June 11, 2022
All the books this week introduce individuals overcoming odds. There are three novels that find their strong female leads facing the task of getting themselves out of some pretty serious messes. The other two works of fiction feature male protagonists, one dealing with a paralyzing looming deadline, the other trying to make a comeback in the world of sports. They are all stories of redemption, where indelible characters must rise to meet their challenges.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Tracy Flick Can't Win
By Tom Perrotta
Published by Scribner
Every once in a while, a sequel surpasses the original. Tracy (from Election, the book and the movie) is currently a somewhat disappointed mid-forties assistant principal, living with her mother and competing to become the principal of her suburban high school. A mid-life crisis finds her reconsidering experiences from her own teen years through the lens of the contemporary #MeToo movement. This darkly comic novel stands firmly on its own as a portrait of a confident, truth-telling, ambitious woman and the choices that led her to the present day. Tracy, I am happy to report, without spoilers, remains as irresistible as ever.
After the Light Go Out
By John Vercher
Published by Soho Press
Xavier “Scarecrow” Wallace is battling to recover his reputation in the world of mixed martial arts fighting, but he’s also fighting chronic traumatic encephalopathy and caring for a father receding into Alzheimer’s. His mother, who left years before, is Black and his father is white and with the advancement of his father’s disease, comes the truth about his mother’s departure. In this emotionally resonant novel, Vercher captures the colorful and sometimes dangerous milieu of competitive MMA fighting. He delivers a portrait of a man at a crossroads with many strikes against him. You’ll root for him all the way..
By Marcy Dermansky
Published by Knopf
When Allison escapes her imploding homelife by impulsively buying a beach house in North Carolina, she is optimistic for the future and anticipating a safer, quieter way of living. But a hurricane levels the house almost immediately and she embarks on a downward spiral that includes being smashed on the head with a glass vase. Dermansky (Very Nice, which I also loved) somehow makes this story utterly entertaining and even tender. It’s a brave, hopeful novel that is part rom-com, part disaster fiction. She always imbues her characters with such humanity and humor that even the darkness is bearable. I gobbled it up in a sitting.
By David Santos Donaldson
Published by Amistad
Bahamian raised and a Brooklyn resident, Donaldson draws from real life in his impressive debut. His protagonist must rewrite his novel in three weeks’ time (which parallels the author’s own experience) while the novel within the novel is a reimagining of E.M. Forster’s love affair in Egypt with Mohammed el Adl, a young Black man. (Incidentally, the wonderful novel Arctic Summer by Booker Prize winner Damon Galgut is also about their clandestine relationship.) In this way Donaldson addresses both the panic of writing fiction on a deadline and the formidable difficulties of interracial love and sexuality in the early 1900s..
By Sloane Crosley
Published by FSG
Lola lives in downtown Manhattan and runs into an ex-boyfriend one day. This is a very New York story; one that can occur all too often and is rarely a wanted occasion. But then it happens again with another man. And another. Is this really a coincidence or is her former boss (from a magazine suspiciously like Psychology Today), who has created a mind control cult, somehow behind this? Crosley, who has participated in some terrific events at The Center (see her conversation with Gary Shteyngart from 2021), says she set out “to write about romance in a new and interesting way.” And she fully succeeds.