Anatomy of a Soldier.
By Harry Parker.
May 2016. 320p. Knopf, $26.95 (9781101946633).
Parker has written an arresting and unconventional first novel. It concerns a British Army
soldier identified only as BA5799, recently arrived in an unnamed war zone. In time, the
reader learns that BA5799 is Captain Tom
Barnes, who loses both legs
to an improvised mine. The
novel also focuses on two
boys, Latif and Faridun, who
were friends through childhood. Then Latif is drawn
into insurgency, and the
teens become estranged. The
in the narrative; each short chapter is related
from the point of view of an object: Faridun’s
bicycle, a bag of fertilizer that becomes the
IED that takes Barnes’ legs, a single bullet in
a rifle magazine. The narration is concise yet
often detailed, whether the subject matter is
Barnes’ rehabilitation or Latif’s family life. The
objects are conscious of the events they relate,
but only the fungus exploded into Barnes’
ravaged body is self-conscious. It matter-of-factly notes that its destiny is to kill its host
and thereby kill itself. Anatomy of a Soldier is
disorienting but deeply compelling, and that
quality is only heightened by the knowledge
that the author suffered the same injuries as his
protagonist. —Thomas Gaughan
Asking for It.
By Louise O’Neill.
Apr. 2016. 304p. Quercus, $16.99 (9781681445373).
Thanks to a surfeit of alcohol and drugs,
gorgeous, 18-year-old Emma can’t remember what happened that Saturday night,
but everyone else knows when photographs
start appearing on the Internet showing her
being sexually abused and humiliated by a
group of her male friends. Yet try though
she might, Emma still can’t remember that
evening. Nevertheless, the boys are charged
with rape, and, as a result, Emma becomes
a pariah in her small Irish hometown, her
Facebook page filled with hate messages
calling her slut, bitch, whore, and worse.
Meanwhile, her case has become an international cause célèbre when it is made the
subject of a popular radio program. As her
family begins to break apart, Emma becomes
ever more self-hating and self-blaming. The
words “my fault” become a mantra for her.
But is it her fault? Emma seems never to
consider that question, insisting to herself,
instead, that she has ruined the boys’ lives. As
her own life becomes increasingly bleak, the
novel veers dangerously close to melodrama.
Nevertheless, it is a powerful cautionary tale
that will appeal to older teens as well as to
adult readers. —Michael Cart
YA: A natural fit for older teen readers,
this crossover novel could have just as
easily been published as YA. MC.
Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo.
By Boris Fishman.
Mar. 2016. 352p. Harper, $26.99 (9780062384362).
The title of Fishman’s second book (after The
Replacement Life, 2014) is the only demand the
birth mother makes when she delivers Maya
and Alex Rubin’s adoptive son. Eight years later,
Max Rubin communes with deer in their suburban New Jersey backyard, then runs away from
home to float face-down in streams. Determined that the answers to Max’s odd behavior
lie in Montana, where he was born, Maya begs
Alex to drive them the thousands of miles, even
as winter approaches. Overall, this is Maya’s
story. She and Alex are both immigrants from
the former Soviet Union, but Alex, who came
to the U.S. as a child with his parents, who set
up the food-distribution center where he now
works, does not struggle the way Maya—who
came as a college student and stayed once she
fell in love—does. At times, the narrative is
slow and uncommunicative, it is a reflection of
Maya’s journey, and it does pick up in the end.
Readers will be left thinking about belonging
and family, and how varied the experience is for
those born elsewhere. —Susan Maguire
By Dave Fromm.
May 2016. 272p. Tyrus, $24.99 (9781440594632).
The bonds of childhood friendship are sorely
tested in this quirky debut novel. Boston lawyer Pete Johansson (called Pete So Handsome
in high school) has just been dropped by his
live-in girlfriend when he hears from his best
friend since they were toddlers, Philip “
Chickie” Benecik, for the first time in years. Chickie,
a druggie screwup, wants Pete’s help with
his latest project, and Pete feels obligated to
comply. The plan involves the tusk of a white
rhino, cut off when the beast was killed years
earlier on a nearby Berkshires estate, which is
now a luxurious spa. Support is provided by
two other close teenage friends: Unsie, who
runs an upscale sporting-equipment store, and
Jimmer (now James), who’s made a fortune
by digitizing scents. Interspersed chapters detail events from the men’s teen years, fleshing
out characters and adding background, as the
quixotic quest—an adventure that can’t end
well—proceeds. In a novel that’s as appealing
as it is eccentric, Fromm (Expatriate Games,
2008) mixes his infectious offbeat humor with
a serious undertone. —Michele Leber
By Benjamin Wood.
May 2016. 470p. Penguin, $27.95 (9781594206863).
Young Scottish painter Elspeth Conroy cre-
ates a stir in the London world with work
that is edgy, even frighten-
ing. But the paintings she
subsequently produces for
her first solo show are more
dogged than inspired, no
matter how hard she works.
So she seeks rejuvenation
at Portmantle, an isolated
refuge for artists on an is-
land off the coast of Turkey, where residents
shed their worldly identities with new names
and work to recapture their muses and sense
of purpose. Elspeth, known as Knell, bonds
with playwright MacKinney, novelist Quick-
man, and architect Pettifer, and the four of
them are charged with welcoming 17-year-
old Fullerton, the youngest person ever to
be admitted to Portmantle. But when things
go horribly wrong, Knell is compelled to act
despite the jeopardy she will face. Elspeth is
such a fully realized character that readers will
share her struggles as she labors to regain her
artistic vision and reaches out to her therapist
and friend, Victor Yail, for help. In incisive
prose, Wood (The Bellwether Revivals, 2012)
explores how the human mind deals with the
arduous work of creating art. A stunning nov-
el, likely to linger long in the reader’s memory.
Even in Paradise.
By Elizabeth Nunez.
Apr. 2016. 320p. Akashic, $27.95 (9781617754395); paper, $15.95 (9781617754401); e-book (9781617754562).
Nunez’s (Not for Everyday Use, 2014) textured and engaging novel explores familial
discord, along with questions of kinship and
self-identity. Trinidadian narrator Émile is at
college in Jamaica when his close friend becomes engaged to the beautiful Glynis, eldest
of Peter Ducksworth’s three daughters. Émile
and Albert travel to Barbados to meet Albert’s
future in-laws, including the recently eloped
middle daughter, Rebecca, and the youngest,
18-year-old Corinne. Wealthy, boozy Duck-sworth announces that he is dividing his land
among the sisters now in order to stave off
future conflicts. Corinne, however, won’t receive her share until after Ducksworth’s death,
a slight that causes irreparable harm to their
once-close bond and provokes the ire of her
sisters. Relationships further spiral down when
Corinne pushes back against her family’s increasingly nefarious demands. Meanwhile,
Émile’s postcollege journey has its own challenges, and his bond with Corinne deepens as
he struggles to reconcile his relationship with
his father. With a nod to King Lear, Nunez
crafts an introspective tale as her vividly drawn
characters navigate complications of heritage,
race, and loyalty. —Leah Strauss
By Richard Russo.
May 2016. 496p. Knopf, $27.95 (9780307270641).
An a should be inserted into the title of
Russo’s (Elsewhere, 2012) triumphant return to North Bath, New York, years after
the events in Nobody’s Fool
(1993), which introduced
Donald J. “Sully” Sullivan
and his hapless cohorts.
Now everyone is older
but not necessarily wiser;
hence, everybody is a fool,
though in the most endearing and lovable ways.
Suffering from a heart condition that may