This week, Lorrie Moore's first collection in 15 years, the award-winning novel that was rejected by over 60 publishers, and what neuroscience can tell us about joy and anger.
The Hit by Melvin Burgess (Scholastic/Chicken House) - Burgess (Smack) returns with a boundary-pushing thriller that all-too-believably builds on contemporary threads including income inequality, the Occupy movement, and a YOLO mentality. On the night he attends rocker Jimmy Earle's final concert, Adam knows that his life has changed. Earle's on-stage demise—supposedly from Death, an expensive drug that provides the consummate one-week high followed by death—has awakened a riotous fervor in depressed Manchester, England, which may mark the beginning of a larger revolution. The high of Adam's night out with his girlfriend, Lizzie, comes crashing down when Adam's older brother, Jess, is reported dead. Suddenly, taking Death means a way out.
When Shadows Fall by J.T. Ellison (Mira) - Exceptional character development distinguishes Thriller Award–winner Ellison’s third Samantha Owens novel, the best yet in the series. When Sam, now head of Georgetown University Medical School’s forensic pathology department in Washington, D.C., receives a letter from a stranger named Timothy Savage asking her to solve his murder, she gets drawn back into her former career in law enforcement. Sam performs an autopsy on Savage, who recently died in Lynchburg, Va., and the examination shows he did not commit suicide, as the police ruled, but was indeed murdered. Meanwhile, Sam and her boyfriend, former Army Ranger Xander Whitfield, become embroiled in a search for a missing child whose disappearance may be related to Savage’s death.
Boy on the Edge by Fridrik Erlings (Candlewick) - Erlings delivers a moody, affecting character study of a troubled teenage boy. Henry “had never seen anyone as ugly as himself”; his odd appearance and clubfoot make him a target for bullies, and his stutter and difficulties with reading lead him to keep his emotions bottled up. When Henry takes his anger out on his mother, he is sent to a home for “troubled boys,” a farm run by a minister and his wife, Emily, on the barren lava fields of the Icelandic coast. Emily’s kindness and the solace Henry finds working with the farm’s cattle help him begin to feel at home. Erlings poignantly describes Henry’s longing for a friend and the pain of rejection.
Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love: What Neuroscience Can--and Can't--Tell Us About How We Feel by Giovanni Frazzetto (Penguin) - Neuroscientist Frazzetto (How We Feel) takes a remarkable look at the power of human emotion and the overuse of science in justifying human nature. It is, as he states, “an irresistible notion,” but Frazzetto’s treatise on the role our brains play in everyday emotions is a refreshing take on the idea. Interweaving psychological and scientific experiments with endearing personal anecdotes and historical retellings, Frazzetto shows that we are, indeed, more than the sum of our brain scans. While his knowledge of case studies is impressive, it’s his own dealings with strong emotions like grief and love that make the book appealing. The eponymous emotions impact our quotidian experiences, and Frazzetto explores them beyond the laboratory, sharing the stories and experiences of such figures as Darwin, Freud, Brecht, and Caravaggio, as well as how their own intimate relationships with these emotions can now be analyzed through neuroscience.
Long Man by Amy Greene (Knopf) - Like a classical myth or a painting by Thomas Hart Benton, Greene’s second novel, set in the summer of 1936, transforms a period of cataclysmic history into a gorgeous, tragic tale filled with heroes and heroines. After the Tennessee Valley Authority builds a dam to electrify rural Appalachia, the river that folks have always called Long Man rises a little more with every turn of the page, and most of the families in the town of Yuneetah, Tenn., are long gone, scattered to other cities to take up factory jobs. In days, the hardscrabble farm fields they abandoned will be overcome by water, and Annie Clyde Dodson’s family farm, too, will end up at the bottom of the lake. Only Annie Clydewon’t leave; she’s determined to hold out so that her three-year-old daughter Gracie can inherit her ancestral land. But Gracie disappears with her dog Rusty during a terrible storm, the floodwaters rising by the hour.
Grandmaster by David Klass (FSG/Foster) - Like Searching for Bobby Fischer, this novel about competitive chess encapsulates the intensity of the game and the players who become obsessed with it. After joining the chess club at his private school, freshman Daniel Pratzer is surprised when his super-achiever co-captains invite him to participate in a New York City father-son tournament. An even bigger shock is their claim that Daniel’s father was once a famous grandmaster of the game. When confronted with this information, Daniel’s father admits the rumor is true but remains secretive about his past; reluctantly, he agrees to come out of retirement for the event.
