This week: the latest from Lee Child, plus a hilarious novel about twins with a very special power.
At the start of bestseller Child’s riveting 24th Jack Reacher novel (after 2018’s Past Tense), peripatetic vigilante Reacher rescues an elderly man carrying an envelope full of cash, Aaron Shevick, from a would-be mugger in an unnamed American city. Reacher escorts the shaken Shevick home, where he meets the man’s wife and soon learns the couple are deeply indebted to loan sharks because of huge medical bills. Shevick is supposed to deliver the cash to an Albanian crook named Fisnik in a bar later that day, but when Fisnik doesn’t show, Reacher ends up impersonating Shevick at the rescheduled meeting with Fisnik’s replacement, a Ukrainian thug, who’s never met Shevick. A turf war has just begun between the city’s rival Ukrainian and Albanian gangs, and Reacher lands in the thick of it in his efforts to help the Shevicks. Reacher applies his keen analytical skills to numerous violent confrontations with bad guys who aren’t as smart as he is. Readers will cheer as Reacher and his allies, a resourceful waitress and two fellow ex-military guys he hooks up with, take the fight straight to the top of the criminal command chain. Child is at the top of his game in this nail-biter.
Art, debauchery, nightlife, and lowlifes fill out this rollicking biography of the celebrated British painter. Art critic and curator Feaver (Frank Auerbach) follows Lucian Freud (1922–2011), grandson of psychologist Sigmund Freud, through his rise to the top of Britain’s art scene, where his realist portraits thrummed with tension and suspicion, perhaps because of the marathon sittings his models endured or the pitiless depictions of flesh in his paintings. Feaver has much to say about the art— “Here are individual fingernails and individual hairs, some with split ends,” he writes of the landmark Girl with Roses, “as fully realized as the golden tresses of a Dürer”—but more about Freud’s daily picaresque: the relentless womanizing (he fathered 12 illegitimate children), the studied eccentricities (he carpeted his studio with broken glass), the gambling addiction that saddled him with debts to gangsters, and the swirl of colorful acquaintances, from nobility to famous artists to petty criminals, all of whom he painted. Feaver heavily quotes from his interviews with Freud, and the artist’s chatty, insouciant voice—“I said, ‘I’m going to pay you when I’ve got the money and if you kill me you won’t get the money,’ an argument that impressed them”—suffuses the book. The result is a riotously entertaining narrative that immerses readers in Freud’s beguiling sensibility.
In this beautiful, heart-wrenching memoir, country music singer-songwriter Moorer describes how her life changed at 14 when her father shot her mother and himself dead in their front yard in Mobile, Ala. In lyrical prose, Moorer earnestly confronts an early childhood in the 1970s spent tiptoeing around a violent, alcoholic father, hiding behind a protective older sister (Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne) who was “always too close to the middle of things,” and reaching out to her beloved mother: “[Moorer’s father] got between us when I was a girl, and he gets between us now, taking up all the space and spreading over my memories of her like coffee spilled on a white tablecloth.” But there were flickers of happiness when the family made music together. In single-page chapters scattered throughout, Moorer meditates on objects of her childhood, like her mother’s coffee cups and her father’s battered 1964 B-25 Gibson guitar, which Moorer plays on all of her records. Three decades after the crime, the sisters continue to make music together to get through their lives, always harmonizing: “I dip when she dives, I go under to catch her, she hovers above to lift me.” Moorer’s masterful, comforting storytelling may serve as solace for those who’ve faced abuse, a signal for those in it to get out, and an eye-opener for others.
