Anything Is Possible.
By Elizabeth Strout.
Apr. 2017. 272p. Random, $27 (9780812989403).
In this collection of short stories centered in
and near the fictional town of Amgash, Illinois,
last visited in My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016),
Strout once again shows her talent for adroitly
uncovering what makes ordinary people tick.
Here, for the most part, it’s
sex. Nearly every story has
sex at its core—not erotic or
salacious sex, but the sex that
beats in our hearts, the mundane stuff that brought every
last one of us into being. It’s
almost misleading to classify
these as short stories; while
they read fine as stand-alones, they work best
as chapters that make up a novel of Amgash.
Each story feeds off a previous one, whether
via shared characters or mention of a prior incident. For example, Lucy’s former classmate
Patty not only gets her own story, she’s also
featured prominently in several stories and is
mentioned in passing in others. Most of the
stories feature Lucy herself—on the periphery, at least—whether it’s a character reading
Lucy’s latest book or seeing her on a TV spot
or stopping on a memory of the dirt-poor Barton clan. Clearly, this is a must-read for fans
of Lucy Barton, but it’s also an excellent introduction to Strout’s marvelously smart character
studies. —Rebecca Vnuk
By Kei Miller.
May 2017. 256p. Pantheon, $24.95 (9781101871614).
As both the introductory note and epithet doubly insist, August Town, divided into
two words, is a real town in Jamaica, made
mains just as stifling decades later, repeatedly
played out in the lives of Augustown-ies, especially Kaia’s mother, who was supposed
to thrive, not just survive. “Look, this isn’t
magic realism . . . This is a story about people
as real as you are,” Jamaican-born, London-domiciled Miller (The Last Warner Woman,
2012) warns through his indelible characters. “You may as well stop to consider . . .
whether this story is about the kinds of people
you have never taken the time to believe in.”
Fusing facts with what-could-have-well-been,
Augustown is a gorgeously plotted, sharply
convincing, achingly urgent novel deserving
widespread attention. — Terry Hong
The Best of Adam Sharp.
By Graeme Simsion.
May 2017. 320p. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (9781250130402);
e-book, $12.99 (9781250130426).
A one-word e-mail sets Adam’s life ablaze.
Nearing 50, between jobs, and sleeping separately from his longtime partner,
Claire, Adam is poised for the reignition. He
recalls—as much as he can recall what he can’t
forget—falling in love with Angelina, the
e-mail’s sender, in Melbourne, back when he’d
left England for a short work contract more
than 20 years ago. There he passed lonely
evenings by playing piano, his passion, at a
bar, and music was his and Angelina’s first,
sparking connection. (A playlist of the book’s
many evoked songs is cleverly available at the
end of the book, as well as online.) As his and
Angelina’s communications escalate, Adam
examines his life, takes up running again,
returns to the piano, and emotionally reconnects with the music he loves. A leap-or-don’t
moment arises, and the outcome of Adam’s
decision surprises him perhaps most of all.
Sensitive, witty Adam is a terrifically chummy
narrator for fan-favorite Simsion’s (The Rosie
Effect, 2014) funny, sexy, and above all musical portrayal of the roles memory and fantasy
play in midlife’s yearnings. —Annie Bostrom
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely
By Gail Honeyman.
May 2017. 336p. Viking/Pamela Dorman, $26
Move over, Ove (in Fredrik Backman’s A
Man Called Ove, 2014)—there’s a new cur-
mudgeon to love. Thirty-year-old Eleanor
Oliphant leads a highly predictable life,
working at an office, eating the same meals
alone in her apartment, and spending her
weekends regularly administering vodka (she
usually goes without speak-
ing to another human from
the time she bids farewell
to the bus driver on Fri-
day until she greets another
one on Monday). She is, as
she regularly tells herself,
fine. But when a chance
encounter with a local mu-
sician sends her reeling into the throes of a
full-fledged crush, her carefully constructed
world breaks open. Soon she is embarking on
a self-improvement program from the outside
in, complete with shopping trips, manicure,
makeup, and attempts at hairstyling. The
real changes, however, are slowly taking place
within, as she develops a friendship with
a man from work and eventually learns the
wonderful rewards that come to those who
open their hearts. Walking in Eleanor’s practi-
cal black Velcro shoes is delightfully amusing,
her prudish observations leavened with a pri-
vately puckish humor. But readers will also be
drawn in by her tragic backstory, which slowly
reveals how she came to be so entirely Eleanor.
Witty, charming, and heartwarming, Eleanor
Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a remarkable
debut about a singular woman. Readers will
cheer Eleanor as she confronts her dark past
and turns to a brighter future. Feel good with-
out feeling smarmy. —Bridget Thoreson
By Benjamin Ludwig.
May 2017. 368p. Park Row, $26.99 (9780778330165);
Ludwig’s enlightening debut novel reflects
the overwhelming lifestyle change he and
his wife experienced when they adopted a
teenager with autism. Unlike other books exploring the manifestations
of this condition, Ludwig’s
compelling tale is written in
the voice of an autistic girl,
Ginny Moon, who is 13
when the novel opens, four
years after she was taken
away from her birth mother,
an addict. Ginny has been in
three other homes before her adoption by her
“forever parents,” and all seems to be going
smoothly until their own baby girl is born.
Ginny plays the flute in the school band, attends weekly Special Olympics basketball
practices, and has good friends in room 5,
where she goes each day with the other “
special kids.” But she can’t forget the baby sister
she helped raise before she was adopted,
and she will try anything to find her and
her birth mother again. Ginny is remarkably engaging, and Ludwig has surrounded
her with other strong characters, each of
whom navigates her compulsive behavior
and unpredictability in their own ways. A
heartwarming and unforgettable page-turner
about autism, family, and how special-needs
children are treated. —Deborah Donovan
YA: Ludwig’s loving portrayal of teenage
Ginny should resonate with YA fans of
character-driven fiction. DD.
The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot.
By Jack Driscoll.
Apr. 2017. 200p. Wayne State Univ., paper, $18.99
Driscoll’s (The World of a Few Minutes Ago,
2012) latest collection portrays a series of
characters in the snowy, isolated border towns
of the northern lower peninsula of Michigan.
For these characters, even Kenosha, Wisconsin, feels a world away. Driscoll moves
seamlessly between genres, narrative perspectives (such as the usage of second person in