New fiction at the Libraries, Apr 4

April 4, 2011 – 3:27 PM

In the Time of Love by Naguib Mahfouz
translated by Kay Heikkinen
PJ7846.A46 A8713 2010

Love—who can count its varieties, measure its force, uncover the masks it wears, or predict how it binds and divides? In this spare novel, master storyteller Naguib Mahfouz gives us some of his most memorable characters, widely familiar to Egyptians from the film version of the book: Sitt Ain, with her large house, her garden, her cats, and her familiar umbrella, strong and active, mother of the neighborhood; her son Izzat, so different from her, emotional and unsure of his way; and the friends of his childhood, Sayyida, Hamdoun, and Badriya, all their lives entangled and shaped over many years by the encounter of commitment, ambition, treachery, and above all love. This is a story in and of twentieth-century Egypt, which can be read on more than one level. The neighborhood and the motifs may be familiar, but they combine to tell a new and intriguing tale, with an unexpected outcome.

The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
PR9499.3.R596 S76 2011

Each year, the storyteller, Hassan, gathers listeners to the city square to share their recollections of a young, foreign couple who mysteriously disappeared years earlier. As various witnesses describe their encounters with the couple—their tales overlapping, confirming, and contradicting each other—Hassan hopes to light upon details that will explain what happened to them, and to absolve his own brother, who is in prison for their disappearance.

As testimonies circle an elusive truth, the couple takes on an air as enigmatic as their fate. But is this annual storytelling ritual a genuine attempt to uncover the truth, or is it intended instead to weave an ambiguous mythology around a crime?

The first in an ambitious cycle of novels set in the Islamic world, The Storyteller of Marrakesh is an elegant exploration of the nature of reality and our shifting perceptions of truth.

Coda: A novel by René Belletto
translated from the French by Alyson Waters
PQ2662.E4537 C6313 2011

“It is to me that we owe our immortality, and this is the story that proves it beyond all doubt.” With this sentence René Belletto begins a novel that compresses every genre he has worked in—thriller, science fiction, experimental literature, horror—into one breathless narrative in which what is at stake is nothing less than our own immortality.

Playing with the expectations of the reader, Belletto constructs a logical puzzle that defies logic, much like the “almost-perpetual motion machine” invented by the narrator of this novel and his father. What sets the story in (perpetual) motion is a package of frozen seafood. This lowly mechanism triggers a series of picaresque and otherworldly events, from the storyteller’s meeting with Fate disguised as a beautiful woman, to the kidnapping of his daughter, to his amorous reunion with the younger half-sister of a high school friend, to the elimination of death from the world. It’s a funny business, but Belletto’s playful and falsely transparent language opens the book to such serious matters as explorations of death, immortality, love, and the innocence of children.

Sequoia Gardens: California stories by Ernest J. Finney
PS3556.I499 S47 2010

All but two of the stories in this, Ernest Finney’s third collection of short fiction, are set in California: in the San Francisco Bay area, the Sierras, the San Joaquin Valley. His diverse characters—a professional wrestler, a bridge prodigy, a wilderness guide, goldseekers, illegal immigrants—are moved by chance events of time and place, finding themselves plunged into precarious situations that demand an immediate choice.

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman
PS3558.O3447 R43 2011

The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts. Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales.From the town’s founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives. At the center of everyone’s life is a garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look. The Red Garden is as unforgettable as it is moving.

Give Me Your Heart: Tales of mystery and suspense by Joyce Carol Oates
PS3565.A8 G58 2010

The need for love—obsessive, self-destructive, unpredictable—takes us to forbidden places, as in the chilling world of Give Me Your Heart, a new collection of stories by the inimitable Joyce Carol Oates.

In the suspenseful “Strip Poker,” a reckless adolescent girl must find a way of turning the tables on a gathering of increasingly threatening young men—Can she “outplay” them? In the award-winning “Smother!” a young woman’s nightmare memory of childhood brings trouble on her professor-mother—Which of them will “win”? In “Split/Brain” a woman who has blundered into a lethal situation confronts the possibility of saving herself—Will she take it? In “The First Husband,” a jealous man discovers that his wife seems to have lied about her first marriage, and exacts a cruel revenge, years after the fact. In these and other powerful tales, children veer beyond their parents’ control, wives and husbands wake up to find that they hardly know each other, haunted pasts intrude upon uncertain futures, and those who bring us the most harm may be the nearest at hand.

