So it's Antoine Laurain day, after all this time. Why do all the over-the-top, put-Daniel's-reputation-on-the-line events have to all come so bunched up together? When I was discussing the book and the possible idea of a tour stop for Antoine Laurain, I mentioned that I'd dig out my old Mylene Farmer CDs to play in the store. Mylene Farmer was a major French phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s. Mylene Farmer is of course referenced in The President's Hat, as she is the favorite singer of Fanny, the put-upon mistress in the book.Here's the video for Désenchantée, which came out after the book is set, but that's ok, right?
But all this, while very exciting, is not central to today's blog, which is focusing on new hardcover fiction. After linking to some mixed reviews for Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland (Knopf), which is on sale today, our rep Jason emailed me the really great Entertainment Weekly. I like the way that this review from Melissa Maerz continues the conversation about twists and how they affect the reading of the story.
"The Lowland is about how history is just the same mistakes made by different generations. But it's also about how time can trick you into believing that change is possible. While writing her dissertation, Gauri wonders, ''What caused certain moments to swell up like hours, certain years to boil down to a number of days?'' Lahiri plays with that question brilliantly, devoting pages to fleeting moments, only to deliver the book's most life-shattering event in a telegram just seven words long. From hour to hour, these characters may be free, but what happens to them from decade to decade feels fated. The Lowland offers new revelations right up to the last page, creating a palpable dread of what's to come. Some say that a twist is most effective when the reader figures it out a split second before the author reveals it. But Lahiri shows that a twist can be even more devastating when you've been afraid that it might happen all along."
Also just out is the new novel from Alan Garganus, Local Souls (Liveright). Best known for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is said to have written a Winesberg, Ohio of the New South in his three novellas about a town in North Carolina. Among his fans is John Irving, who praises his flawless storytelling, and Ann Patchet, who counts Guganus among the best writers of our time. His roundup from the Wall Street Journal, not just unauthored but now un-cut-and-pastable, seems more mixed. Hey, at least you're allowed to read it. I guess the book takes the form of beauty parlor chatter, as he or she puts it, but I think the overall effect with said reviewer is positive.
Charles Finch was also mixed, alas. He writes "Taken collectively these commotions make Falls seem like a town imagined by Stephen King, not the cheerful regionalist microcosm Gurganus seems to hope." What a nice seque! Doctor Sleep (Scribner), the sequel to The Shining, is out today from Stephen King. This "riveting "novel is about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance and the very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals. In USA Today, Brian Truitt has no such hesitations about weighing in on Doctor Sleep, calling it a "tour de force." And NPR's interview shows how the legacy of alcoholism played such a heavy part in the creation of this book.
Horrifying in a different way is Jennifer duBois's second novel, Cartwheel (Random House), the follow up to A Partial History of Lost Causes. There's a been a lot of buzz about how duBois's story is inspired by the Amanda Knox case, but thinking back, her first novel used Garry Kasparov or someone awfully similar to him as one of the major characters. The story shifts to Lily Hayes and the locale is Argentina. The publisher notes that with mordant wit and keen emotional insight, Cartwheel offers a prismatic investigation fo the ways we decide what to see--and to believe--in one another and ourselves. Booklist gave it a starred review: "Sometimes bleak, duBois' ambitious second novel is an acute psychological study of character that rises to the level of the philosophical, specifically the existential. In this it may not be for every reader, but fans of character-driven literary fiction will welcome its challenges."
And finally, there is Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed (W.W. Norton) from Dara Horn, said to be a spellbinding novel about how technology changes memory and how memory shapes the soul. The story starts with Josie Ashkenazi, who has invented an application that records everything the user does, but she's abducted in Egypt, leaving her affairs to her jealous sister Judith. The story jumps to Solomon Schechter, a Cambridge professor hunting for a medieval archive hidden in a Cairo synagogue. I had to copy this almost exactly from the copy as I was having trouble getting the plot exactly right, a problem I could have solved if I only read the book. Geraldine Brooks did, and calls it "learned and heartfelt, an exploration of human memory, its uses and misuses, that spans centuries in a twisty brad full of jaw-dropping revelations and breathtaking reversals."
So what have the critics said? Andrew Furman in the Miami Herald writes "Dara Horn crafts a richly layered novel that allows her to probe with great sensitivity and depth the themes that have emerged as her inescapable subjects--the urgency to retrieve and commemorate a past rapidly fading from memory; the contemplation of alternative, often fantastical worlds that might have been and may still be; and the patterns of human experience that eerily recur across cultures and generations." If you think I quoted too much out of that review, that was just one sentence.
King, Horn, Garganus, and Lahiri are Boswell's Best through at least next Monday, September 30. I should note that this makes two fiction roundups in a row. I promise next time I will concentrate on nonfiction or kids' books.
Commonwealth — Book Review
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