A lonely writer and his aging dachshund confront a mythic enemy.
If it wasn’t for one thing, Rowley’s debut novel might be viewed as a lightly fictionalized, heart-wrenching account of the author’s last six months with his adored 12-year-old dog, Lily, who succumbed to a brain tumor. That one thing, however, is pretty big. It’s the “octopus” of the title. “It’s Thursday the first time I see it. I know that it’s Thursday because Thursday nights are the nights my dog, Lily, and I set aside to talk about boys we think are cute.…We get into long debates over the Ryans. I’m a Gosling man, whereas she’s a Reynolds gal.” The thing Ted notices that fateful Thursday is an octopus. It “has a good grip and clings tightly over her eye.” For almost all of this novel that thing over Lily’s eye remains an “octopus,” an evil eight-legged sea creature that snarks and schemes and wages battle. Even Ted’s best friend and therapist give in and call it an octopus, and a good deal of plot is built around pretending that it is, in an elaborately developed, magical realist way. This is not the best thing about the book. In fact, it becomes a little much. But more than balancing it are the portrait of Lily in all her bedclothes-burrowing, ice cream–eating, stubborn dachshund glory and the intensity of this particular interspecies bond. The octopus talks to Ted, but Lily does too, for example when she’s licking tears off his face: “THIS! EYE! RAIN! YOU! MAKE! IS! FANTASTIC! I! LOVE! THE! SALTY! TASTE! YOU! SHOULD! MAKE! THIS! EVERY! DAY!” As anyone who has a dachshund knows, this is exactly how they talk. If you have an older dog, or any dog, he or she is going to be licking plenty of eye rain off your face through the final chapters of this book.
In his funny, ardent, and staunchly kooky way, Rowley expresses exactly what it’s like to love a dog.
When Notaro received antibiotics for a case of pneumonia, she didn’t know she was embarking on months of health and family disasters. The drugs gave her a difficult and debilitating intestinal disease called C. diff, which caused her to lose more than 20 pounds and experience terrible abdominal pain. In the same time period, she lost her mother to an unexpected home accident. Then, after months of delay, she finally decided to examine the lump in her breast that she’d detected two years earlier, only to be told she had breast cancer in both breasts. At this extremely low point in her life, Notaro walked on stage and delivered brand-new material, opening with lines about her cancer. Once the audience realized she wasn’t joking, she writes, it was then “her job as a comedian to get every silenced, stunned person back to laughing….I made it my mission to yank everyone out of the dark hole by delivering a lighter joke or asking why they were taking this so hard—which caused the laughter that we all needed.” She received a standing ovation, and her career skyrocketed even as she faced a double mastectomy, the ongoing grief of her mother’s passing, and a broken romance. As she unfolds the intimate moments of her personal annus horribilis, Notaro intermingles laugh-out-loud moments from her childhood with her crazy mother and stepfather and sweet romantic times as an adult. Throughout her brief work, the author is frank, at times humorous, and anything but melodramatic. She shows readers the full spectrum of her emotional and physical conditions, her vulnerability, and ultimately her strength as she enters a happier and healthier stage in her life.
Forthright and private moments are revealed as a stand-up comedian uses her gift of creating laughter to overcome personal and physical disasters.
New York Times Magazine writer Heffernan considers the mighty Internet in all its terrible beauty and power.
As a member of a pre-millennial generation that can rightly say its maturation process paralleled the Internet’s own, the author is in excellent position to declare early on, “if it’s ever fair to say that anything has ‘changed everything,’ it’s fair to say so about the Internet.” Heffernan’s digital odyssey began personally and warmly in the glow of an inchoate social networking platform at Dartmouth College called “Conference XYZ,” which the author used while still a preteen. The ensuing decades have only served to deepen the author’s initial wonder with the Internet. Deeply contemplating the aesthetic meaning behind the Internet’s early interface, Heffernan exercises the same sort of intellectual curiosity more commonly ascribed to things like string theory and quantum physics. She similarly treats popular time killers like “Angry Birds” and “Frisbee.” “But when things settle down in reality, the Frisbee game is too exciting,” writes the author. “It does nothing to teach the all-important patience and tolerance for boredom that are central to learning.” The author’s cerebral, literary approach also informs her discussion of YouTube’s inaugural clip from 2005, titled “Me At The Zoo,” in which one of the site’s founders vaguely talks about elephants at the San Diego Zoo. Heffernan, however, is also sober about the Internet’s negative aspects. At one point, she calls it a “graphic mess…designed to weaken, confound, and pickpocket you.” Still, the author steadfastly defends the Internet from myopic critics who are all too happy to jeer it. “Asking what’s to become of poetry in the age of Twitter is like asking what will become of music in the age of guitars,” she writes. In melding the personal with the increasingly universal, Heffernan delivers a highly informative analysis of what the Internet is—and can be.