In ten razor-sharp stories, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates shows that the most deadly mysteries often begin at home.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
PS3618.U755 S93 2011

A triumphant debut novel and follow-up to Karen Russell’s universally acclaimed short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline—think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades—and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness. Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

Heaven and Hell by Jón Kalman Stefánsson
translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton
PT7511.J53915 H5613 2010

In a remote part of Iceland, a boy and his friend Bardur join a boat to fish for cod. A winter storm surprises them out at sea and Bardur who has forgotten his waterproof as he was too absorbed in Paradise Lost, succumbs to the ferocious cold and dies. Appalled by the death and by the fishermen’s callous ability to set about gutting the fatal catch, the boy leaves the village, intending to return the book to its owner. The extreme hardship and danger of the journey is of little consequence to him – he has already resolved to join his friend in death. But once in the town he immerses himself in the stories and lives of its inhabitants, and decides that he cannot be with his friend just yet. Set at the turn of the twentieth century, Heaven and Hell is a perfectly formed, vivid and timeless story, lyrical in style, and as intense a reading experience as the forces of the Icelandic landscape themselves. An outstandingly moving novel.

Caribou Island: A novel by David Vann
PS3622.A667 C37 2011

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unraveling. Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary’s old dream, they’re hauling logs to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in health, to build the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place.

But this island is not right for Irene. They are building without plans or advice, and when winter comes early, the overwhelming isolation of the prehistoric wilderness threatens their bond to the core. Caught in the emotional maelstrom is their adult daughter, Rhoda, who is wrestling with the hopes and disappointments of her own life. Devoted to her parents, she watches helplessly as they drift further apart.

Brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest, Caribou Island captures the drama and pathos of a husband and wife whose bitter love, failed dreams, and tragic past push them to the edge of destruction. A portrait of desolation, violence, and the darkness of the soul, it is an explosive and unforgettable novel from a writer of limitless possibility.

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund with Emma Ryder
PT8176.2.E44 V513 2010

Carsten Jensen’s debut novel has taken the world by storm. Already hailed in Europe as an instant classic, We, the Drowned is the story of the port town of Marstal, whose inhabitants have sailed the world’s oceans aboard freight ships for centuries. Spanning over a hundred years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War, and from the barren rocks of Newfoundland to the lush plantations of Samoa, from the roughest bars in Tasmania, to the frozen coasts of northern Russia, We, the Drowned spins a magnificent tale of love, war, and adventure, a tale of the men who go to sea and the women they leave behind.

Ships are wrecked at sea and blown up during wars, they are places of terror and violence, yet they continue to lure each generation of Marstal men—fathers and sons—away. Strong, resilient, women raise families alone and sometimes take history into their own hands. There are cannibals here, shrunken heads, prophetic dreams, forbidden passions, cowards, heroes, devastating tragedies, and miraculous survivals—everything that a town like Marstal has actually experienced, and that makes We, the Drowned an unforgettable novel, destined to take its place among the greatest seafaring literature.

Selected Stories by William Trevor
PR6070.R4 A6 2010

A marvelous collection from “the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language” (The New Yorker).

Four-time winner of the O. Henry Prize, three-time winner of the Whitbread Prize, and five-time finalist for the Man Booker Prize, William Trevor is one of the most acclaimed authors of our time. Over a career spanning more than half a century, Trevor has crafted exquisitely rendered tales that brilliantly illuminate the human condition. Bringing together forty-eight stories from After Rain, The Hill Bachelors, A Bit on the Side, and Cheating at Canasta, this second volume of Trevor’s collected fiction offers readers “treasures of gorgeous writing, brilliant dialogue, and unforgettable lives” (The New York Times Book Review).

Islanders by Ammiel Alcalay
PS3601.L3426 I85 2010

Enigmatic and multi-layered, Islanders is about finding one’s own hard-won truth. A young man’s indelible memories of the struggle to find intimacy—formative experiences like the ebb and flow of friendships, love, and ordinary workaday life—are viewed through a lens of nostalgic longing and hard-eyed realism as he attempts to come to terms with the past. Set during the cataclysm of the last years of the war in Vietnam, in a landscape that shifts between the bleak fishing towns of the Atlantic coast to the ruined cities of the Northeast, Islanders explores the classic theme of identity’s intricate relationship to place.

The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin
PS3601.R77 R43 2010

At a loose end after college, Ellis Barstow drifts back to his home town and a strange profession: reconstructing fatal traffic accidents. He seems to take to the work immediately , and forms a bond with his boss and mentor, John Boggs, an intriguing character of few but telling words.

Yet Ellis is harbouring a secret. He was drawn to the reconstructionist’s grisly world by the fatal crash that killed his half-brother Christopher and that still haunts him; in fact his life has been shaped by car accidents. Boggs, in his exacting way, would argue that ‘accident’ is not the right word, that if two cars meeting at an intersection can be called an accident then anything can – where we live, what we do, even who we fall in love with.

For Ellis these things are certainly no accident. And he harbours a second, more dangerous secret, one that threatens to blow apart the men’s lives and which, as the story’s quiet momentum builds, leads to a desperate race towards confrontation, reconciliation and survival.

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