Spring is almost upon us… and with it the desire to go outside, explore and enjoy some fresh scenery. Why not take a similar approach with your reading routine? This year has offered some fantastic new fiction. Check out just a few of our recommended reads below.
Read more new and notable fiction.
An astonishing novel, both in ambition and achievement, filled with revelations that appear inevitable in retrospect, amid the cycle of life and death. As a follow-up to Groff’s well-received debut (The Monsters of Templeton, 2008), this novel is a structural conundrum, ending in a very different place than it begins while returning full circle. At the outset, it appears to be a novel of the Utopian, communal 1960s, of a charismatic leader, possibly a charlatan, and an Arcadia that grows according to his belief that “the Universe will provide.” It concludes a half-century later in a futuristic apocalypse of worldwide plague and quarantine. To reveal too much of what transpires in between would undermine the reader’s rich experience of discovery.
Ullman first earned praise for her memoir Close to the Machine (2001), about her experiences as a female programmer in the formative years of Silicon Valley, and followed that with an ambitious, Kafkaesque debut novel, The Bug (2003), which also drew from her experiences in computer-human interface. Nine years later, her second novel thematically interweaves fate, identity, obsession and genetics into a propulsive page-turner that shows a profound understanding of character. It’s a multilayered mystery (in the same way that Dostoyevsky was a mystery writer) and an inquiry into the subjective nature of narrative—how the story and the storyteller reflect each other…A first-rate literary thriller of compelling psychological and philosophical depth.
Dexter and Kate Moore move to Luxembourg with their two young children so Dexter can make a pile of money working as a security consultant for a bank. Unknown to him, Kate has been working for the CIA but has recently quit, disgusted by her role as an agent occasionally called on to terminate wayward enemies. In Luxembourg they meet Bill and Julia, an attractive couple with whom they begin to socialize, but, as in all good thrillers, nothing is as it seems. Bill and Julia are FBI agents hot on the trail of the seemingly innocuous and nerdy Dexter, whose knowledge of bank security—trying to find breaches in the system—also allows him to find cunning access points, and it seems he may have stolen €50 million. That her husband has a secret life he hasn’t been sharing surprises Kate...who, of course, also has a secret life she hasn’t been sharing…A thoroughly competent and enjoyable thriller with unanticipated twists that will keep readers guessing till the end.
Hopscotching across time, looking quizzically at space, Kunzru’s marvelous novel uses diverse cultures (Native American, Catholic, Mormon, Wall Street, hippie UFO believers) to speculate on the nature of reality and religion, magic and mystery. The novel is anchored by a time, a place and a relationship. The core year is 2008; we visit several other time periods. The place is the Three Pinnacles rock formation in the Mojave Desert. The relationship involves Jaz, an assimilated American Sikh, and his Jewish-American wife Lisa. Instead of a linear narrative, we have the energizing cross-currents of history. In 1947, Schmidt, an aircraft mechanic and World War II vet traumatized by Hiroshima, is alone at the Pinnacles, hoping to attract extraterrestrials with his message of universal love. Success! A spacecraft lands; he’s welcomed aboard. (That same year saw the alleged UFO crash-landing in Roswell, N.M.) Meanwhile in Brooklyn in 2008, Jaz and Lisa are raising their autistic son Raj. Seems it’s easier to talk to aliens than for the Matharus to communicate with their four-year-old. Kunzru’s portrait of their marriage is finely nuanced. They’re a modern, secular couple, yet shreds of old beliefs divide them. When they visit the Pinnacles on vacation and Raj disappears, the marriage almost comes apart…Ironies abound; mysteries multiply; there’s a cliffhanger ending for Jaz and Lisa. Kunzru (My Revolutions, 2007, etc.) just gets better and better. This fourth novel is an astonishing tour de force.
Ballard (1930–2009) creates a world reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange and V for Vendetta in this novel of suburban fascism. At the heart of the narrative is the Brooklands Metro-Centre Mall, a monstrosity that feeds excess and consumerism. In a recent incident, not atypical of the violence that pervades this vision of modern British life, a man has been shot and killed at the mall. Held for his murder is Duncan Christie, a mental patient who was on day release when the incident occurred. This seems to be a cut-and-dried case, even to Richard Pearson, narrator and son of the victim, but a few anomalies crop up…Pearson watches with some amazement the rise of quasi-fascist elements in this quasi-suburban setting that’s starting to create its own reality, for “leafy Surrey” is no longer a suburb of London but rather a suburb of Heathrow…Ballard writes brilliantly about the nightmarish underside of modern life, and this novel makes us poignantly aware of the loss of his voice.
