Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Peter and the Women: New Fiction from Peter Matthiessen, Michelle Huneven, Laura McHugh, Donna Leon, and Siri Hustvedt.

This is an auspicious Tuesday, as it is the on-sale date for the last published work of Peter Matthiessen, a novel called In Paradise (Riverhead). What folks didn't expect was that Matthiessen would pass away several days before pub date. It's the story of a professor of Holocaust studies, who while at a retreat, confronts his own family secret. The starred review from Booklist states "expertly raises the challenges and the difficulties inherent in addressing this subject matter, proving, as the muralist Malan says, that the creation of art is the only path that might lead toward the apprehension of that ultimate evil." Tom Vitale on NPR notes that his "career has come full circle — from writing about the extinction of animals in his early nonfiction, to writing about the extinction of man."

One book I was particularly looking forward to was Off Course (Sarah Crichton/FSG) the new novel from Michelle Huneven, author of the much loved books Jamesland and Round Rock. To my slight sadness, I wasn't able to get an advance copy, but let's be frank--it would likely still be sitting in my pile, and now I get to read a finished copy! It's about Cressida Hartley, a grad student who moves into her parents' shabby cabin to write her dissertation in the early 1980s. She finds herself immersing herself in the life of the mountain town, only to find her life going, as the title says, off course. Kirkus writes the newest is "sensitive, reflective and uncomfortably true to life, with a wonderfully rich cast of supporting characters." I will definitely read this and report back to you. Well, probably. Well, hopefully.

Several months ago I was honored to be invited to a multi-author dinner in Chicago. One of the attendees was Laura McHugh, whose The Weight of Blood (Spiegel and Grau) had many enthusiastic fans. Set in the Ozark Mountains, Lucy Dane has enough burden with the earlier disappearance of her mother, but things go to another level when her friend Cheri is found murdered. As the publisher notes, "what Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills." Early quotes are from Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Meg Gardiner, Christina Baker Kline, and Karin Slaughter, positioning the book somewhere between contemporary fiction and mystery.  I immediately suggested that Boswellian Anne try it, as it seems like a good fit, and then I was reminded of a conversation I had recently with another author, worried about her book jacket, and exclaimed "muddy covers are hot!" and here's another example.

Anne told me she is halfway through By Its Cover (Atlantic Monthly), the new novel from Donna Leon. It may be a bit shorter than some of her other novels, but "she's still got it!," Anne notes. This time Guido Bruneti investigates a crime at a prestigious Venetian library, with pages ripped out of several rare travel books. It turns out the man who checked out the books was not really an American professor from Kansas. The library worries about bad publicity, and in particular, how it might get back to a high-ranking donor. And then of course, a brutal murder is discovered. Daneet Steffens in The Boston Globe writes "Leon compellingly combines their workaday crime-solving with a detailed picture of a vanishing Venice, its gently telling street scenes and peopl...and the contemporary changes that are hastening the city’s demise."

Jason reminded me to say something about The Blazing World (Simon and Schuster), which was a front-page feature on The New York Times Book Review. This is her first book at Simon, after a long run at Henry Holt. It returns to the New York art world, telling the story of Harriet Burden, who, unappreciated for her own work, conceals her female identity to put on three successful solo shows as a man. This blows up when her own identity is in doubt, and well, there's another artist involved that she has this intense relationship with, and the story is told through papers compiled after Burden's death. Clare McHugh in The Wall Street Journal writes "In certain respects, The Blazing World is a didactic novel, presenting arguments about the place of gender in American cultural life, yet it avoids preaching or settled judgments by putting at its center a figure whose strongly held beliefs are undermined by the hazards of real life."

Alas, our latest website upgrade has left us unable to process credit card orders for the past few weeks. Sadly, that's generally not an issue. It should be cleaned up shortly.

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