This week, Frank Bidart's latest, Eve Ensler gets personal, and the biological roots of crime. Plus: a memoir by Edna O'Brien.
Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - “At seventy-two, the future is what I mourn,” Bidart announces in this starkly inspiring eighth collection. The poet’s spiky free reverse remains direct, sometimes even frightening, and clearer than ever before about mortality—his own death, and the deaths of his friends and his parents; and yet, perhaps in the spirit of anticipatory mourning, familiar interests—in old and new movies, terse metaphysical argument, and sex, especially sex between men— are all present.
In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler (Metropolitan) - In this extraordinarily riveting, graphic story of survival, Ensler, an accomplished playwright (The Vagina Monologues) and activist in international groups such as V-Day, which works to end violence against women, depicts her shattering battle with uterine cancer.
The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne (Gotham) - This wildly quirky memoir of facing down his ferocious Tourette’s tics follows Hanagarne, the son of a gold miner, from a bookish Mormon upbringing in Moab, Utah, to becoming a six-foot-four kettlebell-lifting librarian in Salt Lake City. Check out an essay from Hanagarne on how becoming a librarian saved his life.
The End of the World in Breslau by Marek Krajewski, trans. from the Polish by Danusia Stok (Melville International Crime) - Criminal Counselor Mock (in his second mystery, after Death in Breslau) investigates the murders of a musician shackled and encased alive inside a brick wall and an unemployed locksmith drawn and quartered in his own apartment. The only link between the two bizarre crimes is a piece of paper with the date pinned on each body. Fans of Simenon’s stand-alone noirs will find much to like.
Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee (Prime) - Lee’s short fiction has been lauded by respected anthologists and discerning readers; this fine collection of 16 stories (one original) gives Lee’s work the chance to reach the wider audience it deserves. Of particular interest are “Ghostweight,” whose protagonist’s desire for revenge brings terrible results, and the thematically related “Effigy Nights.”
Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O’Brien (Little, Brown) - Demure reflections on her celebrated literary life well lived comprise this lovely memoir by Irish novelist and short story author O’Brien (Saints and Sinners). Organized thematically, O’Brien meanders from her deeply Catholic, decidedly respectable upbringing in Drewsboro, County Clare, where the budding young writer experienced the sensuous rural impressions that imbued her early work, through schooling with the Galway nuns and a four-year apprenticeship at a chemist’s shop in Dublin.
The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime by Adrian Raine (Pantheon) - Neurocriminologist Raine is known for pioneering studies gauging long-term effects of environmental factors on neurological development. In his latest, the University of Pennsylvania professor explains how a startling number of early incidents can retard the development of the prefrontal cortex and other neural sites of learning, focus, and emotion, resulting in violence-prone adults.
Sketchy by Olivia Samms (Amazon Children’s Publishing) - Just out of rehab but still surrounded by a culture of middle-class substance abuse, Bea Washington manages to hold onto common sense and humor most of the time. It helps that she makes a gay best friend with chutzpah on her first day at a new high school. Bea’s experiences hit home in the most genuine ways.
The House at Belle Fontaine by Lily Tuck (Atlantic Monthly) - The 10 stories in the latest collection from National Book Award–winner Tuck are compact, intense, and finely crafted. Tuck opens private windows into the lives of women in foreign lands, often on their own after unsuccessful relationships and often set in the past.