July2017 Booklist 23 www.booklistonline.com
is an inheritance or a story to rewrite. Agnes’
voice, in her heartrending letters and her funny,
sad, dead-true perceptions, propels Iskandrian’s
brilliant debut about life’s continuously shifting, perplexing intimacies. —Annie Bostrom
YA: Agnes, at turns precocious, wise,
and clueless, deals with teen situations in
teen ways. This could have easily been an
excellent YA novel. AB.
By Paul Yoon.
Aug. 2017. 256p. Simon & Schuster, $25
After his first novel, Snow Hunters (2013),
Yoon returns to short stories, presenting six
featuring characters displaced by the aftereffects of war or physical and emotional
turmoil. In “A Willow and the Moon,” the narrator looks back at time spent with his mother
caring for patients at a sanatorium, and he is
haunted by her untimely death as well as the
sudden disappearance of a friend. “Milner
Field” follows a young father who is troubled
by a story from his father’s childhood. The title tale follows 26-year-old Faye, who returns
to her long-abandoned hometown in Shanghai; then, while working the assembly line at
a camera factory, she’s pulled into memories
of her past. “Still a Fire” portrays two wandering souls struggling to survive in war-crippled
Calais. Mikel lives in a shantytown, taking on
odd jobs to survive until one ends in horrific
tragedy. He is cared for by Karine, a morphine
addict, and the crossing of their paths shapes
part of her own journey. Yoon’s graceful prose
captures both the melancholy and mystery of
his characters’ struggles. —Leah Strauss
My Absolute Darling.
By Gabriel Tallent.
Aug. 2017. 432p. Riverhead, $27 (9780735211179).
“My absolute darling,” Martin calls his
14-year-old daughter, Turtle. The girl’s mother
is dead, and the misanthropic and misogynistic
father and self-hating daughter live, surrounded by guns, in a run-down house on the
Northern California coast
near Mendocino. A pariah at
school, Turtle has only one
friend and confidant, her alcoholic grandfather, until she
meets funny, articulate Jacob, who is fascinated by her.
Learning of her interest in
the boy, Martin beats her savagely with an iron poker, saying “You’re mine.
Mine.” Perhaps further expressing his ownership of his daughter, he routinely rapes her,
leaving Turtle with deeply conflicted feelings,
both loving and hating him simultaneously.
This is Turtle’s life until her grandfather’s death
becomes the catalyst for Martin’s disappear-
ance. In his absence, Turtle leads a relatively
peaceful existence in Jacob’s company until her
father returns three months later, bringing with
him a 10-year-old girl, and things begin to
change dramatically. Turtle is an extraordinary
character whose thoughts and actions enliven
the pages of Tallent’s remarkable first novel—
remarkable not only for its characterization but
also for its minute examination of the natural
world that Turtle inhabits. So vivid is the gor-
geously realized setting that it becomes itself a
major character in a novel that lingers in the
mind long after the final page. —Michael Cart
YA: Older teens will be caught up in
Turtle’s unusual world and fascinated by
its brilliantly realized setting. MC.
The Ninth Hour.
By Alice McDermott.
Sept. 2017. 256p. Farrar, $26 (9780374280147).
In this enveloping, emotionally intricate, suspenseful drama, McDermott lures readers into
her latest meticulously rendered Irish American
enclave, returning to early twentieth-century
Brooklyn, the setting for Someone (2013). A
man’s suicide would have left
his young, pregnant widow
destitute but for the Little
Sisters of the Sick Poor, who
care for everyone in their
parish with zestful efficiency.