Award-winning journalist Nelson (Red Orchestra) presents an explosive, comprehensive account of the 30-year relationship between the conservative Council for National Policy, which promotes a stringent political ideology based on Southern Baptist morals, and the Republican Party. Nelson traces the group back to its founding in 1981 and subsequent endorsement of Ronald Reagan. With the Baptist influence, the GOP went from being a party of hawks and economic wonks to one preoccupied with social issues (an antiabortion, antigay agenda). The CNP quickly harnessed the power of religious radio shows, where Sean Hannity and Mike Pence began their careers, to further its conservative message, and has largely been funded by the DeVos family and the Koch brothers. Nelson outlines the CNP’s involvement in the election of every Republican president since Reagan; the failures of candidates, like Bob Dole, who didn’t get in line with its ideology; and the CNP’s transformation of Donald Trump from a crude, seemingly agnostic candidate to a spokesperson for socially conservative talking points (Trump, of course, returned the favor to the CNP by staffing his administration from their ranks, including Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway). Nelson meticulously and chronologically traces the connections between the CNP and a host of Republican leaders and organizations. This is an absolutely momentous piece of investigative journalism.
Three employees at a monolithic factory in an unnamed Japanese city begin to see reality itself seem to mutate in Oyamada’s stellar, mind-bending debut. After quitting five jobs, Yoshiko Ushiyama finds a spot at the factory shredding documents all day. Meanwhile, Yoshio Furufue reluctantly takes a position “studying moss” in another department—in which he is the sole employee. His ostensible goal is to green-roof the whole enterprise, but he’s given no direction and no time frame and so ends up being reduced to a guide for a children’s moss hunt on the factory grounds. Finally, Ushiyama, Yoshiko’s brother, is tasked with proofreading opaque documents with titles like Goodbye to All Your Problems and Mine: A Guide to Mental Health Care, though he doesn’t know where his edits go when he’s done and is told “[y]ou won’t make any mistakes. You can’t.” Soon, time and the characters’ understanding of life beyond the factory begin to fog
Journalist Ptacin (Poor Your Soul) delivers a fascinating look at the history and cultural influence of Camp Etna, the 143-year-old Spiritualist community in Maine. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the community experienced “Burning Man–sized popularity,” as visitors from across the U.S. flocked to Etna to witness a unique group of clairvoyants, mediums, and psychics who were united by a common belief in “life after death, as well as living life with purpose.” Ptacin describes her experiences of spending a summer at Camp Etna when it opens its gates for a few months to visitors who can meet with a range of Spiritualists. Along the way, she explores the history of “a strong, independent faith-based subculture of women (and a few men).” Rooted in two major beliefs—“that it is our duty to practice the Golden Rule and also that we humans can talk to the dead if we want to”—Spiritualism’s teachings, Ptacin argues, “challenged the established American institutions of patriarchal authority” and influenced abolitionists and suffragettes alike. Ptacin offers a sympathetic account of how Etna’s mediums throughout history have helped people grieving the death of loved ones “have peace knowing that energetically, they are still around and still accessible.” Ptacin, who is receptive to the spiritual experiences and stories of the community, delivers her narrative evenhandedly and with genuine curiosity. This is an eye-opening and informative peek into a little-known but influential community.
Wilson (Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine) turns a bizarre premise into a beguiling novel about unexpected motherhood. When aimless, low-achieving 28-year-old Lillian Breaker receives a mysterious invitation from Madison Roberts, her former roommate at a prestigious high school, longtime correspondent, and now wife to a senator, she does not hesitate to travel to Franklin, Tenn. Madison offers her a job as a very discreet governess for the senator’s twin children from a prior marriage. Ten-year-olds Bessie and Roland sometimes burst into flames, and Madison is desperate to avoid a scandal upsetting the senator’s chances of becoming secretary of state. Lillian accepts and, with begrudging help from Carl, the senator’s shadowy right-hand man, guides the children through coping mechanisms in the guest house on the family’s lavish estate while Madison and Senator Roberts remain icy toward them. Their progress is upended, though, when the senator’s prospects rapidly change and Lillian has to decide where her loyalties are. Lillian’s deadpan observations zip from funny to heartbreaking while her hesitancy and messy love satisfyingly contrasts with Madison’s raw drive for power and tightly controlled affection. Wilson captures the wrenching emotions of caring for children in this exceptional, and exceptionally hilarious, novel.