New fiction at the Libraries, Dec 2

December 1, 2010 – 4:01 PM

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
PR6060.A32 F56 2010

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czechoslovakian always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.

Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor’s grand, central London apartment. It’s a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you had less to mourn?

Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends’ losses. And it’s that very evening, at exactly 11:30pm, as Treslove hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country as he walks home, that he is attacked. After this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.

Gentleman’s Relish by Patrick Gale
PR6057.A382 G46 2009

An exhilarating new collection of stories by the author of Richard & Judy-bestseller Notes from an Exhibition Patrick Gale, which combines wit and poignancy to illuminate experiences both common and uncommon. Love (& loathing) within families are dissected — a father makes an unexpected discovery about his son which is too hard for him to cope with. A son wreaks revenge through the power of cookery. Three generations of the same family gain freedom through the years in a once-despised caravan. A bored wife finds happiness when an old lag teaches her the art of angling. A dog-training lesson with a puppy who hasn’t grasped the meaning of ‘obedience’ leads to the discovery of a murder. Here too are music and silence — the sweetness and sadness of Festivals, of the Church, and of the control exercised by those in charge in small communities. This tremendously enjoyable collection of stories has the same wit, tenderness and acute psychological observation as Gale’s bestselling novels, including Notes from an Exhibition and the recent The Whole Day Through. For Gale’s many fans, Gentleman’s Relish will be a real treat.

Truth or Fiction by Jennifer Johnston
PR6060 .O394 T78 2009

When journalist Caroline Wallace is asked to go to Dublin to meet Desmond Fitzmaurice, a literary giant of the thirties, she finds it hard to care about a writer whose star faded a very long time ago. And, although interviewing Desmond seems like a timely escape from the pressures of London, not to mention a startling marriage proposal, it’s hard to believe this charming old man’s past contains ‘lots of sex and some violence’ as he promises. But beneath the surface of Desmond’s quiet life lies a story more mysterious than Caroline ever bargained for….

Landed by Tim Pears
PR6066.E1675 L36 2010

Brought up in the Anglo-Welsh borders by an affectionate but alcoholic and feckless mother, Owen Ithell’s sense of self is rooted in his long, vivid visits to his grandparents’ small farm in the hills. There he is deeply impressed by his grandfather’s primitive, cruel relationship with his animals and the land. As an adult he moves away from the country of his childhood to an English city where he builds a new life, working as a gardener. He meets Mel, they have children. He believes he has found happiness – and love – of a sort. But following a car accident, in which his daughter is killed and he loses a hand, the course of his life and the lives of those he loves is changed forever. Owen, unable to work, alienated and eventually legally separated from his family, is haunted by suicidal thoughts. In his despair, he resolves to reconnect with both his past and the natural world. Abducting his children, he embarks on a long, fateful journey, walking to the Welsh borders of his childhood. In his confusion his journey is a grasping at some kind of an understanding of his loss. Powerful, richly evocative and perfectly poised between the hope of redemption and the threat of irrevocable tragedy, Landed is Tim Pears’ most assured and beguiling novel to date.

The Man Who Disappeared by Clare Morrall
PR6113.O75 M36 2010

What would you do if, out of the blue, your husband disappeared and you found out he was a suspected criminal?

When reliable, respectable Felix Kendall vanishes, his wife Kate is left reeling. As she and their children cope with the shocking impact on their comfortable lives, Kate realises that, if Felix is guilty, she never truly knew the man she loved. But as she faces the possibility that he might not return, she also discovers strengths she never knew she had.

Years of Red Dust: Stories of Shanghai by Qiu Xiaolong
PS3553.H537 Y43 2010

Published originally in the pages of Le Monde, this collection of linked short stories by Qiu Xiaolong has already been a major bestseller in France (Cite de la Poussiere Rouge) and Germany (Das Tor zur Roten Gasse), where it and the author was the subject of a major television documentary. The stories in Years of Red Dust trace the changes in modern China over fifty years—from the early days of the Communist revolution in 1949 to the modernization movement of the late nineties—all from the perspective of one small street in Shanghai, Red Dust Lane. From the early optimism at the end of the Chinese Civil War, through the brutality and upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, to the death of Mao, the pro-democracy movement and the riots in Tiananmen Square—history, on both an epic and personal scale, unfolds through the bulletins posted and the lives lived in this one lane, this one corner of Shanghai.

Bound: A Novel by Antonya Nelson
PS3564.E428 B68 2010

Antonya Nelson is known for her razor-sharp depictions of contemporary family life in all of its sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious complexity. Her latest novel has roots in her own youth in Wichita, in the neighborhood stalked by the serial killer known as BTK (Bind, Torture, and Kill). A story of wayward love and lost memory, of public and private lives twisting out of control, Bound is Nelson’s most accomplished and emotionally riveting work.

Catherine and Oliver, young wife and older entrepreneurial husband, are negotiating their difference in age and a plethora of well-concealed secrets. Oliver, now in his sixties, is a serial adulterer and has just fallen giddily in love yet again. Catherine, seemingly placid and content, has ghosts of a past she scarcely remembers. When Catherine’s long-forgotten high school friend dies and leaves Catherine the guardian of her teenage daughter, that past comes rushing back. As Oliver manages his new love, and Catherine her new charge and darker past, local news reports turn up the volume on a serial killer who has reappeared after years of quiet.

In a time of hauntings and new revelations, Nelson’s characters grapple with their public and private obligations, continually choosing between the suppression or indulgence of wild desires. Which way they turn, and what balance they find, may only be determined by those who love them most.

