September 17, 2022
Difficult people make for interesting reading. Characters who are mischievous, unstable, irrational, those who lack self-control and then find some measure of restraint, those who are just pure evil. In fiction and in life these are the people who tend to draw us in for a closer look. This week’s books prove that notion to be true.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Lucy by the Sea
By Elizabeth Strout
Published by Random House
Strout’s newest novel revisits one of her blunt, recurring characters, Lucy Barton. We last met her in Oh William! (recently shortlisted for the Booker Prize), rekindling a friendship with her ex-husband. Now they are spending the early pandemic in a borrowed Maine cottage. Their escape from New York during that fateful March 2020, and Lucy’s inability to grasp what was happening will surely resonate with readers. As the promised two weeks elongate into months, their relationship rides the rollercoaster of isolation. Strout’s infinite ability to dig into her characters’ psyches is ever-present. Once again, she proves herself a marvel of observation. Signed copies are available at The Center while they last.
The Search for the Genuine
By Jim Harrison
Published by Grove Press
Harrison, who passed away in 2016, was a prolific novelist, essayist, poet, food lover, nature lover, spiritual quester, adventurer and all-around voracious observer of life, much of it about the American West. This collection includes some the best of his writing over many decades. Luis Alberto’s Urrea’s introduction might bring a tear to your eye, and the essay, “Why I Write” says it all and more. (“I write…in the manner of an earthdiver swimming in the soil to understand the roots and tendrils of trees.”) Jim Harrison was a real character, and the opportunity to read him for the first time is not to be missed..
By Elspeth Barker
Published by Scribner
Even without Maggie O’Farrell’s convincing introduction I would have read this gothic tale of a teenage girl’s last few years of life in a Scottish manse with her awful parents. A misfit from birth she was not the pretty, sweet girl her first little sister was, or her pleasant-natured other siblings. Even her mother was slightly repulsed by her. But Janet related mostly to the flora and fauna of the Highlands, especially the jackdaw who followed her everywhere. It is an outstanding, propulsive novel, and the only one this esteemed journalist (who died last year at 51) penned, though you’d never know it from the spectacularly descriptive prose.
By Eduardo Halfon
Published by Bellevue Literary Press
Translated by Lisa Dillman & Daniel Hahn
In this semi-autobiographical novel, Halfon investigates the real-life kidnapping of his grandfather in Guatemala in 1967 by guerillas. One of his captors was called Canción, “the butcher,” who washed up in the Suchiate River with a bullet in his head. Halfon’s grandfather was held over thirty-five nights as a suspect and slept on a stinking cot. The self-named narrator travels across the world in search of clues about his ancestor—Jewish/Lebanese? Or Syrian?—whose personal history has haunted him over several books, including Mourning. What a beautiful writer—acclaimed by Roberto Bolaño and called “an archeologist of atrocity.” Canción is another fine addition to Halfon’s search for identity..
By Gayl Jones
Published by Beacon Press
Last year, Jones published her first fiction in over two decades (Palmares). Now we have a reissue of a 1986 novel set on the island of Ibiza. It features a trio of expat characters: Amanda, our narrator, a writer; her friend Catherine, a sculptor; and her husband, Ernest. Catherine has a history of mental illness and tries repeatedly to kill Ernest, though he is staunchly committed to her. The book is sexy, mordantly funny, and exceptionally odd. Beacon Press gets kudos for bringing out Jones’s previous books so new readers can discover her work, hailed by Toni Morrison.