This week, William H. Gass's first novel in nearly 20 years, cyborg cockroaches, and a roof that changes shape. Plus: one of the most memorable FBI agents since Clarice Starling.
Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts by Emily Anthes (FSG/Scientific American) - Scientists, it turns out, have produced cyborg cockroaches, genetically altered mice whose brains we can control, and goats that express commercial drugs in their milk. Bizarre, but undoubtedly beneficial: animals play a crucial role in the development of myriad products that make life better for humans. But what about the creatures’ quality of life? This is a witty and thought-provoking book.
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint, illus. by Charles Vess (Little, Brown) - In this enchanting expansion of De Lint and Vess’s 2003 picture book, A Circle of Cats, the duo tells the story of Lillian Kindred, a spirited orphan living on a farm at the edge of a forest with her beloved aunt. While exploring, Lillian is bitten by a snake but saved from death by the magic of the feral cats she has befriended, who turn her into a kitten.
Escape Theory by Margaux Froley (Soho Teen) - Junior Devon Mackintosh, one of the scholarship student “have-nots” at the ritzy Keaton School, is the school’s first peer counselor. When popular student Jason “Hutch” Hutchins dies in a presumed suicide, Devon’s therapy sessions with grieving students become much more intense than she expected.
Middle C by William H. Gass (Knopf) - Austrian émigré Joseph Skizzen has a quiet life as an amateur pianist in Ohio, where the local library is his refuge. Only in his imagination is he the great Professor Skizzen, master of the Inhumanity Museum, a catalogue of the sinful human condition. Make no mistake: this is the unprecedented work of a master.
Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories by Ben Katchor (Pantheon) - In one of the more sublimely caustic stories in Katchor’s brilliant, darkly magical new collection, a suburban house attracts the attention of an architecture critic who loves how the roof reforms itself to match the shape of the master bed. He is all set to publish a laudatory article on it when the housekeeper makes the bed, and the critic loses interest. There are more than 150 pieces like that here, most of them taking up just one page. Take a peek inside Katchor's strange world.
Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman (Minotaur) - Resist any temptation to bail after the creepy prologue—a sexual predator’s-eye-view of the woman he’s about to attack—because then you’ll miss one of the most memorable FBI agents since Clarice Starling as well as a killer debut thriller. Check out Becky Masterman talking about, among other things, licking lizards.
Hair Shirt by Patrick McEown (Abrams/SelfMadeHero) - It seems like kismet when John and Naomi reunite in this bleak yet honest story, which reveals the toll one’s past can have on both oneself and close friends. But John is haunted by lurid memories of Chris, a boorish childhood friend and Naomi’s brother, who died years earlier, after leaving the pair with deep psychosexual scars that prevent them from maintaining healthy relationships.
Mundo Cruel by Luis Negron, trans. from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine (Seven Stories) - Slender but never slight, and often extremely funny, the nine stories in this debut collection offer insight into both gay life in Puerto Rico and the human condition in general.
Trinkets by Kirsten Smith (Little, Brown) - Eleventh graders Elodie, Tabitha, and Moe all attend Lake Oswego High, but burnout Moe and new girl Elodie are way below alpha girl Tabitha’s notice. Soon, though, they have something in common: after being caught shoplifting, Elodie and Tabitha are remanded to the counseling program Moe’s already in.
The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Soderberg, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith (Crown) - This excellent debut chronicles a global turf war among Spanish drug runners, German gangsters, Russian hit men, and Swedish cops. Caught up in this chaos is nurse Sophie Brinkmann, whose life since the death of her husband has revolved around her 15-year-old son and her work at a Stockholm hospital.
Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life by Jonathan Sperber (Norton/Liveright) - Likely to be the standard biography of Marx for years, this superb, readable biography of the most controversial political and economic thinker of the last two centuries achieves what scholars have been hard-pressed to deliver in recent decades: a study of Marx that avoids cold war, ideological, and partisan commitments and arguments.