This week, why it's normal to be a perv, retelling Pride & Prejudice, and the best mystery stories of the year. Plus: new Dave Eggers.
Longbourn by Jo Baker (Knopf) - The servants of the Bennett estate manage their own set of dramas in this vivid re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice. While the marriage prospects of the Bennett girls preoccupy the family upstairs, downstairs the housekeeper Mrs. Hill has her hands full managing the staff that keeps Longbourn running smoothly: the young housemaids, Sarah and Polly; the butler, Mr. Hill; and the mysterious new footman, James Smith, who bears a secret connection to Longbourn. At the heart of the novel is a budding romance between James and orphan-turned-housemaid Sarah, whose dutiful service belies a “ferocious need for notice, an insistence that she fully be taken into account.”
Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering (FSG/Scientific American) - In a book as informative as it is entertaining, Bering (Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?) argues for the efficacy of science and logic over irrational morals when addressing “sexual deviancy.” Citing numerous studies and historical sources, Bering makes the claim that, deep down, we are all sexual deviants in one form or another—and that sexual deviancy is, in fact, not deviant at all.
The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal (Candlewick) - “I have always loved a fairy tale.” So says Ava Bingen, a young seamstress in the palace of the fictional Scandinavian city of Skyggehaven. Dark and bloody fairy tales inform this dense, 16th-century narrative, richly layered with multiple viewpoints: Ava, the mad Queen Isabel, the dangerously weak King Christian, the diabolically ambitious Lord Nicolas, and the mute, literate African nursery-slave, Midi Sorte.
The Circle by Dave Eggers (Knopf/McSweeney’s) - The latest from Eggers is a stunning work of terrifying plausibility, a cautionary tale of subversive power in the digital age suavely packaged as a Silicon Valley social satire. Set in the near future, it examines the inner workings of the Circle, an internet company that is both spiritual and literal successor to Facebook, Google, Twitter and more, as seen through the eyes of Mae Holland, a new hire who starts in customer service. As Mae is absorbed into the Circle's increasingly demanding multi- and social media experience, she plays an ever more pivotal role in the company's plans, which include preventing child abductions through microchips, reducing crime through omnipresent surveillance, and eliminating political corruption through transparency courtesy of personal cameras.
The Case of the Love Commandos by Tarquin Hall (Simon & Schuster) - In Hall’s thought-provoking and charming fourth mystery featuring PI Vish Puri (after 2012’s The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken), a young Delhi couple’s plan to marry runs afoul of the bride’s powerful father, who objects to his future son-in-law’s low caste. The Love Commandos of the title, a group of volunteers who help couples divided by caste, intervene.
Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis (Twelve) - After 50 years, it’s a challenge to fashion a new lens with which to view the tragic events of Nov. 22, 1963—yet Texans Minutaglio (City On Fire) and Davis (Texas Literary Outlaws) pull it off brilliantly. The assassination in Dealey Plaza marks the end of their thrilling story, which traces three years of increasing militant extremism in Dallas, beginning even before Kennedy’s election.
Battling Boy by Paul Pope (First Second) - The future of Arcopolis, a city under siege by daily monster attacks, is in jeopardy after its champion, Haggard West, falls in battle. Hope arrives in the form of Battling Boy, a pampered 13-year-old warrior god whose initiation into adulthood is to become Arcopolis's new protector. Even with magical powers imbued by a set of totemic T-shirts, Battling Boy grapples with both the onslaught of monsters and his newfound publicity. Meanwhile, Arcopolis' resident villains plot to keep their city hero-free, and West's daughter, Aurora, looks to take up her late father's mantle.
How Architecture Works: A Humanist’s Toolkit by Witold Rybczynski (FSG) - Rybczynski follows in the spirit of Steen Eiler Rasmussen’s classic Experiencing Architecture to supply an ideal layperson’s handbook on the fundamentals of modern and contemporary architecture. Focusing on the functional and aesthetic considerations that define a building, and often calling upon his experience as an architect to illustrate major concepts, Rybczynski vividly explains particulars such as how to read architectural plans and how sunlight figures into designs, as well as discussing issues of style, history, and taste.
The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 edited by Lisa Scottoline (HMH/Mariner) - Twenty stories—remarkable in their diversity—comprise this 17th installment of Penzler's annual anthology of the best American mystery stories. The plots and settings are more varied than a reader might expect, but what surprises is how literary many of these stories are, like the opening entry, "Smothered and Covered," by Tom Barlow, about a down-and-out guy who sees a young girl just before her mysterious death, an encounter that prompts reflection on the loss of his own daughter.