A 14-year-old girl struggles to escape her father’s emotional and physical abuse in this harrowing debut.
Turtle (born Julia) lives with her father, Martin, in the woods near the Mendocino coast. Their home is equipped like a separatist camp, and Martin opines officiously about climate change when he isn’t training Turtle in gun skills or, at night, raping her. Unsurprisingly, Turtle is isolated, self-hating, and cruel to her classmates. She also possesses the kind of strength that suggests she could leave Martin if she had help, but her concerned teacher and grandfather are unsure what to do, and once Martin pulls her out of school and her grandfather dies, the point is moot. Can she get out? Tallent delays the answer to that question, of course, but before the climax he’s written a fearless adventure tale that’s as savvy about internal emotional storms as it is about wrangling with family and nature. Turtle gets a glimpse of a better life through Jacob, a classmate from a well-off family (“she feels brilliantly included within that province of things she wants”), and her efforts to save him in the woods earn his admiration. But when Martin brings another young girl home, Turtle can’t leave for fear of history repeating. Tallent often stretches out visceral, violent scenes—Turtle forced to sustain a pull-up as Martin holds a knife beneath her, homebrew surgery, eating scorpions—to a point that is nearly sadistic. But he plainly means to explore how such moments seem to slow time, imprinting his young characters deeply. And he also takes care with Martin’s character, showing how the autodidact, hard-edged attitude that makes him so monstrous also gives Turtle the means to plot against him. Ultimately, though, this is Turtle’s story, and she is a remarkable teenage hero, heavily damaged but admirably persistent.
A powerful, well-turned story about abuse, its consequences, and what it takes to survive it.
Messud (The Woman Upstairs, 2013, etc.) investigates the fraught intricacies of friendship and adolescence as two girls grow up and grow apart in a small Massachusetts town.
About to start her senior year of high school, narrator Julia painfully traces the loss of her childhood friend Cassie, a bold rule-breaker who goaded and thrilled cautious Julia even as she relied on her friend’s good sense to keep them safe. During the charmed intimacy of childhood, Julia wistfully recalls, “we had one mind and could roam its limits together, inventing stories and making ourselves as we wanted them to be.” But in seventh grade Cassie drifts away to a more popular crowd, adding insult to injury by dating and then dropping Peter, an older boy she knows Julia likes. With characteristically lucid prose, Messud perfectly captures the agonizing social insecurities of middle school in Julia’s seething assessment that Cassie “thought she could laugh at me to my face…she was Regina George from Mean Girls and I was Janis.” Payback comes when Cassie’s widowed mother, Bev, falls in love with Dr. Anders Shute, who may have an unhealthy interest in Cassie and certainly encourages Bev to confine and control her in ways that lead to a crisis. By this time, Julia has new friends of her own and a more secure social niche in ninth grade; she knows Cassie is in trouble but is too hurt and too invested in her new role—this is very much a book about masks and performances—to respond when Cassie tentatively reaches out. Although their shared past gives Julia the knowledge to forestall disaster when Cassie vanishes, Messud also suggests that we never truly know another, not even those we love best. That stark worldview only slowly becomes apparent in a narrative that for a long time seems more overwrought than events call for (it is, after all, narrated by a teenager), but by the novel’s closing pages it packs an emotional wallop.
Can British film star Mia Barlow and American novelist Paul Barton turn their unlikely friendship into romance in the City of Light?
Falling in love in Paris should be easy, but unlucky Mia and Paul come with more baggage than their suitcases. Weeks before the opening of her blockbuster romantic comedy, the actress discovers her co-star husband is more lothario than hero. She escapes her domestic drama and runs off to Paris to visit her best friend, Daisy. Sporting a new hairstyle and glasses, Mia fills in for a waitress at Daisy's restaurant and manages to go unnoticed by fans. Soon she meets Paul, a reluctant literary phenomenon. He moved to Paris from San Francisco nearly a decade ago, partly to avoid the limelight of the American literary scene, and through a series of events that involve Mia snooping on Daisy's computer and Paul's friends trying to find a girlfriend for him without his knowing about it, he and Mia are matched up on a dating website. Their very blind date lends itself to the typical romantic comedy conventions of mistaken identity and miscommunication until they discover the ruse and decide to cultivate a friendship. As Mia decides what to do about her cheating husband and Paul contemplates a move to Korea, where his books are wildly popular, the two go through the requisite paces of getting to know one another’s charms and quirks. There’s a smileworthy if not hilarious scene in which the couple is nearly arrested for trespassing at the Opera House. While the plot is predictable, Levy (Replay, 2014, etc.) delivers a few fun surprises. We discover there’s more to Paul’s success in Korea than meets the eye. And the descriptions of Montmartre and the City of Light are also enjoyable, though nothing truly fresh or insightful.
Breezy and fast-paced, this romantic comedy is a bonbon of delicious, albeit mostly empty, calories.