Annie is given a job in the
convent laundry under the
direction of the taciturn,
secretly softhearted Sister Illuminata, while
young, sweet, surprisingly worldly Sister Jeanne
helps Annie care for her clever, funny daugh-
ter. Sally thrives in this immaculate basement
sanctuary where stains and stinks—evidence
of toil, suffering, and sin—are urgently eradi-
cated with soap and prayers. While Annie, in
spite of the convent’s piety and orderliness, em-
braces the rampant messiness of life, even illicit
love, Sally’s calling to become a nun is cruelly
tested on a hellish train journey into the “dirty
world.” Like Alice Munro, McDermott is pro-
foundly observant and mischievously witty, a
sensitive and consummate illuminator of the
realization of the self, the ravages of illness
and loss, and the radiance of generosity. As she
considers the struggles of women, faith and in-
heritance, sacrifice and passion, she pays vivid
tribute to the skilled and sustaining sisters, a
fading social force. McDermott’s extraordinary
precision, compassion, and artistry are entranc-
ing and sublime. —Donna Seaman
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This is
one of literary master McDermott’s most
exquisite works, and a national tour and
concerted publicity campaign will generate
The Readymade Thief.
By Augustus Rose.
Aug. 2017. 384p. Viking, $26 (9780735221833).
Rose’s inventive debut novel follows shy Lee
as she learns that her gift for remaining un-
detected makes her a queen of the five-finger
discount. Lee’s shoplifting prowess catches
the attention of Edie, a popular girl at school,
whose friendship opens a door to boys, drugs,
and parties. But all this quickly evaporates af-
ter a drug bust and Edie’s betrayal, which lands
Lee in juvie. Inside, she discovers a secret ward
for deeply disturbed teens, whose souls seem to
have vacated their earthly shells. In quick suc-
cession, Lee escapes from solitary and stumbles
upon a hideout for homeless runaways known
as the Crystal Castle, with its enigmatic, cultlike
leader, the Station Master. Ominous connec-
tions between her new crowd and the kids in
the mental ward bubble to the surface, as a
swirling conspiracy reveals itself, with none oth-
er than surrealist mastermind Marcel Duchamp
lurking at its center. With dynamic characters
and unforgettable scenes, including after-hours
museum sex, mysterious pursuers, and won-
drous evasions, Rose’s captivating, art-anchored
pager-turner reads like a mashup of Home Alone
and The Da Vinci Code (2003). —Diego Báez
YA: With lots of mystery, drugs, sex, and
action, Rose’s clever novel, with its spooky,
dead-eyed teens, has big YA appeal. DB.
By Molly Patterson.
Aug. 2017. 560p. Harper, $26.99 (9780062574046).
Patterson’s remarkable debut follows four
women from three generations and in two
different parts of the world. Sisters Addie and
Louisa grow up on a farm in Illinois. Louisa
stays, but Addie marries and leaves with her
husband to take up missionary work in China.
Later she disappears, perhaps a victim of the
anti-Christian uprising known as the Boxer
Rebellion. Decades later, Hazel, one of Louisa’s daughters, is left with two young children
and a farm to manage when her husband dies,
and she finds solace in an affair with a married
neighbor. In 1998, in fast-changing China,
Juanlan has completed her university studies and returns home to the isolated town of
Heng’an, where her family owns a small hotel.
There seem to be several different novels here;
Juanlan’s story, in particular, is tied to the others by very slender threads. The title might lead
the reader to expect large events, but, though
some history lurks in the background, this is
a book about the quiet unfolding of lives and
the kind of rebellion that comes from following one’s heart. —Mary Ellen Quinn
Red Light Run.
By Baird Harper.
Aug. 2017. 224p. Scribner, $24 (9781501147357).
Wicklow, a fictional small town outside of
Chicago that is best known for an obscure serial killer, the Soyfield Strangler, is home to the
myriad down-and-out characters that populate
Harper’s debut. Hartley Nolan is getting out
of prison after serving four years for vehicular
manslaughter resulting in the death of Sonia
Senn. A man is on his way to kill him. Thus, we
are thrust into the dark, mostly woeful stories
of Wicklow’s residents; their histories and their
futures, all affected in their own ways by the accident. The book’s structure, in interconnected
stories, doesn’t lend itself to a strong plot, but
there is still an element of suspense, of wanting
to find out the how and why of not just Sonia’s death but of several of the characters’ fates.
Harper’s true success is in writing flawed characters through spare prose and setting. This is
a surprising crowd-pleaser that will appeal to