto, California), but supports herself working temp jobs while performing the unappreciated yet worthy task of translating texts from Norwegian, especially those pertaining to maverick economist, anti-materialist, and leisure-class critic Thorstein Veblen, after whom she was named. Veblen—whom the author describes as an “independent behaviorist, experienced cheerer-upper, and freelance self”—has just gotten engaged to Paul Vreeland, an equally charming yet outwardly more conventional young neurologist, whose academic research has led to a device that's captured the attention of industry and the Department of Defense. Paul and Veblen are in love, betrothed, and planning their wedding and life together, but Paul is tempted by the kind of “conspicuous consumption” Veblen’s economist namesake and hero railed against. Meanwhile, Veblen’s heart has been stolen by a squirrel, who she suspects understands her in a way no one else may. Paul is struggling to calibrate his ethical compass—and to come to terms with his issues surrounding his hippy parents and his intellectually disabled brother, Justin. Veblen is laboring to free herself from the demands of her narcissistic, hypochondriacal mother (not to mention the mentally unstable father who was mostly absent from her childhood) and stake her claim to her own healthy identity and future. Will these kind, if somewhat confused, young people find their ways out of the past and to each other and a happy shared future? The reader can’t help rooting them on.
McKenzie’s idiosyncratic love story scampers along on a wonderfully zig-zaggy path, dashing and darting in delightfully unexpected directions as it progresses toward its satisfying end and scattering tasty literary passages like nuts along the way.
Boy meets girl—for big bucks—in this high-concept Los Angeles rom-com.
“One of my clients is offering you five hundred thousand dollars each, if you’ll agree to spend some time together. At least once a week for two continuous hours, for one full calendar year.” This eponymous “decent proposal” is delivered by lawyer Jonathan Hertzfeld to two complete strangers he has called to his office. At 29, Richard Baumbach is a lovable, superhunky bro type, a wannabe movie producer, the kind of guy who crawls out of bed hung over from clubbing at 12:45 p.m. on a weekday. Voluptuous, uptight loner Elizabeth Santiago, known as “La Máquina” in her own law office due to her relentless productivity, has enough sobriety and maturity for a small village. But with that payoff dangling in front of them, the patently incompatible couple puts their differences aside and buckles down to the task of weekly socializing. Fortunately, there are a few things they both like, among them the In-N-Out Burger stand, one of many vivid LA settings in this trendy, lightweight beach read. Amid the texting and the pop music, Richard and Elizabeth form a book and movie club, inviting everyone from Harold and Maude and Miss Daisy to Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Ivanhoe, and Jane Eyre into the sometimes comically aspirational narrative. Donovan’s debut novel is as goofy and good-natured as its male lead, faltering only when it tries to be superserious and psychological. There's a homeless character named Orpheus Washington who is about as realistic as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and the long-awaited, somewhat poorly orchestrated reveal at the end is delivered in an awkward clump and followed by a silly coda.
A Labrador retriever of a book—you'll find yourself smiling even when it knocks over the furniture and drools on your leg.
Think smartphones and social media are threatening privacy? Imagine if you could hear everyone’s thoughts—and they could hear yours.
In her new novel, Hugo and Nebula winner Willis (All Clear, 2010, etc.), a master of door-slamming, hide-behind-the-furniture farce, takes as her theme cellphones—or, more broadly, what therapists refer to as “boundary issues.” The protagonist, Briddey Flannigan, works at a small communications technology company where everyone is always in each other’s business. Briddey has agreed to have an EED—a minor neurosurgical procedure—to enhance her emotional connection with her boyfriend, Trent Worth, a square-jawed up-and-comer who’s working on the company’s next-gen smartphone and hints he’ll propose to her if the operation goes well. The office gossips may be swooning over Trent, but Briddey’s equally intrusive extended family members—which includes Aunt Oona’s chapter of the Daughters of Ireland—have their own strong opinions about brain surgery and suitable husbands. Dodging phone calls and selling white lies suddenly gets a lot harder when Briddey starts hearing voices in her head and realizes that her private thoughts aren’t so private after all. Is it the second sight? True love? Schizophrenia? A breakthrough in smartphone tech? Maybe—but mostly it’s a critique of modern society and an unsurprising metaphor for the perils and joys of human connection.
In other hands this novel could have been mere cliché, but Willis’ exuberant humor and warmhearted, fast-paced plotting transform it into a satisfying, if old-fashioned, romantic comedy.
Lucy Hutton absolutely detests her office mate Joshua Templeman. He’s a pompous, self-important, obnoxious ass. But, she’s got to admit, he is pretty cute.