The 30th novel by the creator of Harry Bosch (The Wrong Side of Goodbye, 2016, etc.) and the Lincoln Lawyer (The Gods of Guilt, 2013, etc.) introduces an LAPD detective fighting doggedly for justice for herself and a wide array of victims.
Ever since her partner, Detective Ken Chastain, failed to back up her sexual harassment claim against Lt. Robert Olivas, her supervisor at the Robbery Homicide Division, Renée Ballard has been banished to the midnight shift—the late show. She’s kept her chin down and worked her cases, most of which are routinely passed on to the day shifts, without complaints or recriminations. But that all ends the night she and Detective John Jenkins, the partner who’s running on empty, are called to The Dancers, a nightclub where five people have been shot dead. Three of them—a bookie, a drug dealer, and a rumored mob enforcer—are no great loss, but Ballard can’t forget Cynthia Haddel, the young woman serving drinks while she waited for her acting career to take off. The case naturally falls to Olivas, who humiliatingly shunts Ballard aside. But she persists in following leads during her time off even though she’d already caught another case earlier the same night, the brutal assault on Ramona Ramone, ne Ramón Gutierrez, a trans hooker beaten nearly to death who mumbles something about “the upside-down house” before lapsing into a coma. Despite, or because of, the flak she gets from across the LAPD, Ballard soldiers on, horrified but energized when Chastain is gunned down only a few hours after she tells him off for the way he let her down two years ago. She’ll run into layers of interference, get kidnapped herself, expose a leak in the department, kill a man, and find some wholly unexpected allies before she claps the cuffs on the killer in a richly satisfying conclusion.
More perhaps than any of Connelly’s much-honored other titles, this one reveals why his procedurals are the most soulful in the business: because he finds the soul in the smallest details, faithfully executed.
In Perrotta’s latest (Nine Inches: Stories, 2013, etc.), a mother and son experience existential tizzies following his departure for college.
As is often the case with Perrotta’s fiction, it takes a while to warm up to his protagonists, who make their first appearances while engaged in off-putting, though wincingly credible, behavior. Brendan Fletcher nurses a hangover while his mother lugs his boxes and suitcases downstairs and packs the van; Eve is both such a patsy and so weirdly controlling that once they get to Berkshire State University, she hangs around Brendan's dorm, “organizing his closet and dresser just the way they were at home,” before her mortified son makes it clear that she should, like, leave. We soon grow fond of Eve, compassionate director of the Haddington Senior Center and, after she signs up for a community college course on “Gender and Society,” the friend and confidante of its transgender professor, Margo Fairchild. Brendan initially seems set to be the same sexist jock in college that he was in high school, until he’s thrown radically off course by a girl named Amber. It’s not such a stretch that she gets him involved in the Autism Awareness Network—his stepbrother from his father’s new marriage is on the spectrum—but getting him to join a protest about Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson is pretty startling. Of course, it’s mostly because Amber is really pretty, but Perrotta invites us to appreciate the slow growth of Brendan’s awareness that there are actually other people in the universe in tandem with Eve’s pleasant discovery of her unexpected sexual appeal for younger men—and a taste for internet porn. Perrotta’s eye for contemporary mores and social details remains razor-sharp; his portraits of the substantial supporting cast are equally keen and tempered with compassion. There are no bad guys here, just fallible human beings trying to grab some happiness. The deliberately inconclusive conclusion points Eve and Brendan toward that goal but doesn’t promise they’ll get there.
More spot-on satire with heart and soul from a uniquely gifted writer.
A dark, still figure, wearing long black robes and a hood, appears on the charming village green of Three Pines, a small Québec town; though at first it seems scary but harmless, it turns out to be something much more sinister.
The strange figure’s appearance coincides with a Halloween party at the local bistro, attended by the usual villagers but also four out-of-town guests. They are friends from the Université de Montréal who meet for a yearly reunion at the B&B in Three Pines. But this event actually happened months ago, and village resident Armand Gamache, now head of the Sûreté du Québec, is recounting the story from the witness stand in a courtroom suffering from oppressive summer heat. Gamache’s testimony becomes narrative, explaining how over the course of a few days the masked man grew into a fixture on the village green and morphed slowly into an omen. Gamache’s son-in-law and second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, is asked to research the “dark thing’s” back story after one of the B&B guests, a journalist, mentions that the figure reminds him of story he did on an old Spanish tradition, that of the “debt collector.” It becomes clear, as Gamache relays the events leading up to murder, that “someone in the village had done something so horrific that a Conscience had been called.” But did the dark thing come for a villager or for one of their guests? Conscience is an overarching theme in Penny’s latest, seeping into the courtroom narrative as Gamache grapples with an enemy much larger than the dark thing, a war he took on as the new Chief Superintendent. His victory depends on the outcome, and the path, of this murder trial. While certain installments in Penny’s bestselling series take Gamache and his team to the far reaches of Québec, others build their tension not with a chase but instead in the act of keeping still—this is one such book. The tension has never been greater, and Gamache has sat for months waiting, and waiting, to act, with Conscience watching close by.
