Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Five New Novels, Two of Which are Set in 1886. Brian Hart, James Howard Kunstler, Lin Enger, Julie Lawson Timmer, and Laird Hunt (Plus Info on Larry Watson's Paperback Event in Elm Grove)

Folks know Leif Enger from Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young, and Handsome, for which he was the featured speaker at the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library Literary Lunch in 2009. What folks may not know is that his brother, Lin Enger, is also a talented writer. An Iowa Writers Workshop grad, this Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship recipient teaches at Minnesota State University Moorehead.

His novel, The High Divide (Algonquin), is set in 1886. Gretta Pope wakes to discover her husband Ulysses has left his family behind, on the far edge of Minnesota's western prairie, with only the briefest of notes. Sons Eli and Danny set off after hi, following scan clues, and ending up in Minnesota's Badlands, and Gretta has no choice but to follow them, leading them all into a mess of complications. Enger has received many strong recommendations, including this from Larry Watson, who writes that "his characters are vivid and complex, and his descriptions of northern Minnesota in winter are astonishing. Powerful and engrossing."

Speaking of Watson, I should note that the paperback of Let Him Go is now out, a book that a number of us at Boswell championed. We're working with the Friends of the Elm Grove Library to present their Elm Grove Reads program featuring Watson at the Sunset Playhouse on Wednesday, October 22, 7 pm. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the Elm Grove Library. Call (414) 782-6717 for more information.

Brian Hart's The Bully of Order (Harper) is his follow-up to Then Came the Evening. Strangely enough, it's also set in 1886 in the Washington territory. Jacob, a physician, and Nell Ellstrom find a new home on The Harbor with their son Duncan, only when Jacob is revealed to be a fraud, he skips out, leaving wife and son to fend for themselves. Duncan grows up and falls into any number of predicaments, like joining a criminal gang and falling in love with a woman well about his class.

Hart's got very nice advance reviews from Kevin Powers, Philipp Meyes, Amanda Coplin and John Dufresne. The starred Kirkus Review is particularly enthusiastic: "Hart’s sense of place—terrain, weather, frontier people—is brilliant, every scene an homage to Robert Altman’s epic McCabe and Mrs. Miller. It’s a tale of robber barons, 'clean, covetous and mean, and millworkers, lumberjacks and feral toughs, 'the maimed and the mutinous.'" I've also spotted a couple comparisons to Cormac McCarthy.

One novel that's garnered a lot of great enthusiasm from booksellers (and is still set in the 19th century but a couple of decades earlier) is Laird Hunt's Neverhome (Little, Brown). At Boswell, Jen Steele offered this recommendation: "Imagine if Penelope went off to war and Odysseus stayed home waiting for her return. In this Civil War Odyssey, Constance has disguised herself as Ash Thompson, joined the Union Army and gone off to war, leaving behind her husband to take care of their farm. Neverhome is a terrific and heartbreaking tale about Ash Thompson; wife, soldier, traitor and legend."

On the critic front, Matthew Tiffany offered this about Neverhome in The Kansas City Star: "Hunt’s writing is straightforward, unadorned in its complete portrait. At no point does the story feel like one told by a man in the 21st century; it is all of a piece with the temperament and thoughts of a woman taking up arms for her country. Laird Hunt has crafted a body of work in which each of his novels feels like an extension of those that came before it. Even with a wide range of subjects, his writing plumbs the depths of the the internal struggles we all face and the external circumstances that shape how we respond.

I've read a number of books by James Howard Kunstler in the past, and our buyer Jason has recommended some of the World Made by Hand novels. The newest is A History of the Future (Atlantic Monthly), a quiet post-apocalyptic novel where the end of oil, the pandemics, environmental disasters and the ensuing mayhem have left the survivors pursuing "a simpler and sometimes happier existence." In upstate New York's Union Grove, the townspeople prepare for a post-consumerist Christmas, while learning of the New Foxfire Republic, controlled by a female evangelical despot, a former country music star named Loving Morrow.

Donna Seaman in Booklist wrote that "Kunstler skewers everything from kitsch to greed, prejudice, bloodshed, and brainwashing in this wily, funny, rip-roaring, and profoundly provocative page- turner." It's kind of odd that Kunstler only links to Amazon on his website for book sales.

And finally, here's a new novel from Julie Lawson Timmer called Five Days Left (Putnam). It is notable to me, as it is the first Amy Einhorn book that's not "an Amy Einhorn Book." Of course nobody gossips with me so I don't know what happened, but it's not like her books weren't working--there are not one but two Liane Moriarty novels on the national bestseller lists right now, The Husband's Secret and Big Little Lies. We'll see what she brings to Flatiron, the new Macmillan division.

The story starts with Mara Nicholas, a woman who has it all, but we all know that doesn't bode well for an opening. This lawyer, devoted daughter, adoring wife, and loving adoptive mother has a secret, and she shares it in an online forum with Scott, a foster father who fears giving up the troubled boy in his care to his junkie mother. So I'm not sure why this is a secret, but Mara is diagnosed with Huntington's Disease and these two folks, separated by many miles, have little time left (five days, get it) with people they love.

Five Days Left has recommendations from Jodi Picoult and Christina Baker Kline, plus another starred Kirkus Reviews which notes: " Is it selfish for Scott to put the boy’s needs before his wife’s? Is it more selfish for Mara to abandon her family now than to ask them to care for her in the final stages of her disease? As Scott and Mara wrestle with ethical questions, the answers they find are both relatable and debatable. The characters are so affecting it’s tough to make it to Day 5. An authentic and powerful story.

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