Self Portraits: Fictions by Frederic Tuten
PS3570.U78 S45 2010

These mysterious, interrelated stories create a portrait of the author’s life, both real and imagined, as he appears in each tale variously as hero, bystander, artist, and ghost, yielding an enchanting autobiography of the imagination. Fantasy and reality collide as the book’s principal characters—two lovers—meet, part, and reunite, time and again, at different stages in life and in landscapes both familiar and exotic. Death appears as a genial waiter in a café across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; talking circus elephants console a ringmaster for his unrequited love; a young boy barters with pirates for his grandmother’s soul; and as a refrigerator begins spilling mini-glaciers into a couple’s East Village apartment, a voyage to Antarctica commences on an icy schooner waiting for them in Tompkins Square Park. Love, and its mystery, is at the core of these self portraits, but love also for art, for adventure, and for the passion of being alive.

World and Town: A Novel by Gish Jen
PS3560.E474 W67 2010

Sixty-eight-year-old Hattie Kong, descendant of Confucius, daughter of an American missionary, has lived to see both her husband and her best friend die back-to-back, in a single year: “It was like having twins . . . She got to book the same church with the same pianist for both funerals and did think she should have gotten some sort of twofer from the crematorium.”

But two years later, it’s time for Hattie to start over. She moves to a small New England town, where she is soon joined by a Cambodian American family and an ex-lover—now a retired neuroscientist—all of them looking for their own new lives. What Hattie makes of this situation and of the changing town of Riverlake—challenged as it is, in 2001, by fundamentalist Christians, struggling family farms, and unexpected immigrants—lies at the center of a novel that asks deep and absorbing questions about religion, home, and what “worlds” we make of the world.

Moving, humorous, and broad-ranging, World and Town is rich in character and brilliantly evocative of its time and place. This is a masterful novel from one of our most admired writers.

All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang
PS3553.H2724 A79 2010

A haunting story of art, ambition, love, and friendship by a writer of elegant, exacting prose.

At the renowned writing school in Bonneville, every student is simultaneously terrified of and attracted to the charismatic and mysterious poet and professor Miranda Sturgis, whose high standards for art are both intimidating and inspiring. As two students, Roman and Bernard, strive to win her admiration, the lines between mentorship, friendship, and love are blurred.

Roman’s star rises early, and his first book wins a prestigious prize. Meanwhile, Bernard labors for years over a single poem. Secrets of the past begin to surface, friendships are broken, and Miranda continues to cast a shadow over their lives. What is the hidden burden of early promise? What are the personal costs of a life devoted to the pursuit of art? All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is a brilliant evocation of the demands of ambition and vocation, personal loyalty and poetic truth.

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
PS3553.U484 B9 2010

Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts—he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Then Rebecca’s much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in thefamily as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling twenty-three-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career—the entire world he has so carefully constructed.

Like his legendary, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s masterly new novel is a heartbreaking look at the way we live now. Full of shocks and aftershocks, it makes us think and feel deeply about the uses and meaning of beauty and the place of love in our lives.

Nemesis by Philip Roth
PS3568.O855 N46 2010

In the “stifling heat of equatorial Newark,” a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, lifelong disability, and even death. This is the startling theme of Philip Roth’s wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.

At the center of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful twenty-three-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. Focusing on Cantor’s dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground—and on the everyday realities he faces—Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain.

Moving between the smoldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine children’s summer camp high in the Poconos—whose “mountain air was purified of all contaminants”—Roth depicts a decent, energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own private war against the epidemic. Roth is tenderly exact at every point about Cantor’s passage into personal disaster, and no less exact about the condition of childhood.

Through this story runs the dark questions that haunt all four of Roth’s late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now Nemesis: What kind of accidental choices fatally shape a life? How does the individual withstand the onslaught of circumstance?

The False Friend: A Novel by Myla Goldberg
PS3557.O35819 F35 2010

Leaders of a mercurial clique of girls, Celia and Djuna reigned mercilessly over their three followers. One after­noon, they decided to walk home along a forbidden road. Djuna disappeared, and for twenty years Celia blocked out how it happened.

The lie Celia told to conceal her misdeed became the accepted truth: everyone assumed Djuna had been abducted, though neither she nor her abductor was ever found. Celia’s unconscious avoidance of this has meant that while she and her longtime boyfriend, Huck, are professionally successful, they’ve been unable to move forward, their relationship falling into a rut that threatens to bury them both.

Celia returns to her hometown to confess the truth, but her family and childhood friends don’t believe her. Huck wants to be supportive, but his love can’t blind him to all that contra­dicts Celia’s version of the past.

Celia’s desperate search to understand what happened to Djuna has powerful consequences. A deeply resonant and emotionally charged story, The False Friend explores the adults that children become—leading us to question the truths that we accept or reject, as well as the lies to which we succumb.

Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez
PS3564.U485 S36 2010

After a flu pandemic has killed large numbers of people worldwide, the United States has grown increasingly anarchic. Large numbers of children are stranded in orphanages, and systems we take for granted are fraying at the seams. When orphaned Cole Vining finds refuge with an evangelical pastor and his young wife in a small Indiana town, he knows he is one of the lucky ones. Sheltered Salvation City has been spared much of the devastation of the outside world.

But it’s a starkly different community from the one Cole has known, and he struggles with what this changed world means for him. As those around him become increasingly fixated on their vision of utopia – so different from his own parents’ dreams – Cole begins to imagine a new and different future for himself.

Written in Sigrid Nunez’s deceptively simple style, Salvation City is a story of love, betrayal, and forgiveness, weaving the deeply affecting story of a young boy’s transformation with a profound meditation on the true meaning of salvation.

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