This week, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen join forces, loneliness in the digital age, and the deadliest jellied gasoline ever. Plus: James Salter's first novel in over 30 years.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown) - Atkinson’s new novel opens twice: first in Germany in 1930 with an English woman taking a shot at Hitler, then in England in 1910 when a baby arrives, stillborn. And then it opens again: still in 1910, still in England, but this time the baby lives. That baby is Ursula Todd, and as she grows up, she dies and lives repeatedly. Atkinson talks about the making of a heroine with PW.
Candlemoth by R.J. Ellory (Overlook) - Ellory’s searing first novel recounts how Daniel Ford came to be on death row in 1982 for beheading his best friend, Nathan Verney, a decade earlier. The question of Ford’s guilt lends plenty of interest, but is almost incidental to the harrowing descriptions of life behind bars and the complex unfolding of a lifelong connection between friends. Check out our interview with Ellory.
A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang (PublicAffairs) - When British businessman Neil Heywood was found dead in a tourist hotel outside Chongqing, few would have suspected that his death would result in a murder trial that would nearly disrupt the country’s once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (First Second) - “When we eat, we take in more than just sustenance,” writes Knisley (French Milk) in this nostalgic and funny food-centric memoir, and it’s a fitting motto for the book and for anyone who takes even the slightest pleasure in cooking and, more importantly, eating.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Scribner) - This rich novel from Kushner takes place in late-’70s New York City and Italy. Reno is a young filmmaker “shopping for experiences,” who, as the novel opens, is attempting to set a land-speed record on her Moto Valera motorcycle in Nevada, only to crash instead. A flashback to New York finds her mixing with a group of artists, among whom she meets Sandro Valera, whose wealthy family manufactures the Moto Valera.
The Other Child by Charlotte Link, trans. from the German by Stefan Tobler (Pegasus Crime) - Link, a bestseller in her native Germany, makes her U.S. debut with a sophisticated and thoughtful mystery set in England. After an ominous prologue, in which a woman stumbles across an unnamed secret on a remote farm in Yorkshire in 1970, the action shifts to 2008 in the same area. College student Amy Mills leaves a babysitting gig late at night to travel home, only to find her regular, relatively safe route blocked off, which proves to be a prelude to her brutal killing.
Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel (Graywolf) - Maazel’s sprawling and ambitious new novel follows the rise and fall of the Helix, a cult of the lonely who believe that true human connection can only arrive with full disclosure. Think Facebook and Twitter but without the pesky computers. Speed dates, rallies, and confession sessions abound, full of strangers accosting one another to divulge their deepest secrets and most closely held fears, all in the hope of stemming the overwhelming tide of loneliness that is modern existence.
Napalm: An American Biography by Robert M. Neer (Harvard Univ.) - In this engrossing study, historian Neer recounts the prodigious youth and reviled old age of an iconic weapon. He follows the career of napalm—an incendiary jellied gasoline that sticks to everything and is almost inextinguishable—from its clever design by idealistic Harvard chemists during WWII, a time when any contrivance in the furtherance of victory seemed justified. (Experiments with napalm-armed bats fizzled after the critters escaped and burned down an army base.) The results, Neer shows, were both potent and horrific.
Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich (FSG) - Stochastic wiz Mitchell Zukor works for a unique consulting firm, FutureWorld, predicting disasters that companies can indemnify themselves against. Then one of Mitchell’s predicted worst-case scenarios comes true: a hurricane of unprecedented force devastates the city.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach (Norton) - Roach (Stiff) once again goes boldly into the fields of strange science. In the case of her newest, some may hesitate to follow—it’s about the human digestive system, and it’s as gross as one might expect. But it’s also enthralling. PW talks with Roach about digestion and limericks.
The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock (HMH) - Rock (My Abandonment) further demonstrates his literary finesse with this intense novel about two people who grew up with a spiritual clan bracing for the apocalypse. The story’s premise is all the more eerie for being based on the real Church Universal and Triumphant, which in the late 1980s urged its members to build underground shelters in preparation for a Soviet missile strike. Rock’s engrossing narrative follows former Church member Francine, who finds herself unmoored when childhood friend Colville Young, also a former Church member, resurfaces in Boise, Idaho.
All That Is by James Salter (Knopf) – Salter’s first novel in over 30 years spanning some 40 years and following the accidental life, career, and loves of book editor Philip Bowman. After serving in the Pacific during WWII, Bowman stumbles into publishing at a time when small houses reigned. During extravagant literary parties and travels through Europe, Bowman shares his thoughts on authors both real and imagined. And yet his career is merely a vehicle for his loves and losses, connections made and missed. Check out our talk with Salter.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illus. by Jon Klassen (Little, Brown) – The two bestselling children’s authors are an inspired pairing in this suspenseful take on childhood fear. Laszlo, a solemn boy in blue pajamas, is scared of the dark, and it’s easy to see why. He lives in a house with “a creaky roof, smooth, cold windows, and several sets of stairs.”
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman (FSG) - Wiman offers urgent thoughts on faith and doubt from the foxhole of mortality. Not that many years ago, the poet and editor of Poetry magazine was diagnosed with a rare cancer. This book of essays springboards from a much talked about 2007 essay that laid out his condition, his dark night of the soul, and his reawakening faith. Read our interview with Wiman.