From the moment they meet, a result of the unwelcome corporate merger between their employers, Lucy and Joshua are at odds. Joshua is assistant to the CEO of what was once Bexley Publishing, a numbers-crunching, foosball-playing frat house–cum-business. Lucy is assistant to the CEO of the now-defunct Gamin Publishing, a Birkenstock-clad, free-flowing commune of literary purists. When the two companies begrudgingly become one, so does the executive suite. Thus begins this hate-at-first-sight romantic comedy. Lucy and Joshua’s daily interactions include the staring game, the mirror game, and the HR game, each played with the intensity of the Hunger Games. Their mutual antipathy grows when a new executive position opens at Bexley-Gamin Publishing and both Lucy's and Joshua’s bosses think their protégés would be the perfect choice. Here the high-stakes game begins. After yet another 60-hour work week, which now includes prepping for upcoming interviews, Lucy logs off of her computer (Password: IHATEJOSHUA4EV@) to head home, but not before her rival hops into the elevator with her. When Joshua hits the emergency button and stops the ride, Lucy is certain her nemesis is going to kill her. Instead, he plants a (completely consensual) kiss on her that awakens something she hadn’t known existed. Debut novelist Thorne delivers something nearly impossible: an entirely predictable plot that is also completely fresh, original, and utterly charming. From the opening page, readers will know the outcome of Lucy and Joshua’s relationship, but what happens in between is magic. From Lucy’s hilarious inner dialogue to Joshua’s sharp retorts, the chemistry between them is irresistibly adorable—and smokin’ hot.
A breezy tale perfect for a day at the beach, this one’s a real winner.
As in Dream Things True (2015), Marquardt explores the American dream, this time through the lenses of two traumatized teens.
Gretchen, who’s white, should be reveling in the moment as a high school senior. Instead, she’s home-schooled since being robbed and assaulted in her Atlanta neighborhood has left her with debilitating panic attacks. In a nearby community, 18-year-old brown-skinned Phoenix, who escaped and rescued his younger brother, Ari, from gang violence in El Salvador, is staying with a compassionate lesbian couple while he awaits his day in court as an asylum seeker. Phoenix learned impeccable English from missionaries who established a bilingual school in his village, so he’s able to communicate with Gretchen when they accidentally meet. Told in the teens’ alternating voices, the enlightening story follows their growing relationship as they learn the traumatic experiences each has faced and help each other cope with them. The focus, however, is on Phoenix and Ari’s grisly escape, witnessing acts that have left Ari mute in a juvenile detention facility, and their need to avoid returning to certain death in El Salvador. While the teens’ relationship is tested when details from Phoenix’s past coincide with Gretchen’s case, a host of diverse characters lend a hand and offer varying perspectives.
A rushed ending is only a small distraction in this otherwise eye-opening story.
Published for the first time nearly 30 years after the author's death at age 46, this gorgeous and strikingly intimate short story collection focuses on the lives and loves of black Americans in the 1960s.
In “Exteriors,” an unseen narrator directs the lighting for a disintegrating marriage like a scene from a movie set. “Okay, now backlight the two of them asleep in the big double bed,” says the voice. And then later: “take it way down. She looks too anxious and sad.” “Interiors,” the companion story, is a pair of reflective monologues, first the husband (“Sometimes I get the feeling that when I’m dead happiness is gonna rise up out of your soul and wreck havoc on life”), and then the wife (“the first time my husband left me, I took a small cabin in the woods, to enjoy a benevolent solitude”). The title story, wrenching and darkly hilarious, follows a circle of young interracial lovers through 1963, “the year of race-creed-color blindness.” In “The Happy Family,” the family’s friend recounts the quiet tragedy of their slow unraveling; “When Love Withers All of Life Cries” documents the emotional landscape of a romance. A pioneering African-American playwright, filmmaker, and activist best known for her 1982 feature film Losing Ground, Collins has a spectacular sense of dialogue. These are stories where nothing happens and everything happens, stories that are at once sweeping and very, very small. Though most of the pieces span only a few pages, they are frequently overwhelmingly rich—not just in their sharp takes on sex, race, and relationships, but in the power and music of their sentences. Collins’ prose is so precise and hypnotic that no amount of rereading it feels like enough.
Having lost his job, his wife, and nearly all of his eyesight, a former Merrill Lynch stockbroker braves a strange but compelling new existence in northern Vermont among hippies, drug dealers, evangelicals, and struggling farmers.
We are in the Vietnam era. Much of the time, the aged Press lives a life of "banal loneliness" in a small farm cabin, listening to Bach and Mozart on a Montreal radio station—sounds inseparable from "the creak of his swing on the porch, barn swallows harvesting bugs overhead, a teacher bird, and a wood thrush's liquid fluting." As much out of curiosity or boredom as compassion, the locals take an interest in him—especially Carol, an artist who lives on a nearby commune. She becomes his driver, social guide, caretaker, tease, and unexpected sex partner. In her company, he finds himself pushing past perceived limitations and brushing off his ex-wife's recommendation that he move into a nursing home. Never mind the dealers who are secretly storing marijuana in his shed. Long on surprises, his new life proves as richly revealing as it is unsettling. A treasure on multiple levels, the novel leads us into its protagonist's sensory world with such ease, intimacy, and humor the 83-year-old Hoagland—who is going blind himself—seems to be in our thoughts as much as we are in his. Taking leave of Press is no easy task.