A thoroughly engrossing examination of the Internet’s past, present, and future.
The moving personal stories behind the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which established the right of same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states.
While the major 2013 Supreme Court decision of United States v. Windsor had struck down key discriminatory provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, there remained some shadowy spaces still not defined for the equal protection of gay couples. In this affecting, eloquent account, Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Cenziper (Washington Post) and the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, civil rights activist Obergefell, re-create the events and legal precedent that began in Cincinnati shortly after the Windsor decision, involving Obergefell and his longtime partner and husband, John Arthur, who died in 2013. Having defended such unpopular causes as abortion clinics and discrimination against gay employees, crusading Cincinnati lawyer Al Gerhardstein resolved to launch a federal lawsuit against the state of Ohio in order to allow Obergefell to be listed on Arthur’s death certificate as “surviving spouse,” although their marriage was not recognized by Ohio, where a referendum a decade earlier had banned the recognition of same-sex marriages. While the ban on anti-discrimination laws for gays was declared unconstitutional by the city of Cincinnati, the conservative 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision in 1995, then again in 2014, refusing to recognize gay couples (who had married in another state) on death certificates and the birth certificates of their children. Essentially, the court forced Gerhardstein’s hand, and he petitioned the Supreme Court, which, astoundingly, took the case, narrowing the issue down to two questions: “whether the Constitution required all fifty states to issue marriage licenses to people of the same sex and whether states with bans should be required to recognize marriages that were legally performed elsewhere.” The authors ably create the suspense of anticipation and winnow the legal issues for lay readers.
Uplifting, well-written story of personal courage and political empowerment.
After she discovers her sister brutally murdered, a woman’s search for answers becomes as much about understanding the sibling she's lost as finding the killer.
On any other visit to her older sister Rachel’s Oxfordshire home, Londoner Nora Lawrence would look forward to leisurely meals and long talks enhanced by wine. But when she arrives this time, Nora finds Rachel stabbed 11 times and her German shepherd, Fenno, hanging dead from an upstairs banister. Berry, in her keenly wrought debut, never lets the reader forget the weight of Rachel’s death, the heft of which grinds down Nora’s every step as she lumbers from the police station to the local inn, where she decides to stay in order to be close to the investigation. Unlike murder cases on television, where evidence and suspects seem to abound, Rachel’s case flounders from the start: there’s no murder weapon, the village isn’t overrun with nefarious characters, and the more Nora discovers about her sister, the less she feels like she knows her. Convinced that the murder might be linked to a brutal assault Rachel suffered at age 17 by an unknown assailant, Nora struggles to reconcile the fierce love she feels for her sister with the creeping feeling of inadequacy that always hovered on the periphery of their tightly knit but often fraught relationship.
Berry accomplishes the rare feat of making the victim come alive on the page without ever sacrificing the deep, all-encompassing loss felt by those left behind.
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.
When 54-year-old doctor Georgia Young learns that her college crush Raymond Strawberry has died unexpectedly, she decides to hunt up all the men she's loved in her life and tell them what they meant to her.
Georgia’s plan quickly becomes bigger than lost love: along the way she decides to quit her job as a successful optometrist, sell her house, and travel Canada by train to try to discover just what it is she's always wanted to do with her life. For Georgia, the trip will be "a long, meditative prayer” that “will help me not to worry about the end of my life but encourage me.” But the world is not always respectful of our dreams; and Georgia’s children and business partner—not to mention new and old loves—crash-land in her life with turmoil and drama of their own, forcing Georgia’s best laid plans to go awry. "We all take a path we thought we wanted to take, and then we find out there are other paths we can still explore," one of Georgia’s long-lost former lovers tells her toward the end of the novel. For Georgia, this means coming full circle to recognize what she has overlooked and realize the extent of her present happiness and talents. While some readers may stumble over Georgia’s attitude toward her children and grandchildren—ambivalence verging on coolness—as well as some key plot gaps and a somewhat uneven narrative that meanders as much as Georgia’s uncertain quest for something different, fans of McMillan (Who Asked You, 2013, etc.) will welcome this new addition to her oeuvre. Here is McMillan’s trademark style in full, feisty effect: strong, complicated female characters, energetic prose, and an entertaining, seductive narrative.
A heartwarming story that reminds us of the pure joy of believing in love.
