While you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, the illustration on the cover of the The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham is somewhat telling of what's inside. A single red ribbon on a black background ties each of the stories together through theme and repeated phrases. The ribbon flows with no bows or knots, bleeding off the page. Similar in design, these stories are not wrapped in tidy packages. Sometimes they begin with no introduction and end abruptly, leaving the reader to speculate about what will happen next.
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon is set in Northern California, where Berkeley and Oakland meet. It’s 2004, and business partners Archy and Nat have just learned that a former NFL quarterback plans to open a music superstore in their shared hometown, placing their used record store in jeopardy. Midwife-partner wives, philandering husbands, and never-before-mentioned children add to the drama.
Set in France beginning in 1918, Léon and Louise is the love story of two teenagers who meet as World War I is drawing to a close. Separated during a German artillery attack, each is severely wounded and believes the other to be dead.
10 years later, both are living and working in Paris. They catch a glimpse of each other on passing metro trains. Léon is married now with small children, but his wife encourages a search for Louise, knowing that their marriage can’t move forward while Léon’s heart remains in the past.
Although Martin Amis’s new novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England, has received mixed reviews, it would be hard to argue that it lacks vividly drawn characters, a compelling storyline, or distinctive prose. Perhaps the legitimate complaint is that the title character, Lionel Asbo, falls a bit short on charm.
Being a parent can be a thankless job. Jonathan Evison explores the parent/child relationship in his new novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. Through the intersecting lives of his characters, he challenges the definition of a “good” parent.
In his novel The Godfather, Mario Puzo used his life in New York, his penetrating imagination, and some kind of exotic material for polishing prose to reveal the world of the Mafia. In that world, the reader observes the coming of age of Michael Corleone, as he reluctantly confronts his complicated fate as a gangster. This leads him down the path to self-betrayal.
Pauls Toutonghi has a way with words. He writes about the unique circumstances surrounding smart, quirky, and loveable characters. At Watermark, we found his first novel, Red Weather, so endearing that we named a sandwich after it. Toutonghi’s newest book, Evel Knievel Days, features a protagonist named Khosi Saqr from Butte, Montana—Evel Knievel’s hometown. Khosi is an obsessive-compulsive Egyptian-American trying to find his identity. Well, half of his identity, anyway.
With the London games looming, it’s difficult not to catch Olympic fever. After reading Chris Cleave’s Gold, I’ll be paying closer attention to the cycling events. Sprint. Individual pursuit. These were the races vividly portrayed in this story about Zoe, Kate and Jack: three cyclists who met each other on the same day when they were 19; and how their odd little triangle of love and friendship developed over the next 13 years, through victories and defeats in Athens, Beijing, and potentially London.
Jess Walter’s novel, Beautiful Ruins, is entertaining, but the work seems scattered because the author has so many people and narrative styles running through it that the reader loses sight of a main character.
I’m a sucker for a good prep school story. I’m not sure if it’s the promise of knowledge there for the taking, secret societies, or general student angst that usually leads me to those books, but there was something unique about Elizabeth Percer’s debut novel, An Uncommon Education. The education of Percer’s brilliant protagonist, Naomi Feinstein, was not provided by private boarding schools. Her “preparatory” education came from her father, who recognized early that his daughter could remember everything she ever read.