Before the Wind.
By Jim Lynch.
Apr. 2016. 304p. Knopf, $26.95 (9780307958983).
“There are so many ways to disappoint
your family.” Thirtysomething Josh Johanns-
sen, the middle child in a
Seattle clan obsessed with
sailing, feels like he’s been
guilty of most of them. Like
his brother and sister, he
has abandoned his father
and grandfather’s legend-
ary boat-building business,
but he’s also disappointed
his physics-obsessed mother, who once saw in
Josh a fellow scientist. His siblings have gone
even farther afield: his sister, Ruby, the best
sailor of them all, volunteering in Africa, and
his older brother, Bernard, riding the waves as
a modern-day pirate. But, perhaps, if Josh can
mend a classic racing boat built by his father
and enter the craft in Swiftsure, the biggest
sailboat race in the area, there is a chance “to
tug the family back together again, at least for
Many readers of literary fiction might look
askance at a novel hinged on a sailboat race,
wondering, like one of Josh’s buddies at the
marina where they work, “How can you
get so amped up about going slightly faster
than somebody else when you’re both going
so fucking slow?” That would be a mistake
akin to dismissing Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a
Great Notion because it’s about logging. That
novel and this one are about the tidal push
and pull of families. Still, don’t ignore the
boats. Lynch writes about the science of sail-
ing and the grandeur of Puget Sound with a
Melville-like attention to detail, but in the
very concreteness of those details a kind of
poetry emerges that speaks of the transience
of life in all its terrible beauty and exhilarat-
ing terror. —Bill Ott
By Ann Leary.
May 2016. 256p. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (9781250045379).
They were hardly the Brady Bunch, this
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper.
blended family of Perry and Spin, Whit’s
two sons from his first marriage, and Sally
and Charlotte, Joan’s daughters from hers.
The old-money rambling estate in the privi-
leged Connecticut countryside was where
Joan raised her girls upon her marriage to
Whit, and where Perry and Spin spent oblig-
atory weekends and vacations. Now that
Whit has died, Joan stays on in the dete-
riorating house; Charlotte lives in the attic,
writing a successful, if entirely bogus, blog;
and concert-musician Sally comes and goes,
depending on the status of her bipolar dis-
order. It’s a fragile environment, one overtly
threatened when Spin brings his too-good-
to-be-true fiancée for a meet-and-greet.
Suddenly, old wounds are gouged open, past
rivalries reignited, and the legacy Whit and
Joan worked hard to maintain may fall into
the hands of a psychopathic opportunist. A
read-in-one-sitting romp, Leary’s ( The Good
House, 2013) wry and searing satire of af-
fluence and elitism comically yet steadily
builds to a sobering and malevolent finale.
By Phaedra Patrick.
May 2016. 304p. MIRA, $26.99 (9780778319337).
A year after the death of his wife, Miriam,
Arthur Pepper discovers a charm bracelet she’d
hidden away, and the charms point to parts
of her life he’d never known during their 40
years of marriage. Arthur sets out on a quest to
uncover the provenance of the charms. From
a family home in India to a tumbledown English manor to an author’s home in London to
a Parisian wedding-dress shop, Arthur is surprised and rattled by the places, people, and
experiences he discovers shaped Miriam’s life
before their simple, content existence in York.
With the help of his adult children and a meddlesome neighbor, Bernadette, Arthur realizes
that what their life lacked in adventure was
made up for in abiding love. Patrick’s debut
novel tells a sweet and poignant story about
marriage, grief, and memory. Readers will find
bumbling, earnest Arthur utterly endearing.
Dear Fang, with Love.
By Rufi Thorpe.
May 2016. 320p. Knopf, $24.95 (9781101875773).
Lucas has only recently been involved with
his 17-year-old daughter, Vera, and the past
year has been a doozy. Newly diagnosed
with a severe mental illness after a psychotic
break, Vera is now heavily medicated and
deeply depressed. Hoping to snap her out of
the funk, Lucas takes her on a guided tour
of his ancestral town in Lithuania. There,
while touring the town’s Russian, Polish, and
Jewish sites, he hopes to forge a stronger relationship with Vera while chasing down more
information about his family’s mysterious
past. But while the truth seems elusive, being
father and friend to a scared teenager proves
harder than he imagined, and Vera has her
own questions about his role in her life. Lucas’ point of view is an honest account of
parenting a teen with mental illness, while
e-mails and messages give voice to Vera’s perspective. Thorpe, the highly regarded author
of The Girls from Corona del Mar (2014) sets
this tale of parental guilt and teenage angst
against the town’s WWII past, adding true-life authenticity to an already stirring story.
YA: Teen readers will likely relate to Vera’s
romantic and parental frustrations. CO.
The Fat Artist.
By Benjamin Hale.
May 2016. 288p. Simon & Schuster, $35 (9781501129391).
The audacious imagination evident in
Hale’s acclaimed debut, The Evolution of
Bruno Littlemore (2011), shines again in
these seven stories. Characters crafted from a
wide spectrum of class hit critical points in
their lives, occasionally by accident or happenstance, more often as a result of direct,
misguided actions, with death ever possible if
not pending. In the title story, a fame-driven
New York performance artist, whose weight
triples quickly after a relationship ends, undertakes his ultimate performance by eating
himself into posterity atop the Guggenheim
Museum. Elsewhere, a congressman drops
dead during a meeting with his dominatrix in
his appropriately furnished apartment hideaway; a ’60s radical fugitive aborts her flight
to freedom for the sake of her baby after her
breast milk is tainted with a hallucinogen-laced chocolate bar from her husband; and
when AIDS is rampant, a beautiful young
drag queen in New York stumbles on another
side of the cross-dressing scene. In polished
prose, Hale creates memorable vignettes, as he
muses on topics ranging from sailing to Kafka
to sex fetishes. A provocative collection that
takes a unique view of the human condition.
By Simon Van Booy.
Apr. 2016. 304p. Harper, $24.99 (9780062408945).
Harvey is just six when her parents are
killed in an automobile accident. Her closest
relative is her uncle, Jason, an unemployed
ex-con with a prosthetic leg and a history of
violent behavior. Not exactly promising dad
material, but Wanda from social services sees
something in him and works to make him
Harvey’s legal guardian. Nearly 25 years later,
Harvey is a graphic artist living in Paris, and
Jason comes for a visit. Van Booy ( The Illusion
of Separateness, 2013) shifts back and forth
between Harvey and Jason’s time in Paris and
their previous history as her vulnerability taps
into his protective instincts, and he learns to
become the dad that she needs him to be. As
a Father’s Day gift, Harvey has put together
a box filled with items that are reminders of
their shared past, emblematic of the accumulation over the years of all the ordinary objects
and events that helped shape and fortify their
bond. The good outcome notwithstanding,
the novel is almost heartbreaking in its expression of the hunger to love and be loved.
—Mary Ellen Quinn
Girls on Fire.
By Robin Wasserman.
May 2016. 368p. Harper, $25.99 (9780062415486);
e-book, $12.99 (9780062417169).
It’s Halloween, 1991, and the small town
of Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, is rocked by
the apparent suicide of a popular high-school
jock. Was there foul play? What about the
evidence of devil-worship rituals found in the