Fall is one of the most exciting times of the year for new fiction. Here is our list of 10 books to check out for the season:
Read more new and notable fiction titles for September.
Banks (The Reserve, 2008, etc.) once again explores the plight of the dispossessed, taking a big risk this time by making his protagonist a convicted sex offender…the Kid is a 22-year-old who got jailed for showing up at a 14-year-old girl’s house with condoms, K-Y jelly, porn and beer after some sexy Internet chat. But Banks makes it clear that there are plenty of actual child molesters and “baby bangers” camped out with the Kid under a Florida causeway—because they’re prohibited from living 2,500 feet from any place children under 18 congregate, which is pretty much everywhere…Though there’s plenty of plot, including a hurricane and a dead body fished out of a canal, the slow growth of the Kid’s self-knowledge and his empathy for others is the real story, offering the only ray of hope in an otherwise bleak consideration of a broken society and the damaged people it breeds. Intelligent, passionate and powerful, but very stark indeed.
The latest from the award-winning Irish novelist (The Secret Scripture, 2008, etc.) and playwright takes the form of a first-person narrative by Lilly Bere, who has lived most of her life in America since emigrating from Ireland in the wake of World War I, after she and her fiancé were targeted by the IRA. Lilly largely recounts her life through the men who have defined it: the father who raised her, the fiancé whom she followed into exile, the mysterious American husband who wooed her after her fiancé’s murder, the son who became a walking casualty of war, the grandson she mourns over the 17 days that provide the novel with its structure, the present from which her memory takes flight. Surprises abound, as the novel proceeds from the intimacy of a bereaved woman’s recollections to a meditation on life, death, identity and America that achieves an epic scope and philosophical depth…A novel to be savored.
James Lee Burke
Hackberry Holland’s third appearance, and Burke’s 30th, brings back sociopathic killer Preacher Jack Collins (Rain Gods, 2009, etc.), but this time surrounds him with so many seriously bad guys that he can scarcely get the sheriff to take his phone calls. Danny Boy Lorca, visionary and drunk, has a wild story to tell. He witnessed a coyote pursuing two fleeing men and shooting one of them to death. The discovery of DEA informant Hector Lopez’s corpse confirms the first part of Danny Boy’s story. What’s become of the surviving fugitive?...the dialogue scenes, along with the action sequences, the South Texas landscape and the indelibly conflicted characters make you want to give Burke a medal; the tangled plot, which lurches from one great sequence to the next without going anywhere but the grave, is the price you pay for these deep pleasures.
All plotlines lead to Vegas in this latest installment of Collins' saga of the irrepressible and seemingly immortal Lucky Santangelo. Lucky is convening her family at The Keys, her lavish hotel/casino/condo empire in Las Vegas. The occasion is the 18th birthday of Max, her daughter with latest husband (and soul mate) Lennie. Son Bobby, wildly successful as a nightclub impresario and heir to the fortune of his late father, a Greek shipping magnate, frets about introducing his girlfriend Denver, a prosecuting attorney, to his family for the first time. The family reunion, however glitzy, is only a setup for Collins’ trademark seamy subplots. The author excels at portraying villains her fans love to hate, and in this outing she does not disappoint…All the thrills swirl around Lucky, now more matriarchal figurehead (albeit one still endowed with raven hair, silken skin and an unflagging libido) than major player. Still, when Lucky’s precious Keys is threatened, her street-fighter instincts resurface, sparking the novel’s over-the-top but enjoyable climax.
In her sequel to The Siege (2002, etc.), Dunmore returns to Leningrad in 1952, compressing the anxiety and terror of the postwar Stalinist years into the intimate details of one family’s crisis. A sense of doom takes over from the first page when pediatrician Andrei is approached by a nervously sweating colleague who twists his arm to consult on a case they both know will bring trouble. Volkov, the head of State Security, has brought in his 10-year-old son Gorya with a badly swollen leg. X-rays show a cancerous tumor; Gorya’s leg must be amputated. Andrei, whose specialty is arthritis, has no expertise in oncology, but Volkov demands he take charge of the case because Gorya likes him. Anti-Semitic Volkov even agrees to Andrei’s recommendation of a Jewish surgeon. Although the amputation is successful and Gorya appears on the road to recovery, the surgeon immediately transfers out of Leningrad and recommends Andrei do the same to lower his visibility…Fictional drama blends seamlessly, if painfully, with factual history in this historical fiction of the highest order.
