After the Fall.
By Julie Cohen.
May 2017. 400p. St. Martin’s, paper, $15.99
When Dr. Honor Levinson falls down the
stairs in her London townhome, she is forced
to accept the hospitality of her late son’s wife,
no matter how annoyingly chipper she finds Jo.
Jo is still reeling from her second husband’s running off
with the nanny, barely keeping up with her two youngest
children while dealing with
16-year-old Lydia’s profound
door-slamming skills. Even
though Lydia is Honor’s only
living relative, she has trouble connecting with the cold older woman, and
she doesn’t really care since she’s trying to figure
out how to tell her best friend, Avril, that she
is in love with her. Three very different women
narrate their individual stories of isolation and
unrequited love, each equally relatable and
lovely, each coming to respect and love the others. It is especially a pleasure to watch Honor
thaw—despite her conviction not to become
one of those charming old people in movies,
her total lack of f’s to give, as the kids say, is
a joy to behold. Give this perfect blend of
laugh-out-loud and heart-tugging moments to
readers who like complicated, realistic relationships joyously rendered, like those from Jojo
Moyes or Jill Mansell. —Susan Maguire
By Victoria Redel.
June 2017. 288p. Viking, $26 (9780735222571).
Anna, Helen, Molly, Caroline, and Ming
have been calling themselves “the Old Friends”
since they were preteens, and the name stuck.
Decades later, after navigating illnesses, di-
vorces, troubled relatives, and all the drama of
middle age, the Old Friends find themselves
together again. They’ve all leaned on one an-
other at various points, but
now that the leader of their
little group, Anna, seems
to be losing her battle with
cancer, the women come to-
gether to share their grief. It’s
not all maudlin; old friends
always have the best stories.
As Anna begins to slip away,
Helen, Molly, Caroline, and Ming all process
their grief in their own ways, flashing back to
shared joys and sorrows, triumphs and regrets.
Redel has crafted a lyrical ode to female friend-
ship, proving that bonds can somehow be
made of iron and elastic, sometimes strong and
sometimes frail. She fleshes out the five main
characters admirably for such a short book,
linking each of their most vulnerable memories
to their shared crisis. Fans of Anne Tyler and
Jennifer Close will adore this warmhearted and
clear-eyed novel. —Stephanie Turza
By Alain Mabanckou.
June 2017. 208p. New Press, $23.95 (9781620972939).
Congolese author Mabanckou (The Lights of
Pointe-Noir, 2016), now teaching at UCLA,
has written a fine short novel about growing
up in a Congolese orphanage and escaping to
the city of Pointe-Noir, where, with his two
fellow escapees, he forms a gang and becomes
adept at theft (there are definite echoes of
Oliver Twist here). The story is narrated by Moses;
his name is a shortened version of a much longer African name, and that name and its length
become a motif in a novel in which unfamiliar
names and nicknames play a prominent part.
The book is funny and sharply satiric, although
some of the political satire’s strength is so connected to Congolese culture that it may escape
many readers. Moses’ eventual end is tragic, yet
Mabanckou anticipates it artfully in this stirring blend of coming-of-age and Congolese
life—cooking, graft, regional differences. Over
several books, both fiction and memoir, Mabanckou has created a vibrant world in which
Pointe-Noir has taken on the stature of an African Yoknapatawpha County. —Mark Levine
The Dinner Party and Other Stories.
By Joshua Ferris.
May 2017. 256p. Little, Brown, $26 (9780316465953);
e-book, $13.99 (9780316465977).
Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, 2014)
has a sure hand when it comes to the nuances
of interpersonal relationships. He knows the
thin line between awkward and easy, and when
silence between two people can be a sign of
strain or comfort. Ferris walks this territory
so well that we often see our own complicated
selves reflected in his writing. His characters
in this collection of stories may or may not be
in relationships, but it doesn’t matter—they’re
almost all lonely and mired in self-doubt. In
“A Night Out,” Tom and Sophie’s marriage is
on thin ice, a fact made worse by an unfortunate series of circumstances that sinks him into
deeper trouble as the evening wears on. In “Life
in the Heart of the Dead,” a fortysomething
man finds that his life is of little consequence
as he spends an afternoon on a guided tour of
Prague. Though Ferris’ assured collection may
seem laced with hints of despair, the stories are
full and rounded, sad but often also tinged with
humor and rich in empathy. —Poornima Apte
A Dog’s Way Home.
By W. Bruce Cameron.
May 2017. 336p. Forge, $24.99 (9780765374653).
Soft-hearted medical student Lucas Ray has
been keeping an eye on and setting out food for
a colony of feral cats in a soon-to-be-demolished
building across from the subsidized apartment
he shares with his war-veteran mother. Along
with the abandoned cats and kittens, how-
ever, is a lone puppy of indeterminate breed.
For Lucas and the dog, it is love at first sight.
Bella, as she comes to be called, also comes to
be identified as a pit bull, a breed that has run
afoul of Denver’s strict animal-control laws.
One infraction too many sends Bella into foster
care hundreds of miles away from her beloved
Lucas and sanctuary home. Though Bella meets
kind people during her separation, she has but
one goal: to return to Lucas. Braving a 400-
mile journey across cougar- and coyote-infested
wilderness and facing myriad urban dangers,
Bella persists in her desire to be reunited with
her human and home. Ever popular with dog
lovers, Cameron (The Dog Master, 2015) pres-
ents another winning tale of an extraordinary
human-canine companionship full of tug-at-
the-heartstrings adventure. —Carol Haggas
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows.
By Balli Kaur Jaswal.
June 2017. 304p. HarperCollins, $26.99
(9780062645128); e-book (9780062645135).
Nikki’s begrudging agreement to help her
sister, Mindi, “find a husband the traditional
way” takes her to Southall, a predominately
South Asian immigrant neighborhood in west
London, to post a discreet marriage advert at
the gurdwara (Sikh temple). Unlike Mindi,
Nikki considers herself modern and independent, working as a bartender since quitting
law school. Instead of brother-in-law hopefuls, Nikki finds a part-time job as a writing
instructor at the temple. Her students turn
out to be mostly illiterate Sikh widows with
limited interest in learning their ABCs yet eager to share stories about the sensual lives they
imagine beyond rigid cultural expectations of
near-silent invisibility. As Nikki helps these
women find their voices, she’s drawn into a
community in which outward appearances
are sometimes more important than the truth.
Jaswal’s novel is undoubtedly entertaining,
yet ultimately it combines too many elements—culture clash, gender disparity, family
dysfunction, bawdy comedy, romance threatened and thwarted, murder mystery, and the
titular erotica—to avoid the occasional stumble. Missteps aside, Hollywood has already
optioned Jaswal’s enticing tale, so the book
will be in demand. —Terry Hong
By Thrity Umrigar.
June 2017. 336p. Harper, $26.99 (9780062442246);
e-book, $12.99 (9780062442253).
Ten-year-old Anton was trapped in a stifling
apartment for a week. His junkie mother had
locked the door to their home in the projects
while she went out for what was supposed to
be a quick trip, but instead she was drugged
up for days. This dramatic event brings the
serious, bright boy into the rarefied world
of Judge David Coleman. The son of a U.S.
senator, Coleman is looking to foster a child
after losing his own son in a tragic accident.
He sees potential in Anton, and, when he has
an opportunity to permanently improve the