New fiction in the UGA Libraries, Feb. 16

February 16, 2012 – 4:38 PM

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
PS3554.E92945 L54 2011

“All I want is to be a success. That’s all I ask.” Joe fails to sell a single set of the Encyclopedia Britannica in six months. Then fails to sell a single Electrolux and must eat 126 pieces of homemade pie, served up by his would-be customers who feel sorry for him. Holed up in his trailer, Joe finds an outlet for his frustrations in a series of ingenious sexual fantasies, and at last strikes gold. His brainstorm, Lightning Rods, Inc., will take Joe to the very top — and to the very heart of corporate insanity — with an outrageous solution to the spectre of sexual harassment in the modern office.

An uproarious, hard-boiled modern fable of corporate life, sex, and race in America, Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods brims with the satiric energy of Nathanael West and the philosophic import of an Aristophanic comedy of ideas. Her wild yarn is second cousin to the spirit of Mel Brooks and the hilarious reality-blurring of Being John Malkovich. Dewitt continues to take the novel into new realms of storytelling — as the timeliness of Lightning Rods crosses over into timelessness.

The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki
PR6106.A765 W39 2011

The Murphy family is not like any other family on their block. Since both of their parents passed away, the three Murphy siblings, now entering adulthood, must grapple with the world’s challenges – and each other – on their own. There’s Yasmin, the youngest, who sees music in color and remembers so much that sometimes her head hurts, but whose autism renders her frustratingly distant. Lila, the stubbornly rebellious middle child who has never been able to forgive Yasmin for claiming so much of their mother’s attention, leads a wayward existence, drifting between jobs and men. Asif, the responsible yet worn-down older brother, tries to hold the family together, but his commitment to caring for Yasmin has prevented him from having his own life. When the unthinkable threatens the family’s delicate balance, will they stand together or fall apart? The Way Things Look to Me is a deeply moving portrayal of a family in crisis, caught between duty and love in a tangled relationship both bitter and bittersweet.

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
PS3552.A49 L67 2011

Suspended in a strangely modern-day version of limbo, the young man at the center of Russell Banks’s uncompromising and morally complex new novel must create a life for himself in the wake of incarceration. Known in his new identity only as the Kid, and on probation after doing time for a liaison with an underage girl, he is shackled to a GPS monitoring device and forbidden to live within 2,500 feet of anywhere children might gather. With nowhere else to go, the Kid takes up residence under a south Florida causeway, in a makeshift encampment with other convicted sex offenders.

Barely beyond childhood himself, the Kid, despite his crime, is in many ways an innocent, trapped by impulses and foolish choices he himself struggles to comprehend. Enter the Professor, a man who has built his own life on secrets and lies. A university sociologist of enormous size and intellect, he finds in the Kid the perfect subject for his research on homelessness and recidivism among convicted sex offenders. The two men forge a tentative partnership, the Kid remaining wary of the Professor’s motives even as he accepts the counsel and financial assistance of the older man.

When the camp beneath the causeway is raided by the police, and later, when a hurricane all but destroys the settlement, the Professor tries to help the Kid in practical matters while trying to teach his young charge new ways of looking at, and understanding, what he has done. But when the Professor’s past resurfaces and threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world, the balance in the two men’s relationship shifts.

Suddenly, the Kid must reconsider everything he has come to believe, and choose what course of action to take when faced with a new kind of moral decision.

Long one of our most acute and insightful novelists, Russell Banks often examines the indistinct boundaries between our intentions and actions. A mature and masterful work of contemporary fiction from one of our most accomplished storytellers, Lost Memory of Skin unfolds in language both powerful and beautifully lyrical, show-casing Banks at his most compelling, his reckless sense of humor and intense empathy at full bore.

The perfect convergence of writer and subject, Lost Memory of Skin probes the zeitgeist of a troubled society where zero tolerance has erased any hope of subtlety and compassion–a society where isolating the offender has perhaps created a new kind of victim.

