October 1, 2022
A ‘whale of a story’ means a great amount of a good thing and this week we have five novels that fit the description, including two featuring whales. Also, we have the continuing story of a beloved hapless character; a chilling new novel that shines a light on Asian American racism; and a highly anticipated fiction from a writer much-loved at The Center that delves into the nature of grief.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Less Is Lost
By Andrew Sean Greer
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Arthur Less, the lovable, failing writer from 2018’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Less, is once more scrambling to pay his bills. He’s driving a tricked-out RV cross country with a colleague’s pug to attend the musical stage version of one of his stories. (A song I especially liked was “Half a Whole-Wheat Sandwich.”) His first great love has passed away and current partner, Freddy, awaits in Maine. We follow Less on his ill-fated journey to make peace with both his father and his lover. He is a thoroughly entertaining, bumbling mess with his heart in the right place.
Note: Greer edited November’s Best American Short Stories 2022.
Our Missing Hearts
By Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Press
An extraordinarily moving family story, Ng’s (Little Fires Everywhere) new novel illuminates the timely issue of violence against Asian Americans. She posits a dystopian future wherein they are considered un-American, and a government act has begun to remove children from their parents. Young Bird’s father is white, and a librarian. Three years on, the disappearance of Bird’s Chinese American mother is never far from his thoughts. When he gets a mysterious message from her, Bird embarks on a journey that takes him to an underground system of librarians. Ng explores the power of words and fairy tales, the desperate measures families will take to be together, and the wrenching effects of a country gone mad with racism..
By Namwali Serpell
Published by Hogarth
Zambia-born Serpell was longlisted for The Center’s First Novel Prize in 2019 for The Old Drift. While that profusely praised fiction played with post-modernism, this psychologically rich novel is grounded in loss and grief. Like in Ng’s novel the protagonist is a 12-year-old who loses a family member. Young Cee tried and failed to save her brother from drowning. But did she? The novel becomes a puzzle, as time collapses and Cee begins to see Wayne everywhere. Is it a trick of memory? Serpell has slyly crafted an elegiac portrait of mourning and the journey to make peace with unimaginable loss.
By Stacey D'Erasmo
Published by Algonquin
This is possibly D’Erasmo’s best novel yet in which the author juggles three characters whose lives are altered by a man, Alan, who goes to prison for his financial misdeeds. His ex, our main storyteller, has decamped to Cape Cod to reinvent herself, where she is transfixed by the plight of a beached whale. It also stars a young woman who falls for Alan post prison and Alan’s rather tempestuous mother. D’Erasmo explores how each of the women are complicit, and how these two events (the downfall of Alan and the poor whale) affect the choices they make. The result is both suspenseful and stunning..
The Whalebone Theatre
By Joanna Quinn
Published by Knopf
Quinn’s impressive debut is an immersive historical novel starring an eccentric family, a beautiful estate on the Dorset coast, and a Bohemian cast of supporting characters. In the late 1920s young Cristabel Seagrave creates a theatre from the skeleton of a dead beached whale. Her childhood filled with costumed play-acting with her two half-siblings is effervescent in contrast with ominous tones as WWII approaches. When Cristabel and her brother eventually become British spies in France, the stakes rise even higher. Coming back full circle to the Dorset home to resurrect the Whalebone Theatre there are echoes of Brideshead Revisited, as their earlier lives have been changed forever by the War.