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The Invention of Ana

Mikkel Rosengaard. Custom House, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-267907-9

The spirit of Scheherazade is alive and well in Rosengaard’s debut novel about a woman named Ana Ivan, a survivor of Ceausescu’s Romania, who meets the unnamed Danish narrator on a Brooklyn rooftop and immediately launches into a story from her past. Right from the start, Ana captivates him with remarks about how she can travel in time or, as a child, was dead for two minutes, or how she is done with men. The narrator, it turns out, is a would-be writer, and Ana wants to use him to tell her stories, which, among other things, involve the suicide of her mathematician father and her investigation into his past to find out why he killed himself. The narrator’s Danish girlfriend, Laerke, arrives for a visit, but is surprised to find that he is distracted by Ana. The story culminates with Ana’s unusual art project, Timemachine, which the narrator becomes a part of. Ana makes for a maddening and beguiling presence throughout, as the author charts the emotional distance between Bucharest under Ceausescu’s despotic rule and present-day hipster Brooklyn, resulting in a striking, auspicious debut. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

Kim Fu. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-544-09826-8

In the latest from Fu (For Today I Am a Boy), which reads like a collection of linked short stories, a summer-camp accident changes the lives of five girls, all between the ages of nine and 11. Nita, Andee, Isabel, Siobhan, and Dina arrive at Camp Forevermore in the Pacific Northwest for different reasons—entranced by brochures featuring girls with “bold smiles of uneven teeth and no-nonsense braids,” or eager to escape the strictures of their monotonous upbringings. At first occupied by swimming tests and self-conscious friendships, the campers soon embark on an overnight kayaking trip to a nearby island to become “capable, knowledgeable outdoorswomen.” When group leader Jan falls ill, the girls are forced to traverse the island’s dense woods seeking rescue, and must contend with the elements and one other. In sections that alternate between the events of the trip and the sweep of each character’s adult life, effects of the trauma linger; from Dina’s eating disorder and failed modeling career to Nita’s sublimated, near-rabid need for her son to Siobhan’s mistrust of children. Fu precisely renders the banal humiliations of childhood, the chilling steps humans take to survive, and the way time warps memory. Agent: Jackie Kaiser, Westwood Creative Artists. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Don’t Skip Out on Me

Willy Vlautin. Harper Perennial, $22.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-268445-5

In this powerful novel, Vlautin (The Free) writes about characters whose big dreams and plans are often stunted by fate and circumstance, but who’ve managed to find a way to push through, bruised but with hard-won wisdom. Young Horace Hopper is half-Irish, half-Paiute Indian, and he has spent most of his life as a ranch hand. While herding sheep in the stark, isolated mountains near Tonopah, Nev., Hopper listens to heavy metal music and struggles with the shame of being abandoned by his parents. Hopper’s guardian, the aging rancher Eldon Reese, suffers crippling back pain and faces an uncertain future as his way of life becomes less and less tenable. Reese and his wife love Hopper dearly and consider him a son, but the young man soon leaves for Tucson to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer. Hopper, now calling himself “Hector Hidalgo,” finds a washed-up trainer and manages to get some fights throughout the Southwest and Mexico. A series of injuries, however, soon threaten to derail his career before it’s really off the ground. In this excellent novel, Vlautin’s reverence for the land recalls writers such as Jim Harrison and John Steinbeck. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Room on Rue Amélie

Kristin Harmel. Gallery, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7140-6

Harmel (The Sweetness of Forgetting) injects new life into a well-worn story in this hopeful three-voiced tale about the struggle to find normalcy amid the horrors of WWII. On a damp, blustery afternoon in 1930s New York, Ruby Henderson meets a handsome Frenchman in a cafe. Swept off her feet and into a whirlwind marriage (and relocation to Paris), Ruby quickly learns that her storybook romance may be spoiled by external forces as Europe topples into war. Ruby’s story’s emotional core is her struggle to establish her own identity and help others who are less fortunate, despite the growing dangers to herself. Harmel treats this subject with great care; although Ruby’s story is set in the past, the values by which she lives feel current. Unfortunately, the second narrator, Ruby’s young Jewish neighbor Charlotte Dacher, receives wobbly treatment, with a narrative voice that never quite lands. The third major point of view comes from tender-hearted, attractive RAF pilot Thomas Clarke, who helps Ruby’s story progress but is insufficiently fleshed out on his own. Harmel’s emotionally fraught story hammers home the message that each person has a unique opportunity to stand against injustice. This is a celebration of those, like Ruby, who found the courage to face life head-on. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Let’s No One Get Hurt

Jon Pineda. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-18524-4

Pineda (Apology) crafts an evocative novel about the cruelty of children and the costs of poverty in the contemporary South. Fifteen-year-old Pearl lives a marginal life in a dilapidated boathouse with her father and two other adult men. Pearl, socially isolated among the scavenging adults and feeling stunted, meets Mason Boyd, son of the wealthy family who recently bought up the land she is squatting on. He and his friends cruise around the countryside on their golf carts and scheme ways to become internet famous through juvenile prank videos. As Pearl and spoiled, contemptuous Mason embark on a secret sexual relationship, she yearns for a more normal life and swallows the scorn of her peers. Pineda fleshes out the main plot with flashbacks that explain the absence of Pearl’s mother, her father’s loss of his university job, and the earlier joys of Pearl’s life. Poverty’s demands and racial violence hover around the novel’s events. In the horrifying climax, the disadvantaged are abused and treated as disposable by the privileged. This stark tale of slow-burning anguish will draw in readers with its lyrical prose and haunting images. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Anatomy of a Miracle

