September 9, 2023
Characters, real and imagined, deal with the hands they were dealt—whether it is surviving the contemporary pandemic, hunger in the 1600s, or the American Depression of the ’30s. There is also a new story collection by a Scottish prize-winning author of a dozen previous books, and a surprising experience at a Japanese library.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Martha McPhee
Published by Scribner
Novelist McPhee, her three sisters, and step siblings enjoyed a glamorous yet complicated bohemian childhood on the family’s farm in New Jersey. Decades later, when the pandemic hit, Martha, her husband, and their two teenagers decamped Manhattan for the sprawling property where her mother, slipping into dementia, still lived. Managing logistics, money, family, and career became an ongoing struggle. Inspired by her father (writer John McPhee), who taught her respect for the land, she also undertook the enormous challenge of maintaining the farm. This lovely book is full of brutal self-examination. By reading about one extraordinary family’s travails, we feel that much closer to forgiving ourselves when we cannot always make things perfect.
The Vaster Wilds
By Lauren Groff
Published by Viking
Groff says that this new novel is the closest yet to her heart. And as the book moves along, the reader’s own heart begins beating faster in dread-filled anticipation. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but solo, we meet a character literally running for her life in a world gone mad. Set in the 1600s, this historical fiction (like The Matrix before it) finds our protagonist fleeing colonialism and a starving nation by escaping up North, through wilderness and forest, while trying to avoid being murdered along the way. It is incredibly harrowing but told so beautifully that you can’t stop reading it..
By Cedric “The Entertainer“
Published by Amistad
Like Colson Whitehead’s Harlem capers, Cedric, the legendary comedian, explores the allure of crime in his debut. We discover Babe in 1948 in a meet-up to move a large quantity of liquor from Canada to Chicago: “A brand-new beginning at forty. He would start over as his own man. All he needed was money, enough money to buy the mansion, finance the remodel. And pay off the politicians for the permits.” You can see it won’t be simple. This comic adventure also captures the obstacles for Black families, like Babe, Rosie and their three kids, to get ahead during the Depression. Will a gambler’s itch destroy their chances?
Normal Rules Don’t Apply
By Kate Atkinson
Published by Doubleday
From the memorable Life After Life to the wonderful Jackson Brodie crime novels, Kate Atkinson has been entertaining us with unexpected plots and wonderful prose. With these eleven short stories, she gifts us another collection of surprising tales. There are two talking horses; a persistent global blackout; a recurring character who is a failed novelist turned TV producer and gambler; a long-time secretary who observes her own autopsy; and three stories whose titles are inspired by plays and films (Blithe Spirit, Spellbound, and The Indiscreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). Imaginative and Emotionally Weird (a title of one of her previous books), her new title says it all..
What You Are Looking For Is in the Library
By Michiko Aoyama
Published by Hanover Square
Translated by Alison Watts
As The Center is home to a celebrated Library which was started in 1821, we are partial to books about libraries and librarians. In this utterly charming Japanese novel, we first meet Tomoka, a bored millennial salesgirl in Tokyo who left “the sticks” to come to the city. Tomoka and others visit the local librarian Sayuri whose magical power is that one book among her suggestions is destined to change the reader’s life. It’s a sweet conceit, mirroring the experience of many around the world. It also reminds us of the importance of lending libraries and how the books borrowed there can transform their readers.