This week: a missing person mystery starring Pablo Neruda, Tennessee Williams's family troubles, and a relationship dissected in The Forever Marriage. Plus: why Darwin didn't discover evolution by himself.
The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero (Riverhead) – A moving fictional interpretation of Pablo Neruda’s final days in 1973, involving the poet himself with a missing person mystery. Set against a backdrop of Chilean upheaval, Ampuero’s first novel published in English is filled with beautiful language and a rich, rewarding story. Check out an essay from Carolina DeRobertis on translating the book and Neruda himself.
The Forever Marriage by Ann Bauer (Overlook) – An unhappy marriage is scrutinized and picked apart in this quiet, powerful novel. When Carmen Garrett’s husband, Jobe, dies, she finally feels the reprieve she’s spent her 21-year marriage waiting for. She and Jobe had been profoundly ill-suited: Jobe, a solemn and awkward math prodigy, had been intimidated by the potency of Carmen’s desires, while Carmen had been bound to Jobe by obligation rather than love. Carmen—an unfaithful wife and the loving but resentful mother of three children—is an unlikely sympathetic figure, yet she is unsparingly candid about her own shortcomings, and is disoriented by the loss she feels for a man she has spent her adult life wishing away.
The Third Gate by Lincoln Child (Doubleday) – Get this: The Third Gate makes a mummy’s curse scary. Professor Jeremy Logan teams with treasure hunter Porter Stone to uncover the tomb of pharaoh Narmer, located in a huge, inaccessible swamp. The expedition has been plagued by a series of bizarre events, from equipment failure to the disappearance of 200 pounds of meat, occurrences that may be the result of a warning Narmer inscribed in stone of the fate awaiting those who violate his final resting place. Fun and thrills ensue.
The Lost Bank: The Story of Washington Mutual by Kristen Grind (Simon & Schuster) - Hubris and greed break the bank in this absorbing saga of the housing bubble, in which Wall Street Journal reporter Grind chronicles the rise of Washington Mutual from a sleepy Seattle-based thrift to America’s biggest savings and loan bank, its reckless plunge into the can’t-lose subprime mortgage market, and its 2008 failure. An almost Shakespearean boardroom melodrama unfolds, featuring vivid personalities—it’s the Great Crash played out on a human scale.
Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl (Viking) – A sharp-witted comedy of manners set in 19th-century England. Seventeen-year-old Althea Crawley’s mission is to secure a husband rich enough to repair the family’s crumbling castle, since her wealthier live-in stepsisters aren’t much help. Althea’s tongue-in-cheek commentary regarding the selection of a suitor and her razor-like quips are abundantly entertaining, but it is the heroine’s remarkable ingenuity and compassion for loved ones—including her widowed mother, younger brother, and an artist friend, Miss Vincy—that make her so endearing.
We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons by Tim Kreider (Free Press) –Kreider’s humorous personal essay collection includes pieces on his near-fatal neck stabbing, meeting his biological sisters, and reading aloud to his convalescing mother Tristram Shandy, the voice of which begins to bleed into Kreider’s essay. Read an excerpt from the latter essay.
In Pursuit of Giants: One Man’s Global Search for the Last of the Great Fish by Matt Rigney (Viking) - An avid fisherman, Rigney provides a glorious read in his examination of sport fishing and the imperiled state of ocean life. The vivid immediacy of this call to action ranges from majestic descriptions of a marlin’s oceanic journey and a Japanese fisherman’s outrageat government-industry collusion to fishing fleets’ devastation of marine life. The “awe and humility” felt in the presence of these fish is sensitively and powerfully wrought throughout this dramatic, transcendental tale.
Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution by Rebecca Stott (Spiegel & Grau) – Darwin didn’t discover evolution single-handedly, and here Stott gives credit where credit’s due, mentioning Darwin’s (and evolution’s) debt to the work of Aristotle (on the island of Lesbos), ninth-century polymath al-Jahiz, and da Vinci (his fossil searches in Tuscan mine shafts), among others. Darwin’s Ghosts is a colorful, skillfully written, and thoughtful examination of the evolution of one of our most important scientific theories.
The Tools: Using the Power Within to Connect to Life-Changing Forces by Phil Stutz and Barry Michaels (Spiegel & Grau) – Using deceptively potent visualization exercises, Stutz and Michels promote a rapid and streamlined method of self-improvement. The techniques are designed to access intense intrapersonal areas, and are said to work thanks to the generosity of the universe. Here is the rare self-help book that doesn’t end with the self.
New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Familes by Colm Tóibín (Scribner) – From Jane Austen to Jorge Luis Borges to Tennessee Williams, Tóibín explores the ambivalent relationships that writers have had with their families. Other examples: W.B. Yeats’s troubled bond with his father, the fate of Thomas Mann’s children, and John Cheever’s alcoholic parenting and sexual hijinks. Tóibín especially excels when discussing craft, such as in the opening essay, in which he compares structural devices in the novels of Austen and Henry James that seem to necessitate an absent mother.