Jonathan Miles. Hogarth, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-553-44758-3

A military veteran’s miraculous recovery from a disabling injury is the springboard for Miles’s affecting novel. Twenty-six-year-old Cameron Harris has been a paraplegic for four years when, in the parking lot of a convenience store in his native Biloxi, he rises from his wheelchair and walks. The public’s response is predictably madcap: Cameron’s doctors are incredulous, the devout begin venerating the parking lot as a religious shrine, and everyone in the “crap bazaar” that follows seeks some way to capitalize on the phenomenon, from the store owner who starts hawking religious paraphernalia to the reality television director hoping to film Cameron’s story to the local politician who tries to persuade Cameron to run for office. Miles (Dear American Airlines) keeps a perfect poker face as he put his characters through one absurd situation after another, but he laces his tale with moments of philosophical seriousness in which Cameron ponders whether his miraculous healing obligates him to serve a higher purpose. Well-drawn characters and their witty repartee help to give the book’s wild and wacky events a very human frame of reference. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sherlock Holmes: The Legacy of Deeds

Nick Kyme. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-78565-206-6

British author Kyme (Rebirth) instantly establishes himself as a top-notch pasticheur with his outstanding mystery, which is especially effective at capturing Sherlock Holmes’s dry sense of humor and warm relationship with Dr. Watson. In 1894, Edmund Garret arrives at Baker Street, distraught over his discovery of more than 30 patrons and staff members lying dead, without a mark on their bodies, in one of the chambers of the Covent Garden art gallery where he serves as assistant curator. Holmes follows a trail of clues to Damian Graves, the sponsor of the gallery’s exhibit of the art of Ivor Lazarus, who specializes in paintings with grim subjects. When Graves falsely claims to be Lazarus himself, this lie only raises more questions about his connection to the mass murder. After Holmes tricks Graves into revealing his fluency in Russian, the detective suspects a link between the crimes and the arrival in London of a Russian nobleman. The unusual delivery device for the poison is a clever touch, and the intelligent plotting is worthy of canonical depictions of Holmes and Watson. Sherlockians will look forward to more from Kyme. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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She Sleeps

Ray Russell. PS Publishing, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-78636-190-5

Record-store clerk Lawrence Moore, the hero of this cleverly wrought crime thriller from British author Russell (Bloody Baudelaire), is living in Sheffield, England, in 1989 when rock-’n’-roller Richie Young proposes recording some of Lawrence’s verse set to music. Unknown to Lawrence, the record label uses a photo of his long-lost girlfriend, Sally, for the album cover, and the image, in conjunction with lyrics to the song from which this novel takes its title, revives memories of the year in which Sally disappeared, a teacher committed suicide in the woods behind Lawrence’s school, and another student was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Lawrence is mortified at the upset the press coverage provokes among locals still sensitive to these tragedies, even as Richie and the band do what they can to exploit them for publicity. But though Lawrence has long thought of the incidents as separate “jigsaw pieces that don’t necessarily relate to each other,” renewed interest in the Man in the Wood—an urban legend that supposedly ties all three together and whose name the band appropriated for the album’s title—makes the coincidence of their occurrence seem increasingly less random. Russell, a composer himself, lards his narrative with references to the late ’80s rock music scene. Lyrics written for the imaginary album and included at the back of the book give this sinuous and unpredictable mystery a firm foothold in the music culture that it depicts. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Female Persuasion

Meg Wolitzer. Riverhead, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-1-59448-840-5

Wolitzer's ambitious and satisfying novel (following The Interestings) charts a Massachusetts girl's coming-of-age and asks pressing questions about what it means to be an empowered modern woman. When "selectively and furiously shy" freshman Greer Kadetsky first encounters 63-year-old feminist icon Faith Frank's impassioned rhetoric during a guest lecture at her college, she is bowled over by Frank's knowledge and intimidating stature. A few years after graduation, Greer lands a coveted job at Frank's Loci Foundation, a new speakers' forum dedicated to sharing women's stories, and couldn't be more excited about what her future might hold. But life throws a few curveballs. Her high school sweetheart, now a hotshot consultant, endures an unfathomable tragedy and moves back into his childhood home, disrupting the couple's plans to move in together. And, while her job at the foundation started out exhilarating and full of big ideas, the once-wide-eyed Greer has gained a more realistic perspective a few years in—including a nuanced understanding of a more human Frank. As in her previous novels, Wolitzer writes with an easy, engrossing style, and her eye for detail seamlessly connects all the dots in the book's four major story lines. This insightful and resonant novel explores what it is to both embrace womanhood and suffer because of it. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME Entertainment. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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