Every Third Thought: A novel in five seasons by John Barth
PS3552.A75 E94 2011

John Barth stays true to form in Every Third Thought, written from the perspective of a character Barth introduced in his short story collection The Development. George I. Newett and his wife Amanda Todd lived in the gated community of Heron Bay Estates until its destruction by a fluke tornado. This event Newett notes occurred on the 77th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash a detail that would appear insignificant if it were not for several subsequent events. The stress of the tornado’s devastation prompts the Newett-Todds to depart on a European vacation during which George suffers a fall on none other than his 77th birthday the first day of autumn (or more cryptically Fall). Following this coincidence George experiences the first of what is to become five serial visions each appearing to him on the first day of the ensuing seasons and each corresponding to a pivotal event in that season of his life.

As the novel unfolds so do these uncanny coincidences and it is clear that as ever Barth possesses an unmatched talent in balancing his characteristic style and wit with vivid page-turning storytelling.

Ed King: A novel by David Guterson
PS3557.U846 E33 2011

A sweeping, propulsive, darkly humorous new novel by the best-selling author of Snow Falling on Cedars: a story of destiny, desire, and destruction that reimagines Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex for our own era.

In Seattle in 1962, Walter Cousins, a mild-mannered actuary—“a guy who weighs risk for a living”—takes a risk of his own, and makes the biggest error of his life. He sleeps with Diane Burroughs, the sexy, not-quite-legal British au pair who’s taking care of his children for the summer. Diane gets pregnant and leaves their baby on a doorstep, but not before turning the tables on Walter and setting in motion a tragedy of epic proportions. Their orphaned child, adopted by an adoring family and named Edward Aaron King, grows up to become a billionaire Internet tycoon and an international celebrity—the “King of Search”—who unknowingly, but inexorably, hurtles through life toward a fate he may have no power to shape.

An instant classic—David Guterson’s most daring and dazzling novel yet—that brings a contemporary urgency to one of the greatest stories of all time.

Butterfly’s Child: A novel by Angela Davis-Gardner
PS3554.A9384 B88 2011

When three-year-old Benji is plucked from the security of his home in Nagasaki to live with his American father, Lt. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, and stepmother, Kate, on their farm in Illinois, the family conceals Benji’s true identity as a child born from a liaison between an officer and a geisha, and instead tells everyone that he is an orphan.

Frank struggles to keep the farm going while coping with his guilt and longing for the deceased Butterfly. Deeply devout Kate is torn between her Christian principles and her resentment of raising another woman’s child. And Benji’s life as an outcast—neither fully American nor fully Japanese—forces him to forge an identity far from the life he has known.

When the truth about Benji surfaces, it will splinter this family’s fragile dynamic, sending repercussions spiraling through their close-knit rural community and sending Benji on the journey of a lifetime from Illinois to the Japanese settlements in Denver and San Francisco, then across the ocean to Nagasaki, where he will uncover the truth about his mother’s tragic death.

A sweeping portrait of a changing American landscape at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a Japanese culture irrevocably altered by foreign influence, Butterfly’s Child explores people in transition—from old worlds to new customs, heart’s desires to vivid realities—in an epic tale that plays out as both a conclusion to and an inspiration for one of the most famous love stories ever told.

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don DeLillo
PS3554.E4425 A84 2011

Set in Greece, the Caribbean, the Bronx of DeLillo’s childhood and outer space, these nine stories are a mesmerizing and revelatory introduction to DeLillo’s iconic voice, from the rich, startling, jazz-infused sentences of the early work to the spare, distilled, monastic language of the final stories. In “Creation,” a couple at the end of a cruise somewhere in the West Indies can’t get off the island – flights canceled, a dysfunctional economy, you didn’t confirm. In Human Moments in World War III, two men orbiting the earth, charged with gathering intelligence and reporting to Colorado Command, hear the voices of American radio, a half century ago. In the title story, Sisters Edgar and Gracie, nuns working the violent streets of the south Bronx, confirm the neighborhood’s miracle, the apparition of the dead child, Esmeralda.

Nuns, astronauts, athletes, terrorists and travelers, DeLillo’s characters propel themselves in to the world and define it. DeLillo’s sentences are instantly recognizable, as original and iconographic as the splatter of Jackson Pollack or the luminous rectangles of Rothko. These nine stories describe an extraordinary journey – of one great American writer through three decades of American life.

American Boy by Larry Watson
PS3573.A853 A83 2011

We were exposed to these phenomena in order that we might learn something, but of course the lessons we learn are not always what was intended.

