May 21, 2022
The exceptional characters in this week’s selection include a college student pursuing the meaning of life, a hired mercenary on a cross country adventure, a lightkeeper on a remote African island, a reclusive New Mexico artist with a past and members of an insulated Dominican community in New York City. Each story is vastly unique, but they all share a common thread—the search for self and identity in a world rife with more questions than answers.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Elif Batuman
Published by Penguin Press
Turkish American novelist Batuman (The Idiot) borrows from classic literature once more for Harvard student Selin’s philosophical exploration of modern living as she constantly questions the universe and herself. In Batuman’s hands, Kierkegaard’s 19th-century presentation of opposing views (the aesthetic and the ethical) perfectly express Selin’s quandaries. As she ponders her future, her failed affair with the enigmatic Ivan and how to navigate contemporary romance the novel becomes a series of “on the other hand” musings. Selin is a marvelous, relatable character who is smart enough to see the big picture but young enough to be conflicted about which road to take. I can’t wait for the next installment.
By Dan Chaon
Published by Henry Holt & Co.
One of the most entertaining characters I’ve encountered in a long time, Willy Bare (one of his many aliases) lives off the grid. He drives around the country with his pit bull doing odd jobs—like burning down a house or maybe killing someone. When one of his burner phones rings and the young woman on the other end claims to be one of a multitude of offspring from his banked sperm things turn dodgy. Chaon combines humor and pathos in a story set mainly in a vehicle, but his character’s interior monologue manages to conjure up an entire world of nefarious characters and a crumbling near-future civilization..
The Cherry Robbers
By Sarai Walker
Published by HarperCollins
Walker (Dietland) returns in good form with giddy gothic feminist fiction. It is Connecticut in the 50s and the topic is marriage and the haunted pasts of women. A half dozen sisters from a wealthy family choose to go down the aisle as an escape from their awful home, but (echoes of The Virgin Suicides) calamity ensues when the first sister ends up dead following her wedding. When history repeats itself with the second sister all bets are off—can the lone survivor reinvent herself as an artist in the American Southwest and break the family curse?
By Karen Jennings
Published by Hogarth
First published by a small Dutch press, then in the UK in 2021 and longlisted for the Booker Prize, Jennings’s utterly compelling novel is now gracing our shores. Set somewhere off the coast of Africa, this is an intriguing twist on the ‘stranger comes to town’ plot. Samuel, an aging lightkeeper whose memories of the political turmoil of the mainland still haunt, is the only inhabitant of this island. Then a young refugee washes up on the beach. How will this change and affect Samuel’s isolated life? Is it a welcome respite from loneliness or does it compromise his solitude?.
Neruda on the Park
By Cleyvis Natera
Published by Ballantine Books
Natera’s debut feels like a new classic. A NYC Dominican father and daughter have secretly been building a retirement dream house in the DR for mother, Eusebia. Luz, now a junior lawyer, is anxious to stay in the city and pursue her life and career. But the conflagration of two events—the wrecking ball announcing gentrification of their community, and the sudden loss of her job—stirs the emotional pot. Natera explores the themes of immigration, family, capitalism and (via the beloved poet Pablo Neruda) “toxic masculinity,” through the viewpoints of Luz, her mother and a chorus of gossiping local women called The Tongues.