Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New Fiction that is Boswell's Best--Divakaruni, Jamsa, Dee, Ozeki, Nadler

It's time to talk about some new titles, plus some that are not so new that I've forgotten to talk about previously. All books are on the Boswell's Best, and are discounted 20% through next Monday, March 25.

There's been a lot of buzz on The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (Viking), by Kristopher Jansmsa. The publisher has been comparing his work to Jennifer Egan and Tom Rachman. It's about a young writer and his crowd, fiercely competitive with Julian McGann and enamored with Julian's friend Evelyn. I thought this might be a review in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Who knows? Someday their might be a hipster paper based in Queens that resurrects the Long Island Press of my youth) but it's really a preview of his event at the Powerhouse Arena in Dumbo, which a recent visitor to Boswell told me is a great venue. The advance reviews are in, however, and Booklist raves: "A first novel with the strength and agility of a great cat leaping through rings of fire."

Another new release is the newest from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Oleander Girl (Free Press), an author that has visited Milwaukee in the past at least once (the Shorewood Schwartz for Sister of My Heart) and whom I've read at least once (The Mistress of Spices). The new book is about a young girl, orphaned in her youth, who discovers a devastating secret after the death of her grandfather and undertakes a quest to find the truth about her identity. Here's Divakaruni on a list of new books from Houston area authors. There's a lot of buzz on The Other Typist as well. No reviews coming up on this one either--have publishers stopped breaking on-sale dates? Booklist enthuses: "From baneful secrets, poisonous misunderstandings and conflicts, and transcendent love, Divakaruni has forged another tender, wise, and resonant page-turner." I know you're wondering, is Booklist the new Harriet Klausner, but no, they just liked both titles.

Maybe I'll do better finding reviews on books that have been out for a a bit.  Jonathan Dee's A Thousand Pardons (Random House) is about the Armisteads, a power couple whose lives explode when Ben, the lawyer, well does something awful (the reviewers are being well-behaved enough not to give this away) and then goes into free fall. His wife winds up in PR and finds herself spinning the fallout from her marriage. Did I get this right? John Freeman is very hot on the book. In the Boston Globe, he writes "Dee writes fabulous, Japanese-street tidy sentences. This gives him an almost spooky access to the inner lives of his characters. Writing in a close third person, the novel darts from Ben’s perspective, as he leaves prison in shame, to Helen’s, as she begins climbing the ladder of an industry that would be nowhere if people and institutions weren’t so incapable of dealing with shame."

Of all the books I'm irritated that I haven't read yet, I am the most sick about not having the time to escape with Stuart Nadler's Wise Men (Reagan Arthur). You may know that I loved Nadler's stories, The Book of Life, which was recently shortlisted for the Sami Rohr prize. His newest is a generational novel about a another wealthy attorney, Arthur Wise, whose story begins in the 1950's, after he purchases a beach house on Cape Cod and offers an opportunity for growth for his African American caretaker. The publisher notes "Arthur's teenage son, Hilly, makes friends with Lem Dawson, a black man whose job it is to take care of the house but whose responsibilities quickly grow. When Hilly finds himself falling for Lem's niece, Savannah, his affection for her collides with his father's dark secrets. The results shatter his family, and hers."

Nadler's novel has been selling well at Boswell, perhaps due to his visit for the stories, or perhaps it is a result of Janet Maslin's daily New York Times review. "Mr. Nadler’s version travels a long way from those inauspicious beginnings. And it gains strength as the story stretches over both Wise men’s lifetimes and fills them with resonant complications. It becomes a bigger, more surprising book than it initially seems to be." Why does that jacket remind me of Herman Wouk. Is it on purpose?

I am also kicking myself that I didn't take an eight-hour plane trip (well, two two-hour plane trips with four hours of waiting in airports) so I could read Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being (Viking). The gist: "In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future."

Wendy Smith in The Washington Post loves the book. She writes: "Ozeki’s profound affection for her characters, which warmed her earlier novels, My Year of Meats and All Over Creation makes A Tale for the Time Being as emotionally engaging as it is ­intellectually provocative. She finishes off her dazzling tapestry of metaphor and meaning with a short, tender letter from Ruth to Nao. This erudite ­author knows that in the end, the most important truths are simple." And in this interview on NPR, Ozeki reveals how she had the draft of the novel finished, and went back and rewrote it after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. The buzz on the book was that this is a return to form after My Year of Meats. The second novel had a more muted reception.

That's a lot of excitement to take in for one week, but that's what life in a bookstore is like.

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