The Best Kind of People.
By Zoe Whittall.
Sept. 2017. 448p. Ballantine, $28 (9780399182211).
Shortlisted for Canada’s Giller Prize, Whittall’s (Holding Still for as Long as Possible,
2010) newest novel portrays Connecticut
science teacher George Woodbury. Not only
is he the type who would hypothetically risk
his life to save a child but he actually tackled
a gunman and saved an entire school full of
children. Years later, when several girls at the
same school accuse him of attempted rape,
the town and Woodbury’s family, including
his teenage daughter, are thrown into chaos.
The facts surrounding the question of Woodbury’s guilt or innocence take a backseat to
an exploration of the various legal and illegal
ways adults mistreat children, rape culture,
and how differently people react to a difficult situation. At times, some of Whittall’s
characters seem to be reciting theoretical positions more than reacting to the situation,
but the diversity of opinion on what might
have happened and who is to blame will
make for thoughtful consideration and conversation, pegging this as a perfect book-club
choice. —Marta Segal Block
The Child Finder.
By Rene Denfeld.
Sept. 2017. 288p. Harper, $25.99 (9780062659057).
Denfeld, whose first novel, The Enchanted
(2014), explored the mythic properties and
imaginative possibilities of prison, again
finds inspiration in dark places. Naomi has
earned a reputation as an investigator with
a gift for finding missing children, or determining for certain that they will not be
found. This time Naomi, once a lost child
herself, seeks Madison Culver, who disappeared three years ago, at age five, during
a family outing to chop down a Christmas
tree in Oregon’s beautiful, snow-laden, and
inhospitable Skookum forest. Into Naomi’s
search for Madison, her tentative prodding at
her own past, and involvement in a missing-baby case, Denfeld splices in the narration
of a young “snow girl,” who is imaginatively
surviving her violent imprisonment with the
unspeaking Mr. B, whom she believes is her
husband, by adopting an identity from her
favorite Russian fairy tale. Aptly unclassifiable, Denfeld’s compulsively readable second
novel calls on elements of horror, suspense,
and fairy tales to explore legacies of abuse and
the resilience of the most vulnerable among us.
City of Spies.
By Sorayya Khan.
Sept. 2017. 300p. New Harvest/Little A, $24.95
(9781503941571); paper, $14.95 (9781503941588).
Aliya Shah is a fun-loving, curious, and
compassionate 11-year-old. She loves her
parents, misses her older siblings who have
flown the nest, and is enjoying the excite-
ment of a budding best friendship. Pakistani
Dutch Aliya’s story is universal, as are her
feelings of mixed-background confusion.
She lives in Islamabad but attends the
American school in town, populated by the
children of U.S. ambassadors, state employ-
ees, and covert agents. When a hit-and-run
accident kills the son of a beloved family
servant, Aliya begins a restless and ruthless
attempt to identify the driver. Disturbed by
the idea that her playmate’s killer could be
related to someone she knows from school—
or worse, someone she likes—Aliya is forced
to confront the tensions of growing up amid
deep cultural contrast. Set in the tumultu-
ous 1970s and colored with references to the
Iran hostage crisis and the burning of the
American embassy in Pakistan, City of Spies
reminds readers that children bear witness
to, and the weight of, the history unfolding
around them. —Courtney Eathorne
Eastman Was Here.
By Alex Gilvarry.
Aug. 2017. 368p. Viking, $26 (9781101981504).
Set in 1973, Gilvarry’s (From the Memoirs
of a Non-enemy Combatant, 2012) novel
follows Alan Eastman, a fading writer and
controversial public intellectual whose marriage is collapsing. The action moves from
New York to Vietnam as Eastman, once a
respected war correspondent, is hired to report on America’s withdrawal from Vietnam,
an opportunity he sees as a means to save
his writing career, and somehow his marriage. However, in Saigon, he meets Anne
Channing, a young, dedicated reporter
who inspires Eastman to reassess his absurd
self-involvement. Eastman bears many similarities to Norman Mailer: like Mailer,
Eastman initially studied engineering at
Harvard, plays with accents, and struggles to
maintain his early critical success. Eastman
Was Here is another recent book—alongside
Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document (2006),
Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (2013),
and Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens
(2013)—to explore the 1970s. But Gilvarry
uniquely depicts how philandering, domineering men like Eastman suddenly felt out
of favor due to the cultural upheavals during
the 1960s. With an unforgettable protagonist, this fascinating, often-hilarious novel
vividly evokes a tumultuous period in American history. —Alexander Moran
By Brock Adams.
Sept. 2017. 326p. Hub City, paper, $18
English professor Adams has already made
his mark on the mainstream literary scene with
pieces appearing regularly in such magazines as
Sewanee Review and a well-received collection
of stories, Gulf (2010). Now Adams expands
his reach with a dystopian vision of Earth’s last
days under a dying sun, which has already won
the coveted South Carolina First Novel Prize.
In an unraveling society a few years hence,
humanity struggles to cope with the sudden
dimming of the sun, now called, simply, the
ember. Hoping to revive the ember with an
ambitious project called the Big Bang, govern-
ments around the world launch their entire
nuclear arsenals sunward. Meanwhile, Adams
chronicles the misfortunes of one maritally
troubled couple, Guy and Lisa, as they make
their way to Atlanta seeking warmth and ref-
uge while fighting off power-grid-attacking
skinheads known as the Minutemen. It is be-
coming clear that government assurances of
the Big Bang’s success have been greatly exag-
gerated. A page-turning apocalyptic tale and
promising debut novel for Adams. —Carl Hays
The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs.
By Janet Peery.
Sept. 2017. 288p. St. Martin’s, $26.99
We meet the Campbell clan as they gather for
the patriarch Abel’s eighty-ninth birthday. As
Peery (What the Thunder Said, 2007) tells the
stories past and present about Abel, Hattie, and
their five adult children, we see them dealing
with addiction and aging, death and dysfunction. In the family’s tug-of-war between coping
and enabling, we also see a lyrical exploration
of marriage and family. Abel’s forceful personality and remarkable intellect have been the
boon and bane of this family as everyone tries
to win his approval. Doro, the oldest daughter,
is the only one who seems to have escaped the
trap of self-destructive choices as she created a
life for herself in Boston. Underlying the details of the youngest son fighting AIDS and
drug addiction, sibling rivalries, and a mother
and wife struggling with her roles, Peery explores the nature of familial bonds. We see the
bridges these characters build between seemingly irreconcilable differences while holding
the family together. Peery’s insightful writing
turns a happily-ever-after conclusion into appreciation for the serenity of acceptance and
steadfastness. —Shoba Viswanathan
By Deon Meyer. Tr. by K. L. Seegers.
Sept. 2017. 544p. Atlantic Monthly, $26
(9780802126627); e-book, $26 (9780802189196).
A corona virus mutates into a pandemic called the Fever that kills 95 percent of
the earth’s population within six months;
still others die in the chaotic aftermath of
the contagion. South African Willem Storm,
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