So begins Matthew Garth’s story of the fall of 1962, when the shooting of a young woman on Thanksgiving Day sets off a chain of unsettling events in small-town Willow Falls, Minnesota. Matthew first sees Louisa Lindahl in Dr. Dunbar’s home office, and at the time her bullet wound makes nearly as strong an impression as her unclothed body. Fueled over the following weeks by his feverish desire for this mysterious woman and a deep longing for the comfort and affluence that appears to surround the Dunbars, Matthew finds himself drawn into a vortex of greed, manipulation, and ultimately betrayal.

Immersive, heart-breaking, and richly evocative of a time and place, this long-awaited novel marks the return of a great American storyteller.

The Great Leader: A faux mystery by Jim Harrison
PS3558.A67 G74 2011

In his most original work to date, Jim Harrison delivers an enthralling, witty, expertly crafted novel following one man’s hunt for an elusive cult leader: “The Great Leader.” On the verge of retirement, Detective Sunderson begins investigating a hedonistic cult that has set up camp near his home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At first, the self-declared Great Leader seems merely a harmless oddball, but as Sunderson and his sixteen-year-old sidekick dig deeper, they find he is more intelligent and sinister than they realized. Recently divorced and frequently pickled in alcohol, Sunderson tracks his quarry from the woods of Michigan to a town in Arizona, filled with criminal border-crossers, and to Nebraska, where the Great Leader’s most recent recruits have gathered to glorify his questionable religion. But Sunderson’s demons are also in pursuit of him.

The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar
PS3570.O22 B37 2011

With The Barbarian Nurseries, Héctor Tobar gives our most misunderstood metropolis its great contemporary novel, taking us beyond the glimmer of Hollywood and deeper than camera-ready crime stories to reveal Southern California life as it really is, across its vast, sunshiny sprawl of classes, languages, dreams, and ambitions.

Araceli is the live-in maid in the Torres-Thompson household—one of three Mexican employees in a Spanish-style house with lovely views of the Pacific. She has been responsible strictly for the cooking and cleaning, but the recession has hit, and suddenly Araceli is the last Mexican standing—unless you count Scott Torres, though you’d never suspect he was half Mexican but for his last name and an old family photo with central L.A. in the background. The financial pressure is causing the kind of fights that even Araceli knows the children shouldn’t hear, and then one morning, after a particularly dramatic fight, Araceli wakes to an empty house—except for the two Torres-Thompson boys, little aliens she’s never had to interact with before. Their parents are unreachable, and the only family member she knows of is Señor Torres, the subject of that old family photo. So she does the only thing she can think of and heads to the bus stop to seek out their grandfather. It will be an adventure, she tells the boys. If she only knew . . .

With a precise eye for the telling detail and an unerring way with character, soaring brilliantly and seamlessly among a panorama of viewpoints, Tobar calls on all of his experience—as a novelist, a father, a journalist, a son of Guatemalan immigrants, and a native Angeleno—to deliver a novel as broad, as essential, as alive as the city itself.

The Necessity of Certain Behaviors by Shannon Cain
PS3603.A389 N43 2011

Winner of the 2011 Drue Heinz Literature Prize Shannon Cain’s stories chart the treacherous territory of the illicit. They expose the absurdity of our rituals, our definitions of sexuality, and above all, our expectations of happiness and self-fulfillment.   Cain’s protagonists are destined to suffer—and sometimes enjoy—the consequences of their own restless discontent.  In the title story, Lisa, a city dweller, is dissatisfied with her life and relationships. Her attempt at self-rejuvenation takes her on a hiking excursion through a foreign land. Lisa discovers a remote village where the ritualized and generous bisexual love of its inhabitants entrances her. She begins to abandon thoughts of home.  In “Cultivation,” Frances, a divorced mother strapped with massive credit card debt, has become an expert at growing pot. When she packs her three children and twelve pounds of homegrown into the minivan and travels cross-country to sell the stash, their journey becomes one of anguish, revelation, and ultimately transformation. “Cultivation,” like many of the stories in The Necessity of Certain Behaviors, follows a trail of broken relationships and the unfulfilled promises of modern American life.  Told in precise, evocative prose, these memorable stories illuminate the human condition from a compelling, funny, and entirely original perspective.

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