24 Booklist August2017 www.booklistreader.com
from the depths of the Bern train station and
asks her father for a violin. Music becomes for
Lea a surrogate for the motherly love she so
desperately needs. Lea quickly develops her
prodigious talent and sells out music halls
across Europe while she is still in her teens.
Mercier subtly and brilliantly builds tension
as he paints Lea’s rise followed by a descent
into artistic obsession, and the consequences
of Martijn’s desperate attempt to save his
daughter. Mercier skillfully depicts how an
all-consuming love can destroy that which is
most dearly loved and, in the devastating climax, how passion can subversively overcome
reason and break hearts. For fans of Ian McE-wan and Julian Barnes. —Bill Kelly
By Sofi Oksanen. Tr. by Owen F.
Sept. 2017. 320p. Knopf, $26.95 (9780451493521).
Oksanen’s (When the Doves Disappeared,
2015) third novel to be translated into English takes place in contemporary Finland,
where thirtysomething Norma is grieving
over the death of her mother, Anita, who
committed suicide by jumping in front of
a train. Anita was fiercely protective of her
daughter, guarding the strange secret that
Norma’s hair not only grows at an alarming rate but can also sense danger. After
her mother’s funeral, Norma discovers that
Anita was involved with the shady family of
her best friend, Helena, who has long been
confined to a mental institution. Helena’s
ex-husband, Max Lambert, tells Norma that
Anita owed him money and Helena’s daughter, Marion, who owned the salon where
Anita worked, was plotting something with
Anita before her death. As Norma tries to
figure out what Lambert and Marion want
from her, she starts to uncover family secrets about her ancestor Eva, who had hair
with powers similar to Norma’s. Oksanen’s
unusual and inventive novel uses hair as a
metaphor for women’s power, deftly exploring the ways it can be harnessed or exploited.
Pieces of Happiness.
By Anne Ostby.
Aug. 2017. 320p. Doubleday, $25.95 (9780385542807).
The letter contained an audacious offer:
The Relive Box and Other Stories.
leave Norway and come live with me in Fiji.
After her husband died, Kat was left alone
on their cocoa plantation in the South Pa-
cific country. So she reached out to four
high-school friends to see if they were ready to
start a new chapter in their lives with her. In
many ways, the group of women in their 60s
could not be more different, from the mother
constantly hounded by her middle-aged son
for money to the dependable bookkeeper with
a secret inner twin yearning to be set free. But
both their old bonds and their new enterprise,
a business creating delicious chocolate to send
back home, bring them together in this pro-
found novel. Ostby’s luxurious descriptions of
Fijian life and culture add a fragrant whiff of
the tropics and provide an exotic background
to the story, but the main attraction is wit-
nessing these women grow in surprising ways
as they are liberated from their old lives. Both
bitter and sweet, this novel is a delightful read.
By T. C. Boyle.
Oct. 2017. 272p. Ecco, $25.99 (9780062673398).
In his first short story collection since the
monumental retrospective Stories II (2013),
which stands beside Stories (1998), Boyle, also
an audacious novelist— The Terranauts (2016)
is his most recent—continues his signature
investigation into humankind’s perverse instinct for
folly and mayhem. Many
of Boyle’s newest characters,
mostly male, helplessly destroy what they care about
most, while grappling with
grief and the inexorable realities of climate change and
technological hubris. A rudderless 80-year-old
widower recklessly succumbs to a particularly
ballsy Nigerian scam. An artist alienates his
girlfriend as he channels his horror over his
journalist cousin’s beheading by terrorists
into the creation of a superhero comic strip,
Warrior Jesus. A master of emotional precision and breakneck plots, Boyle also has a gift
for light-touch speculative fiction, conjuring
an eerie, genetically modified suburb in the
hilariously caustic “Are We Not Men?” In the
title story, a divorced father fails his teenage
daughter by becoming addicted to a device
that turns obsessing over one’s past into a diabolical malady. A desperate college student, a
mathematician confronting a plague of ants,
a fugitive with antibiotic-resistant TB—all
are portrayed with empathic imagination,
acid social critique, and commanding artistry. Boyle’s substantial collection is funny,
disarming, and crushing, haunting and beautiful, as in “Surtsey,” a tale of a 16-year-old
who defies death and affirms love while a cataclysmic storm surge floods his Arctic home.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling
Boyle, a Rea Award for the Short Story winner, reigns supreme as a key literary agitator.
YA: Boyle’s droll stories of ludicrous and
dire situations, especially those involving
young characters, will electrify teens. DS.
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby.
By Cherise Wolas.
Sept. 2017. 544p. Flatiron, $27.99 (9781250081438);
e-book, $14.99 (9781250081445).
It’s a myth deeply ingrained in society:
motherhood is the goalpost every woman
needs to aim for to feel truly fulfilled. Joan
Ashby felt differently. She “had no underlying
faith in her ability to negotiate the enormity
of the obligation, had no interest in the sup-
posed majesty of the experience.” So certain
is Joan of her disinterest that she convinces
her brilliant husband, Martin, to promise
her they will never have kids. But life deals
Joan a different set of cards. In short order,
she has not one but two bouncing baby boys,
effectively putting her bril-
liant writing career on ice.
Early on, Joan predicts that
the family she had never
wanted would twist “down
into unknown depths, into
a different kind of abyss,
from which a roaring ani-
mal would race, up through
dank tunnels, to tear into tender flesh.” Boy,
is she ever right! Deftly exploring themes of
sibling rivalry and individualism and layer-
ing short stories within the larger narrative,
this breathtaking, if overlong, novel will do
for motherhood what Gone Girl (2012) did
for marriage. “A story requires two things: a
great story to tell and the bravery to tell it,”
Joan observes. Wolas’ debut expertly checks
off both boxes. —Poornima Apte
Risking It All.
By Nina Darnton.
Sept. 2017. 400p. St. Martin’s/Griffin, paper, $16.99
Marcia and Jeff had a happy marriage, but
Marcia felt their family would never be complete without a child. She and Jeff researched
a multitude of options after IVF failed, finally
landing on surrogacy. After weighing their
moral, ethical, and financial opinions on family planning, Marcia and Jeff met Eve. A kind
woman, Eve is clear-eyed and pragmatic about
the responsibilities of surrogacy. Though Eve
had a relatively easy pregnancy, unexpected
complications arise during the delivery, and
Marcia and Jeff are forced to make choices
they never expected. Weighing a sudden tragedy against the gift of new life, the couple is
thrown into an entirely new family dynamic.
They work together to make the most of it,
but they soon feel their foundation cracking.
Darnton doesn’t shy away from the toughest
parts of parenting, using one family’s unusual
circumstances to explore universal questions:
what does it means to be a wife and a mother,
a husband and a father? Fans of Jodi Picoult
and Janelle Brown will enjoy this poignant and
thought-provoking novel. —Stephanie Turza
The Salt Line.
By Holly Goddard Jones.
Sept. 2017. 400p. Putnam, $26 (9780735214316).
Jones’ (The Next Time You See Me, 2013)
latest is a dystopian tale set in the near future when the world is overrun by horrific
“miner ticks” that kill all whom they bite.
“The Salt Line” refers to a chemical border
that demarcates “zones” protected from the
ticks. Life in these zones is much like that in
Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story
(2010), a manufactured world where all interactions are controlled through ubiquitous
social-media apps. The story is told from the
perspectives of Edie, Marta, and Wes, who are
part of a group on a very expensive excursion
to the dangerous world outside of the zones.