Alice & Oliver.
By Charles Bock.
Apr. 2016. 416p. Random, $28 (9781400068388).
Best-selling Bock (Beautiful Children, 2008)
presents a nail-biting suspense novel that
plunges headfirst into a terrifying circumstance
that sends a beautiful, vibrant young mother’s
life into a tailspin. The villain is cancer. Its prey,
Alice Culvert, is still nursing the infant daughter that
both she and husband Oliver
adore. As a fashionista and a
tech entrepreneur living in a
loft in a pre-gentrified West
Village neighborhood during
the mid-1990s, this couple
is très trendy and deeply in
love. They are in that enchanting honeymoon
phase of brand-new parenthood, and the last
thing they expect is to grapple with mortality.
Maybe worse, if not at least more challenging,
than the concept of mortality is dealing with
the idiosyncrasies of the American health-care
system. Bock doesn’t pussyfoot. The story—
inspired by his own experience when his young
wife was diagnosed with leukemia—bares all,
from routine annoyances and major frustrations to the caring, competent professionals
and staff who operate within a flawed system.
The characters of Alice and Oliver are flawed,
too, but also loving and memorable. Bock tells
a tale that holds a penetrating mirror to our
worst fears in a way that fascinates even as it
frightens. —Donna Chavez
By Brian Doyle.
Mar. 2016. 320p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $25.99
(9781250061997); St. Martin’s/Griffin/Thomas Dunne,
Newly graduated from college, a young
man takes a magazine job in Chicago and
moves from the Northeast to the Midwest.
Pursuing a dream, he
takes an apartment right
on Lake Michigan in the
north of the city and for
over a year explores Chicago and its people with
an insatiable curiosity and
an open heart. His boss at
the magazine, the driver of
the bus he frequents, and the gang members
he plays basketball with all impart to him a
greater understanding of life, but his greatest friendships are made even closer to home.
In his own building he finds a common in-
terest with neighboring sports fans during
a great White Sox year and also nurtures a
deeper connection with the genuine and hon-
est superintendent and his mysterious but
insightful dog. This heartfelt collection of
vignettes is woven together by the narrator’s
earnest love of life and people and his desire
to grow in his surroundings. Through the lens
of one man’s first foray into adulthood, Doyle
(Martin Marten, 2015) pens a moving ode to
the city of Chicago and the singular nature of
its people. A warm and entertaining journey
of discovery with occasional amazing quirks.
YA: Teens and new adults will empathize
with the narrator’s first steps into
The Decent Proposal.
By Kemper Donovan.
Apr. 2016. 320p. Harper, $25.99 (9780062391629).
Donovan’s delightful debut explores the
plight of two strangers brought together by an
unusual proposition. When a lawyer brings
gorgeous 29-year-old film producer Richard
and 33-year-old lawyer Elizabeth together
to tell them they’ll each get
$500,000 if they agree to get
together once a week for a
year, they’re completely tak-
en aback. Party-boy Richard
and super-serious Elizabeth
couldn’t be more different,
and although they can’t
figure out the connection
between them or who their mysterious bene-
factor might be, they agree to the proposal. At
first, their meet ups are awkward and stilted
until they decide to share and discuss their fa-
vorite books and movies. As the year goes on,
Richard and Elizabeth start to become more
involved in each other’s lives, much to the
chagrin of Richard’s best friend, Mike, who
has fallen hard for him and takes it upon her-
self to seek out the person who brought them
together. Peopled by appealing characters and
filled with lush descriptions of the diverse
L.A. landscape, Donovan’s winning first novel
offers up a page-turning tale brimming with
heart. —Kristine Huntley
YA/M: Teens will find wild but sweet
Richard and prim, smart Elizabeth
completely lovable as romantic leads. KH.
A Few of the Girls.
By Maeve Binchy.
Mar. 2016. 336p. Knopf, $26.95 (9781101947418).
The late, lamented Irish writer Binchy lives
on in a new collection of stories previously unpublished in the United States. Beloved for her
dozen previous short story collections and 16
sprawling novels (Tara Road, 1999; Heart and
Soul, 2009; Minding Frankie, 2011) featuring
a multiplicity of characters and interweaving plots, she was gifted with the storyteller’s
ability to set the tone, convey the mood, and
portray individual characters on both large
and small canvases. In true Binchy fashion,
these gentle stories revolve around universal
themes of love, loyalty, friendship, compassion, and perseverance. The exploration of
human relationships never ceases to fascinate
and the author’s ability to empathetically depict the ups and downs of ordinary people
living in authentic circumstances translates
well to a briefer format. Tying all the stories
together is, of course, their trademark comfy
settings, and devoted fans will relish another
armchair visit to Ireland. —Margaret Flanagan
The Good Life.
By Marian Thurm.
Apr. 2016. 278p. Permanent Press, $29
Roger Goldenhar has always lived the good
life. A child of privilege, he graduated from
Harvard, became a successful real-estate developer, married Stacy (a fellow Harvard alum
nine years his junior), and fathered Olivia,
5, and Will, 3. But personal tragedies (his
sister’s untimely death, his mother’s dementia) and business failures send him spiraling
into depression, and on the opening page—
while on a family vacation at his mother’s
Fort Lauderdale condo—he buys a gun. The
narrative toggles effortlessly between present
and past, detailing the Goldenhar marriage
of almost nine years, with the mood darkening appreciably as drafts of Roger’s suicide
note appear; only stroking the Glock he
keeps in his glove compartment seems to
soothe him. Thurm, a master of the short
story, can delineate characters decisively in
a few strokes, and she establishes Stacy, who
works for paltry wages at a nonprofit, as a
foil for Roger’s material standards. But the
real coup here is making domestic fiction
into breathtaking suspense. It’s hard to put
this one down. —Michele Leber
By Saleem Haddad.
Mar. 2016. 368p. Other, paper, $16.95
Rasa is an outsider, a gay man coming of
age in a time and place in turmoil. The chaos
outside reflects the uncertainty in his own
mind. He questions his sexuality as much as
he frets about the future of his unnamed Arab
country (given Haddad’s experience with the
Arab Spring, it is likely that he’s fictionalizing Egypt) in the aftermath of a revolution.
Haddad is a fine writer who in his first novel
has created characters we care about. Rasa,
an interpreter for Western journalists, has his
world turned upside down when his grandmother catches him in bed with his lover.
Rasa is wracked with guilt and conflict as he
continues to try to keep his secret life under
wraps even while frequenting Guapa, an underground bar and the only place where he
feels safe, and listening to pop singer George
Michael, who guides Rasa’s rising sense of self.
Haddad presents a striking look at gay life, the
psychological cost of conformity, and what it
means to be true to yourself from a Middle
Eastern perspective. —June Sawyers
By Camille DeAngelis.
Mar. 2016. 304p. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (9781250046512);
e-book, $12.99 (9781466846784).
The story of four Irish villagers who claim to
have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary as teenagers captures the imagination of an American
reporter visiting the town for a family funeral.
He had briefly known the teens during trips
to the Emerald Isle as a child, and the apparition apparently took place right after his last