The title story that opens the collection (evoking in its title both the Holocaust and Raymond Carver) is like so much of the best of Englander’s narratives, with a voice that evokes a long legacy of Jewish storytelling and the sharp edge of contemporary fiction. It presents the reunion of two women who had been best friends as girls but who have married very different men and seen their lives take very different paths. One is now living an “ultra-Orthodox” family life in Israel, with a husband who insists that “intermarriage...is the Holocaust that is happening now.” The other lives in South Florida and has married a more secular Jew, who narrates the story and whose voice initially invites the reader’s identification. Yet a change in perspective occurs over the course of the visit, both for the reader and the narrator…Every one of these eight stories casts light on the others, but perhaps the most revelatory is “Everything I Know About My Family on My Mother’s Side”…It’s the story of how a family stays together and a relationship falls apart, told in 63 numbered sections of a paragraph or two. Like so much of this volume, it seems to exist in a literary sphere beyond the one in which the ambitions of postmodern fiction have little to do with the depths of existence beyond the page. The author at his best.
Weighing in at over 500 pounds, Arthur Opp is approaching 60, alone and lonely in the Brooklyn house he hasn’t left for years. Since his only friend has died, he avoids facing the world outside his front door; all his material needs are delivered. He spends his days eating. Then he receives a letter from a former student. When Charlene Turner took Arthur’s class 20 years ago, she was intellectually out of her depth. Yet Arthur recognized a kindred spirit. After one semester she dropped out and he never saw her again; soon after, partly due to unfounded suspicions about their relationship, his own career disintegrated. Now Charlene makes a vague request that Arthur tutor her son…although the title refers to Arthur’s quirky, larger-than-life charm, readers will find his story expendable compared to the struggles faced by single mom Charlene’s son Kel. Kel’s narrative, full of male adolescent swagger and uncertainty, is heart-wrenching… Now a senior, Kel is tempted by a professional baseball scout, while Charlene drinks away her days to dull the pain of lupus and concocts her wild scheme, doing whatever it takes to get Kel to attend college. Only a hardhearted reader will remain immune to Kel’s troubled charm. Read our interview with Moore about her latest book.
Tatiana de Rosnay
During the reign of Napoleon III, his prefect Baron Haussmann embarked on a mammoth undertaking to modernize Paris. In order to construct the branching boulevard system Paris is now renowned for, entire neighborhoods of twisting cobbled alleyways and lanes were razed. The residents of these now-forgotten neighborhoods were displaced. For the aging widow Rose Bazelet, who has lived for decades in her well-appointed home on rue Childebert near the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, starting over somewhere else is out of the question. Rose’s house, in addition to being her refuge from her difficult childhood with an unloving mother, has been the repository of her great loves and most significant memories…The restaurateur, hotelier, chocolatier, bookshop owner and other local merchants, including the florist, Rose’s dearest friend Alexandrine, all vacate. Once peaceful, rue Childebert is now a wasteland of dust, falling rubble and clamorous demolition crews. Only Rose remains…Replete with treats, particularly for Paris-lovers—indeed for anyone wedded to a special place.
It’s 898, and life in pre-England is messy, turbulent, quite likely to be short and vividly evoked in Cornwell’s masterful 46th novel (The Burning Land, 2010, etc.). “ ‘I hate peace,’ ” snarls old soldier Uhtred, who regards periods of relative tranquility—not that these abound in his embattled land—as opportunities for his enemies to mount conspiracies against him and, by extension, King Alfred of Wessex, to whom he has sworn allegiance. Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg: clever, resourceful, intemperate, charming, feared by most men and adored by too many women. In tribute to his generalship and the unparalleled success he’s had in repelling invasions through the years, the ever-marauding Danes refer to him bleakly as the Sword of the Saxons. It’s King Alfred’s cherished dream to reshape an unruly collection of tribes into a thing called England. He wants it to be Christian and cohesive enough to drive the Danes back into the sea once and for all…The surprise is that Cornwell’s love scenes are as deft as his action scenes, though far fewer, of course—all driven by a hard-shelled, sporadically soft-hearted, always charismatic protagonist: George Clooney alert.
For Poppy Wyatt, losing her priceless antique engagement ring during a boozy pre-wedding brunch at a fancy hotel is bad enough without the added indignity of having her phone nicked by a drive-by bike mugger. All is not lost, though, as she discovers a perfectly good phone in the trash in the hotel lobby. Anxious to get the ring back without alarming her fiancé Magnus, she gives out the new number to the concierge and her friends. But the phone, it turns out, belonged to the short-lived assistant to Sam Roxton, an acerbic (but handsome) young executive in a powerful consulting firm. Given to one-word correspondence, with little patience for small talk and social niceties, Sam understandably wants the company property back. But Poppy has other ideas and talks him into letting her keep it for a few more days, offering to forward him all pertinent messages. In spite of Sam’s reticence, the two strike up an oddly intimate text correspondence, with Poppy taking a way too personal interest in Sam’s life—including his odd relationship with his seemingly crazy girlfriend, Willow. Sam, for his part, confronts Poppy over her fears that she is not good enough for Magnus’ highly-educated family. Misunderstandings ensue, with Poppy’s well-intentioned meddling causing multiple headaches…Cheerfully contrived with a male love interest straight out of the Mr. Darcy playbook, Kinsella’s (Twenties Girl, 2009, etc.) latest should be exactly what her fans are hankering for.