Eugenides focuses primarily on three characters, who all graduate from Brown in 1982. One of the pieces of this triangle is Madeleine Hanna, who finds herself somewhat embarrassed to have emerged from a “normal” household in New Jersey (though we later find out the normality of her upbringing is only relative). She becomes enamored with Leonard, a brilliant but moody student, in their Semiotics course, one of the texts being, ironically, Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, which Madeleine finds disturbingly problematic in helping her figure out her own love relationship. We discover that Leonard had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder during his first year at Brown, and his struggle with mood swings throughout the novel is both titanic and tender. The third major player is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major who is also attracted to Madeleine but whose reticence she finds both disturbing and incomprehensible…Dazzling work—Eugenides continues to show that he is one of the finest of contemporary novelists.
This is a feminist tale, a story of strong, intelligent women wedded to destiny by love and sacrifice. Told in four parts, the first comes from Yael, daughter of Yosef bar Elhanan, a Sicarii Zealot assassin, rejected by her father because of her mother's death in childbirth. It is 70 CE, and the Temple is destroyed. Yael, her father, and another Sicarii assassin, Jachim ben Simon, and his family flee Jerusalem. Hoffman's research renders the ancient world real as the group treks into Judea's desert, where they encounter Essenes, search for sustenance and burn under the sun. There too Jachim and Yael begin a tragic love affair…The plot is intriguingly complex, with only a single element unresolved. An enthralling tale rendered with consummate literary skill.
A graceful, closely observed novel that blends coming-of-age tropes with a Conradian sea voyage. The time is six decades past, and for reasons that have yet to emerge, a young boy is being packed off to England from his home in what was then called Ceylon. He climbs aboard a ship, the Oronsay, “the first and only ship of his life,” and falls in with two other boys about his age. All are banished to the opposite of the honor of the Captain’s Table—to the Cat’s Table, that is, along with “several interesting adults,” including a tailor, a botanist, a down-at-the-heels pianist and a ship’s dismantler…this being a novel by the eminently accomplished Ondaatje (Divisadero, 2007, etc.), you may be certain that the tale will involve some tragedy, some heartache and some miscommunication—and, yes, death. It is also beautifully detailed, without a false note.
Ex–Chief Inspector Wexford returns from retirement to solve a most unlikely case: the mystery of who killed the three people whose corpses were last seen at the bottom of a coal hole in A Sight for Sore Eyes (1999). In the decade since Franklin Merton left St. John’s Wood in 1998, Orcadia Cottage has changed hands twice by the time Martin Rokeby, who wants to make room for an amphora his wife Anne found in Florence, pulls up a manhole cover in his backyard and shines a light down a dark shaft to reveal not only the three victims from Rendell’s earlier tale but a fourth, much more recently dead than the others but equally beyond identification. Det. Supt. Thomas Ede, of Cricklewood, is getting nowhere with the case, so he invites Reg Wexford, who’s retired to Hampstead Heath, to join him as an unpaid consultant…Though this sequel doesn’t pack the punch of the earlier novel, which never seemed in need of a sequel, it’s an undoubted tour de force likely to offer enjoyment both to readers with long memories and to those approaching it as a stand-alone.
Whitehead (Sag Harbor, 2009, etc.) never writes the same book twice, though his eclectic output had fallen short of the promise he flashed in his early novels (The Intuitionist, 1998, etc.). Yet here he sinks his teeth into a popular format and emerges with a literary feast, producing his most compulsively readable work to date. Though there’s enough chomp-and-spurt gorefest to satiate fans of the format, Whitehead transforms the zombie novel into an allegory of contemporary Manhattan (and, by extension, America), where “it was the business of the plague to reveal our family members, friends, and neighbors as the creatures they had always been” and the never-explained apocalypse “sentenced you to observe the world through the sad aperture of the dead, suffer the gross parody of your existence.” …The latest from a generation of literary novelists who are erasing the distinction between art and pulp.