This week, the dead return to life, blood-pumping episodes of derring-do and heroism, and Amy Grace Loyd's The Affairs of Others. Plus: the latest from Edwidge Danticat.
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff (First Second) - Cliff pulls out all the stops for his first graphic novel, which he originally published online, pairing a wisecracking, death-defying heroine (“Guard!” she calls good-naturedly from her prison cell, “I’m escaping”) with a sensitive minor military official prone to overthinking when lightning-fast action is required (“Jump? Surely not! What about the other options? Are there any other options?”). The plot, such as it is, follows Lieutenant Selim as he is dragged willy-nilly into Delilah’s life of action and danger when all he wants is a hot cup of tea; really, though, it’s a vehicle for blood-pumping episodes of derring-do and heroism.
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper (S&S/McElderry) - In this elegant historical fantasy, a Wampanoag boy named Little Hawk survives the loss of his village to a plague contracted from the Pilgrims, who have recently founded Plymouth. Later he befriends a white boy, John Wakeley, only to have a shocking act of violence irrevocably alter their lives. As the years pass, John grows to manhood, learns a trade, marries, and avoids the Pilgrims’ bigotry, drawn to the more tolerant principles of Roger Williams, founder of the colony of Providence.
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf) - In this gorgeous, arresting, and profoundly vivid new novel, Danticat once again tells a story that feels as mysterious and magical as a folk tale and as effective and devastating as a newsreel. Claire Limyè Lanmè (“Claire of the Sea Light”) is turning seven, and yet her birthday has always been marked by both death and renewal. Claire’s mother died in childbirth, and she has been raised by her fisherman father in a shack near the sea. The book begins there—in the shack, on the morning of her birthday—before winding back to tell the story of every previous birthday, and who lived, and died, each year.
American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution by Garrett Epps (Oxford Univ.) - Americans “have little interest in what the Constitution says; but… we are obsessed with what it means,” argues Epps in this lively, engaging study. Picking apart every article, amendment, and section—from the Preamble to the 27th Amendment—with meticulous care, the University of Baltimore law professor explores their historical and legal contexts and assesses their origins, antecedents, and their legacies. Epps has created the ideal study guide for civics and political science classes, an intelligent and provocative tour through the fascinatingly complicated, vitally important blueprint of the United States.
Days in the History of Silence by Merethe Lindstrøm, trans. from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce (Other Press) - Eva’s elderly husband, Simon, has gradually stopped speaking—but as she recalls their life histories, we realize his silence may not be as inexplicable as it seems. Is Simon’s muteness a product of dementia, “a kind of wasteland where one’s personality is deleted,” or a revelation of his essentially silent inner self?
The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd (Picador) - Widowed five years earlier, Celia Cassill now clings to her isolation, allowing herself happiness only in memories of her marriage—books read, movies watched, bodies shared. She chose the tenants in her Brooklyn brownstone for their discretion and respect for “separateness.” When one of them moves to France, she reluctantly allows him to sublet his apartment to Hope, a beautiful, newly divorced, middle-aged woman recovering from her husband’s infidelity. Not long after Hope moves in, another of Celia’s tenants—a retired ferryboat captain—disappears, and his daughter holds Celia responsible. An intimate portrayal of the walls erected by a woman after her husband’s death, and how impulsive encounters with others break them down.
In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl (Penguin) - The well-crafted new novel from Australian author MacColl, her first to be published in America, traces an elderly woman’s reflections, avoiding the trappings of sentimentality while easily slipping through time. Iris Crane is comfortable in her Australian life when an invitation for a commemoration catapults her back 60 years to WWI and her stint as a nurse in a Parisian abbey. Iris remembers the past she has kept hidden from Grace, her obstetrician granddaughter whom she raised.
The Returned by Jason Mott (Harlequin Mira) - A riveting tale of how the contemporary world handles the inexplicable reappearance of the dead. The primary focus is on Harold and Lucille Hargrave, who lost their son, Jacob, half a century ago in a tragic drowning accident on his eighth birthday. Amid global rumors about “the Returned,” their son arrives at their doorstep—with an agent from the International Bureau of the Returned—still eight and healthy, as if nothing has changed in more than 50 years.
The Little Tokyo Informant by Andrew Rosenheim (Overlook) - Set in 1941, Rosenheim’s excellent sequel to 2012’s Fear Itself takes FBI agent Jimmy Nessheim to Los Angeles, ostensibly to ensure that J. Edgar Hoover comes out looking good in a movie Hollywood is making about the Bureau. In reality, he’s running a Japanese informant, Billy Osaka. When Osaka disappears, FBI assistant director Harry Guttman orders Nessheim to find him.