The incomparable Hoagland's 25th book is not only one of the most rewarding novels of the year, it's also one of the sexiest.
Two star-crossed lovers navigate romantic confusion, familial interference, and looming war in this novel, set in China in the 1930s and '40s.
Shen Shijun and Gu Manzhen, the central characters of this novel by Chang (1920-1995), are both eminently admirable figures: hardworking, kind to their friends, and dedicated to their families. That they slowly realize their love for one another isn’t much of a surprise since their slow-burning recognition occupies much of the book’s first half. Circumstances soon force them to part, and the interference of Manzhen’s family turns what could have been a brief separation into one that lasts for years. Translator Kingsbury's introduction discusses the book's evolution and the circumstances of its publication, which makes for a compelling story on its own. The original version was published in the early 1950s, then substantially revised, with a political plotline excised for a 1969 edition. Though this is, according to Kingsbury’s telling, Chang’s “most popular novel,” this edition marks its first English translation. And there’s plenty to savor. Chang’s attention to detail is meticulous, and the way the plot navigates societal mores and taboos calls to mind the work of Edith Wharton. The novel’s supporting characters are also unpredictable: a brief comic moment reveals the less-than-charitable thoughts of two of Shijun's relatives upon seeing each other for the first time in years: "It's really awful when a man our age gets sick. One bad spell, and he looks positively geriatric!" “Those false teeth make Jyu-sun look like a buck-toothed granny. What a decline since I last saw him!” Over the course of the novel, romance and regret are interlaced, each one given the appropriate weight.
With compelling protagonists and a host of memorable supporting characters, this novel tells an emotionally complex story with a number of powerful moments.
In McKeon’s exquisite second novel, two Dublin young people—poet and student Catherine and aspiring art photographer James—tumble into a friendship that, though its lines shift and blur, ultimately helps bring their identities into focus.
From almost the first moment they meet, Catherine and James are inseparable. They talk on the phone for hours and write long letters to each other when they're apart, walk arm in arm, and share a special common language when they're together. Although Catherine, still adjusting to life at university and away from her rural childhood home, is studying art history and English, James, who also grew up outside the city and is just back from a stint working as an assistant to a well-known photographer in Berlin, seems (to her, at least) to know far more about, well, everything than she. With James, Catherine learns to be bold and take risks—intellectual, emotional, physical. James, too, finds a path to himself and to his future. But as their relationship, tracked over the course of a little more than a year, in 1997-'98, becomes increasingly complex and weightier and takes on new dimensions, it begins to fracture. McKeon, whose debut novel, Solace, won the 2011 Faber Prize and was voted the Irish Book of the Year, captures something essential about friendship, vulnerability, love, and longing. As it explores the push-pull of this achingly intimate, increasingly obsessive relationship—the way James and Catherine attract and repel each other as if they were two strong magnets turned this way and that—the story throbs with the tension between them. This is youth; this is yearning. These are the lessons we learn about desire and disappointment, discovered strengths and regrettable weaknesses—and how to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made when we did not yet know how to keep ourselves from making them.
McKeon regards the characters in her keenly wrought love story—for all their flaws and fragility—with insight, sensitivity, and a compassion that proves contagious.
A widowed restaurateur falls for a young waiter in a Detroit-set romance with heart, sweat, and tears.
When his husband, John, died five years ago, Asher let both their restaurant and his personal connections drift. Hoping to breathe life into the dying Idlewild, Asher replaces his entire staff. One of his new hires is Tyler, a recent pre-med grad taking a break from his march to an M.D. Tyler’s intense, youthful exuberance and optimism shake Asher from his distant reserve. But Tyler is in a long-term relationship with Malik. While Asher has moved on in some ways from John’s death, he's in deep denial about his emotional readiness for a new love. Sierra (What It Takes, 2016, etc.) has created a very natural and psychologically astute portrayal of a romantic relationship, by turns funny, delightful, and painful. A poet, Sierra often surprises with a lovely turn of phrase: to describe Tyler’s mixed racial and gender identity: “Tyler knows of the middleness of his body”; on the toll of restaurant life: “Morning is tight in his bones, and he hurts with exhaustion.” Less successfully, Sierra uses the tension between “the two Detroits,” personified in Asher’s wealthy suburban upbringing and Tyler’s East Detroit background, to build conflict; in those passages, the writing can seem didactic. A leisurely read that allows its characters to unfurl in layers, revealing how love of another reflects our true selves back to us in sometimes surprising and challenging ways.
A lovely, finely wrought romance that reminds us that to truly love another, we must know our own hearts.