A meticulously built mystery that follows a careful ascent toward a breaking point that will leave you breathless. It’s Three Pines as you have never seen it before.
A literary prodigy allows her husband to convince her to reverse their decision not to have children.
Can you be a mother and also be an artist—or, by extension, pursue any serious ambition at all? This is the question taken up with urgency and all due complexity in lawyer and film producer Wolas' debut novel. The book opens with a hugely laudatory magazine profile of a fictional writer named Joan Ashby, revealing that at age 13 Ashby articulated nine rules for herself. No. 7 was “Do not entertain any offer of marriage,” and No. 8 was “Never ever have children.” Then, the article explains, after having taken the world by storm with two story collections, Ashby got married and became pregnant at 25—and that was the last she was heard from for nearly three decades. After revealing this much, and providing reprints of two of Ashby’s famous stories, the article cuts off with this line: “Continued after the break.” The “break” is a 500-plus–page narrative exploring Ashby’s struggles during these decades. It’s a tribute to Wolas’ plot that most of it cannot be decently revealed. And heaven knows, a book this big needs its plot. Wolas provides not only the main story, but several more excerpts from Ashby’s work. Maybe she goes a little too far with these digressions, but even in a scene where Ashby is teaching a writing class and the first lines of a dozen student stories are included—they're all great first lines! Like John Irving’s The World According to Garp, this is a look at the life of a writer that will entertain many nonwriters. Like Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, it's a sharp-eyed portrait of the artist as spouse and householder.
From the start, one wonders how Wolas is possibly going to pay off the idea that her heroine is such a genius. Verdict: few could do better.
The residents of a small town in the Berkshires have their world overturned by a billionaire in their midst.
This is a novel with political motives, so much so that it recalls The Fountainhead, except Dee (A Thousand Pardons, 2013, etc.) is a better writer than Ayn Rand by several orders of magnitude, and his point seems to be virtually the opposite of hers. The drama begins on Sept. 11, 2001, when Mark Firth, visiting New York from Howland, Massachusetts, unhappily learns that his meeting with a lawyer has been cancelled. This attorney is representing the plaintiffs in a class-action suit against a con-artist financial adviser who stole their money—in Firth's case, his entire savings. He’s not the only Howland resident who will be struggling in the coming months. Though relief over his safe return smooths things over for a while, Mark’s wife is far from happy in either her marriage or her job, working as a teacher’s aide at a private school so her daughter can get reduced tuition. His brother, Gerry, is fired from Century 21 for an indiscretion; their sister, Candace, is furious at both of them for not helping out with their decrepit parents, and her day job is not on solid ground either. The town is feeling the pinch as well, but the last thing strapped residents want is another tax hike. When their First Selectman unexpectedly dies, Philip Hadi steps into the breach. The Hadis used to be summer people, but in the wake of 9/11 they moved to the country full time, first installing a set of security cameras. Hadi’s solution to Howland’s troubles begins with cutting government to the bare essentials; according to him, past tax increases were only necessary to feed the bureaucracy itself. If there's a real need for something they can’t afford—why, he’ll just pay for it. What happens to the citizens of Howland after that plays both as political allegory and kaleidoscopic character study.
An absorbing panorama of small-town life and a study of democracy in miniature, with both the people and their polity facing real and particular contemporary pressures.
These short stories are works of dark, dark magic that skitter between worlds both recognizable and wholly new.
Fans of Hunt's work (Mr. Splitfoot, 2016, etc.) will revel in her first story collection, which marries her signature flare for the fantastic with keen observation and sharp prose. In “Beast,” a woman transforms into a deer each night and frets about how her newfound wild side will affect her marriage. The strip mall sadness of rural Pennsylvania pushes the grown siblings in “Cortés the Killer” to make a series of terrible decisions. A woman moves to Florida to escape memories of a miscarriage, but they come flooding back during a hurricane in “The House Began to Pitch.” And, in “Love Machine,” a lonely FBI agent botches a mission in order to consummate his love for a killer robot. Even when things get strange, Hunt pins language to the page with such precision that you’ll never doubt her for a moment. Not even when, in “All Hands,” 13 teenage girls get pregnant in an homage to the Founding Fathers—then steal a moment between classes to “[lift] off the ground” like “floating balloons...full of grace.” Hunt also has a knack for writing about the particular sadness and anxiety of middle-aged women in suburban and rural America, whether precipitated by motherhood, marriage, or loneliness. As one narrator remarks in “Love Story,” “while no one wants to hear about middle-aged female sexual desire, I don’t care anymore what no one thinks.” Thankfully, Hunt is more than good enough to make you care.
Grab your comforter and a flashlight for this tour de force collection from one of our most inventive storytellers.