A tale of Manhattan society in the Jazz Age, spiced liberally with secrets and scandal.
Williams’ latest opens with a dispatch from “Patty Cake,” a jaded society reporter from a New York paper, covering a “Trial of the Century” in Connecticut. We don't yet know who's on trial, but two of the women in the courtroom that day take up the narration of events that led to this pass. Theresa, a 44-year-old Fifth Avenue socialite, and her lover, Octavian, 22, are surprised in the carriage house of her Long Island estate by her brother, Edmund Jay "Ox" Ochsner, who reveals his intention to marry 19-year-old Sophie Fortescue, youngest daughter of the so-called Patent King, an entrepreneur and inventor who made his fortune as his nickname suggests. The Fortescue millions will assure financial security for this pedigreed but cash-poor bachelor gadabout. There follows a retelling of Der Rosenkavalier for the Roaring '20s. Octavian, a World War I flying ace whose war wounds are mainly mental, is enlisted by Theresa to act as cavalier for Ox, delivering a rose-shaped engagement ring to Sophie at her father’s unassuming home on 32nd Street. The two young people are smitten, but Sophie agrees to the engagement to please her father, who wants a traditional family life for her, although her real desire is to exercise her own mechanical aptitude. Meanwhile, Theresa learns that her marriage of convenience is coming to an end—her husband wants to marry his mistress. Now the way is clear to wed Octavian, except that the cavalier’s affections have shifted. Sophie is repelled by Ox’s dissolute, gin-swilling ways, his peppermint hair oil, and his boorish attentions. Testimony at trial recalls a Greenwich, Connecticut, house once occupied by a mechanic, who disappeared with his two daughters after his wife was found murdered. Chapters oscillate in time, ending on cliffhangers that can be jarring, but this novel is mainly propelled by its period-perfect prose style.
A blogger and nonfiction writer’s account of how she survived both new motherhood and her eccentric parents’ federal imprisonment for fraud.
Fedden was 36 years old and nine months pregnant when she had her first encounter with the federal agents who raided her parents’ luxurious South Florida home. She already knew that her wisecracking mother, Cecily, had once dabbled in drug dealing. Alongside her husband, Joel, a man who produced softcore pornography for cable TV, Cecily made “deals” that the pair never discussed. Despite the questionable nature of their business, arrest—and eventually, incarceration—was not what Fedden expected would happen to the parents whose friends included John Gotti’s nephew and the “hooker who claimed to have screwed Mohammed Atta the week before 9/11.” The author and her husband tried to build a quiet, relatively conventional life together, but inevitably, they became unwitting witnesses to the chaos that enveloped their parents’ lives. Cecily emptied out checking accounts to “stick it straight up [the] asses” of government officials bent on destroying her life. Not to be outdone, Joel cheated on her with women who were either younger or crazier than she was. Meanwhile, Fedden struggled through the rigors of early motherhood. Feeling “defective as a woman” and generally incompetent in comparison to her apparently “perfect” sister, she explored yoga and New Age teachings, which she ridiculed at first but grew to love. As her parents’ glittering world began to crumble, Fedden muddled her way to understanding that a “beautiful life” was less about finding perfection and more about accepting, and loving, flaws, especially in family members. At once disturbing and appealing, Fedden’s book charts a refreshing path through family dysfunction and personal redemption.
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.
Old habits die hard, and sometimes cause collateral damage, in this character-driven crime story.
Retired D.C. cop Frank Marr works as a private investigator. He's a pro at the job but uses it as a means to fuel his drug addiction. While looting a house of its stash—he had it under surveillance for just this reason—he finds a kidnapped girl, and doing the right thing threatens to unravel the life he's built. Author Swinson, himself a former D.C. police detective, brings the neighborhood and its criminal underworld to gritty life and gives the drug trade's handoffs and turf disputes an insider's intimate view. Marr is a compelling mess, saving the day not once but twice while constantly checking his nostrils for powder residue or the odd trickle of blood. When it suits his purpose (or covers his hobby) he'll take a life, but the lines he will or will not cross seem to be in constant motion, and that unpredictability keeps the tension high. Threats from some who know Marr's "early retirement" was a de facto firing don't cow him so much as push him to rebel. If the bad guys kill first and worry about the details later, doesn't justice require someone equally unconstrained to take them on? Marr may be a disaster on legs, but he gets inside a reader’s head with ease; when he leaves someone to die then doubles back with second thoughts, it's shocking to note how infectious his perspective is. The ethical questions about his lifestyle aren't settled here, so it’s good news that this is merely an introduction to a character who plans to return.
An auspicious, and gleefully amoral, series debut.