A Child of Christian Blood: Murder and Conspiracy in Tsarist Russia: The Beilis Blood Libel by Edmund Levin (Schocken) - Good Morning America writer/producer Levin makes a century-old murder case come to life in a suspenseful true crime thriller that had broad implications at the time. The March 1911 discovery of the butchered corpse of 13-year-ol Andrei Yuschinsky in a cave near Kiev led, four months later, to the arrest of a brick factory clerk, Mendel Beilis, who was accused of committing the murder as part of a barbaric ritual in which the Christian victim’s blood was drained to be consumed by Jews. That the evidence against the defendant was nonexistent was no bar to his prosecution, even as witnesses provided compelling testimony pointing to more likely murderers.
We Are Here by Michael Marshall (Little, Brown/Mulholland) - Marshall combines mystery with urban fantasy to create an eerie, convoluted tale of shadow beings living between the cracks of our world. While visiting New York City, writer David Miller encounters a stranger who says cryptically, “Remember me.” Meanwhile, John Henderson (protagonist of 2009’s Bad Things) and his girlfriend, Kristina, investigate her friend’s stalker, who they discover belongs to a society of mysterious entities. These people, who call themselves “friends,” might be ghosts or forgotten imaginary friends whose creators have grown to adulthood. They have their own factions and agendas, some of which threaten John, Kristina, David, and those David loves.
Bark by Lorrie Moore (Knopf) - There are eight stories in Moore’s latest collection, and, like her previous work (Birds of America), these stories are laugh-out-loud funny, as well as full of pithy commentary on contemporary life and politics. In much of Moore’s earlier fiction, the protagonists are young girls or mothers of small children. Here, they are divorcées. They have teenagers. They’ve variously tried and failed at dating, holding down jobs, being kind, or being sane. Perhaps that accounts for the ever-present sting of sadness in the book: relationships don’t fare well (with one slightly desperate exception), and the sly wisdom of Moore’s meditations on time will get under your skin like a splinter.
The Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit (Bloomsbury) - First-time novelist Nesbit chronicles the lives of a disparate group of women who forge a new community together after relocating to the desert of New Mexico during World War II. The collective “we” that serves as the book’s protagonist only knows that the women’s physicist husbands are working day and night on a secret government project. This permeates their world as their letters are censored, visits home are limited, and close family and friends are forbidden to know their exact whereabouts. In the meantime, the wives carry on (or attempt to carry on) with their normal everyday lives—gossiping about one another, setting standards for practical fashion among the group, and trying to get around the bureaucracy that has them feeding their families with spoiled provisions.
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick (Scholastic/Blue Sky) - In August 2005, 12-year-old Zane Dupree reluctantly travels to New Orleans with his dog Bandy to visit Miss Trissy, his paternal great-grandmother. Zane is biracial and knows nothing about his late father’s side of the family; he acquires some pieces of the puzzle—that his father ran away from home, and his uncle “got hissef killed”—but gaps remain. Hurricane Katrina arrives, and mandatory evacuation is announced, but on a bus out of town, Bandy escapes and Zane follows him back to Miss Trissy’s house. They are rescued from the surging water and relentless heat by Malvina Rawlins, a girl Zane’s age with a stream of corny jokes at her disposal, and her elderly guardian, musician Trudell Manning.
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (Steerforth) - The winner of the Guardian First Book Award features a chorus of voices telling the story of an Irish village undergoing a post-recession crisis and evokes Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, right down to a section narrated by a recently deceased character. At the center is Bobby Mahon, a building foreman who discovers, as the book opens, that his boss has “shafted” him and his coworkers, cheating them of a pension and disappearing after the housing boom goes bust. Bobby’s decency is admired by everyone, and it underpins the novel: the belief in Bobby’s good nature seems to unite these people, to serve as a salve on the wounds of economic collapse. As rumors spread that Bobby is having an affair and that he has killed his loathed father, and as a child disappears, the villagers will need to marshal their faith in him. Equal parts mournful and hopeful, the book pays keen attention to the ways lives coalesce and fall apart in time of personal and national crises.