Almost Everything Very Fast.
By Christopher Kloeble. Tr. by Aaron
Feb. 2016. 320p. Graywolf, paper, $16 (9781555977290).
Motherless, his father the mentally challenged Fred, Albert is raised in an orphanage.
Now 19, he returns home to the gentle,
childlike Fred, who has been given only five
months to live. With time the enemy, the
two begin an urgent quest for the past, for
meaning, and for the mother Albert has never known. In the meantime, the story flashes
back to the year 1912 and a forbidden love
that will have deep-rooted ramifications. The
two stories then proceed in alternate sections, gradually growing closer together until
they merge in a denouement that is both surprising and bittersweet. Kloeble’s third novel
and first to be published in English, this is a
beautifully realized, cleverly plotted story of
an unconventional family and what its members call their “most beloved possessions.”
Filled as it is with memorable characters
about whom readers will care immensely,
the story is absorbing throughout and deeply
satisfying. When something pleases Fred,
he says it is “ambrosial”; one suspects that
is exactly how readers will feel about Almost
Everything Very Fast. —Michael Cart
YA/M: Older teens will be intrigued by
this unusual yet emotionally resonant
coming-of-age novel. MC.
Be Frank with Me.
By Julia Claiborne Johnson.
Feb. 2016. 304p. Morrow, $25.99 (9780062413710);
When famous, reclusive author M. M.
“Mimi” Banning is swindled in an investment scandal, she promises her editor a
long-awaited new book in exchange for an
advance to keep her afloat and an assistant
to manage things while she’s writing. Sent
to fill that role, Alice Whitley discovers the
job is more complex than anticipated. Her
interactions with Mimi are icy, while her
relationship with the mysterious, sometimes live-in piano teacher-cum-handyman
is complicated. But Banning’s nine-year-old
son, Frank, proves her biggest challenge.
Eccentric and brilliant, Frank endearingly
bears the clothing and manners of a 1930s
movie star, but his curt habits and odd para-
noia take some getting used to and alienate
him from other kids his age. Alice becomes
increasingly close to Frank as Mimi’s typing
continues behind closed doors, but the more
attached she gets, the more questions she has
about the strange family she has stumbled
into. Witty dialogue, irresistible characters,
and a touch of mystery make this sweet de-
but about a quirky Hollywood family an
enjoyable page-turner. —Cortney Ophoff
YA: Eccentric nine-year-old Frank, the
quintessential outsider, will entice YAs to
this quirky page-turner. CO.
By Katie Lynch.
Jan. 2016. 352p. Forge, $26.99 (9780765381682); paper,
$15.99 (9789765383792); e-book (9781466883529).
After losing a beloved mentor in her creative-writing program, Jane has traded writing
poetry for writing fortunes for her aunt and
uncle’s fortune-cookie factory. She becomes
ingrained in the Chinatown community and
notices a young woman who’s often at the local noodle shop. Sutton St. James is a driven
medical student. Raised in privilege as the
daughter of the former surgeon general, she is
now trying to break free from her father’s influence. Jane and Sutton begin to fall for each
other, and Jane encourages Sutton to pursue a
fellowship in stem-cell research, even though
this is in opposition to her father’s wishes.
But unexpected troubles thrust the St. James
family into the media spotlight, jeopardizing
Sutton and Jane’s relationship and leaving
Jane brokenhearted. Debut author Lynch creates an unconventional and likable heroine
in Jane. And while it’s obvious that the two
women will end up together, the story of how
they find their way back to each other is sweet
and compelling. —Aleksandra Walker
Criminals: Love Stories.
By Valerie Trueblood.
Jan. 2016. 256p. Counterpoint, $15.95
Trueblood’s (Search Party, 2013) latest
short story collection features various char-
acters confronting the reality and wreckage
of their everyday lives and relationships.
“Skylab” follows Amy, a nurse who has
abruptly relocated to Malaysia with her
older lover, a doctor, to provide medical
aid. A satellite’s imminent fall to earth has
signaled widespread apprehension, and
Amy struggles to navigate a new, unfamiliar
landscape alongside fellow expats and amid
whispers of her past. In “The War Poem,” the
reunion of former co-workers exposes one
man’s long-held contempt due to a misap-
propriated writing credit. In the tense “Da
Capo,” a night out at a Schubert concert pro-
vides the backdrop for flashbacks into one
couple’s strained marriage—tested first by
the husband’s affair with a workplace coun-
selor and the wife’s subsequent meeting with
her husband’s now-former lover. The gut-
punching “You Would Be Good” follows a
burglar’s misguided attempts to win back an
ex-girlfriend. Trueblood’s 15 rich tales, varied
in length, offer both wide-ranging obser-
vation and detailed precision, particularly
when it comes to characters’ inner negotia-
tions, struggles, and regrets. —Leah Strauss
A Decent Ride.
By Irvine Welsh.
Feb. 2016. 368p. Doubleday, $26.95 (9780385540896).
Kinky-haired Juice Terry, the irrepressible,
priapic taxi driver, porno performer, and
coke dealer first seen in Glue (2001), steers
this unpredictable ride through the seedier
streets of Edinburgh. With a hurricane bearing down on the city, his first fare, and the
novel’s sescond narrative voice, is Ronald
Checker, an American real-estate mogul and
reality-TV star (think Donald Trump with
a Mohawk) obsessed with acquiring three
bottles of extraordinarily rare “Skatch.” The
third main narrative voice (if you don’t count
occasional contributions from Terry’s trouser
snake) is wee Jonty, a slow-witted part-time
painter who’s soon struggling to cope with
the unexpected end to his relationship with
prostitute Jinty. Told in the phonetically
rendered brogue that will be familiar to the
author’s fans (“They telt ye aw the things
ye need tae say tae try n stoap thum”), this
Scottish picaresque is bawdy, profane, funny, tragic, farcical, kindhearted, exuberant,
and disgusting in almost equal measure.
(In one great twist, Terry’s sex addiction
gets a cure no one, least of all Terry, will see
coming.) Overstuffed, but still great entertainment, even if it lacks the emotional heft
of Trainspotting (1996) and Skagboys (2012).
The Flood Girls.
By Richard Fifield.
Feb. 2016. 336p. Gallery, $25 (9781476797380); e-book
Rachel Flood returns home to make amends
nine years after her mother, Laverna, kicked
her out. When she left she was an 18-year-
old, bed-hopping alcoholic with no regard
for the people she hurt or the relationships
she ruined. Now, in 1991, she’s a year sober
and stuck on AA’s eighth and ninth steps. But
the people of her hometown of Quinn, Montana (population 956), remember the old
Rachel, and it takes time—while she tends
bar at her mother’s establishment, the Dirty
Shame, and plays right field for the Flood
Girls, the women’s softball team her mother
coaches—for them to come around. Fortunately, Rachel has support from Jake Bailey,
her gay, 12-year-old neighbor; volunteer fireman and handyman Bucky Peterson; and the
seven old men of her local AA group. Fifield’s
debut is an exaggerated, no-holds-barred portrait of a small town that doesn’t easily forget
or forgive, and it turns alternately laugh-out-loud funny and sadly all-too-true. But a
veer to the dark near the end of the narrative
leaches some of the pleasure out of what has
preceded. A notable accomplishment with a
sad aftertaste. —Michele Leber
Told in the phonetically rendered brogue that will be familiar to the author’s fans . . . this Scottish picaresque is bawdy, profane, funny, tragic,
farcical, kindhearted, exuberant, and disgusting in almost equal measure.
—Keir Graff, on A Decent Ride