The Accomplished Guest.
By Ann Beattie.
June 2017. 224p. Scribner, $25 (9781501111389).
Accomplished short story writer Beattie (The
State We’re In, 2015) lifted the
title for her newest collection from Emily Dickinson,
an apt homage given that, as
the poet advises in one of her
most quoted phrases, Beattie
seeks to “Tell all the truth but
tell it slant.” Here, each story
portrays a guest whose ac-
complishment is disruption, triggering cascades
of memories and actions hilarious, disturbing,
or tragic. From Maine to Manhattan, Virginia
to Key West, Beattie brings people together via
airplanes and cars, not to mention an agorapho-bic neighbor’s agonized trek across the street.
These gorgeously complicated, psychologically
astute tales are catalyzed by holiday gatherings,
weddings, birthday celebrations, and reunions,
joyous occasions wildly derailed by divorce,
sibling rivalry, generational clashes, financial
disasters, violence, and medical emergencies.
The directions in which these encounters veer
are beyond unexpected, thanks to Beattie’s
puckish imagination. A seasoned chronicler of
WASP life, Beattie investigates the collision of
privilege with the realities of the poor and the
discriminated against, along with the universally relentless assaults of age. Beattie’s profoundly
intriguing and unsettling stories abound in delectably witty and furious inner monologues,
barbed dialogue, ludicrous predicaments, ma-ny-faceted heartaches, and abrupt upwellings of
affection, even love. —Donna Seaman
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Always on
point, funny, and poignant, Beattie never
fails to generate requests among literary-fiction readers.
By Catherine Lacey.
June 2017. 304p. Farrar, $26 (9780374100261).
In Lacey’s ambitious second novel, after No-
body Is Ever Missing (2014), sometimes-narrator
Mary signs on to two odd regimens, neither of
which she knows much about, at around the
same time. The first is an unclassifiable therapy,
recommended by her friend, called Pneuma
Adaptive Kinesthesia, or PAKing. Immediately,
the chronic pain that’s been fraying her betray-
ing body for ages begins to abate. Mary’s other
curiosity is the second job she, already deeply
in debt, picks up to pay for the incredibly ex-
pensive PAKing sessions: she’s hired, and paid
highly, to be the “Emotional Girlfriend” of fa-
mous actor Kurt Sky as part of the elaborate,
fantastical “Girlfriend Experiment” to per-
fect and simplify romantic relationships and
extend the feeling of limerence, or falling in
love. Through her characters’ thoughts, most
notably those of Mary and the other Girl-
friends—women who are constantly directed,
surveyed, and evaluated—Lacey proves herself
to be a writer of finely tuned perceptions who
creates sprawling psyches. For fans of surreal,
thought-provoking, and intriguingly untidy
literary fiction. —Annie Bostrom
The Chalk Artist.
By Allegra Goodman.
June 2017. 352p. Dial, $27 (9781400069873).
What do you do when ambition collides
with love? Goodman (The Cookbook Collector,
2010) answers this messy question with nu-
ance in this heartfelt story about class. Young
Nina Lazare is trying to escape her privileged
upbringing. The daughter of a computer-
gaming guru, she is a recruit with a Teach for
America–like corps, teaching reluctant high-
schoolers the subtleties of English. Collin, a
rudderless and poor 23-year-old chalk artist,
is bowled over by Nina after she frequents
the Cambridge, Massachusetts, bar where he
works. On a parallel track, high-school twins
Aidan and Diana are mucking around in their
own teenage circles, one through an addiction
to a role-playing game called EverWhen and
the other by doing everything she can to be in-
visible at school. Recognizing Collin’s immense
talent, Nina introduces him to her father’s
gaming empire, but the young man finds him-
self ill-equipped to navigate the corridors of
power. Goodman poses but doesn’t thoroughly
explore the intriguing question of intent versus
outcome, of just how Nina’s “help” might be
perceived, veering back to more predictable, if
enjoyable, narrative terrain. —Poornima Apte
Aidan and Diana’s struggles, and they’ll
appreciate the view from the other side as
Nina tries to make an impact with her
The Confusion of Languages.
By Siobhan Fallon.
June 2017. 336p. Putnam, $26 (9780399158926).
Shortly after the Arab Spring, Cassie Hughes
and her husband, Dan, a foreign-affairs officer stationed at the U.S. embassy in Amman,
are sponsors to newcomers Margaret and
Crick Brickshaw. Margaret may have a sexier
husband, a better apartment, and, most particularly, a child, but one advantage Cassie has
is her expertise on being a
military wife in Jordan, and
she is happy to show Margaret the ropes. Margaret is
less rule abiding, however,
and her desire to explore
beyond the constraints of
embassy life poses a threat.
One evening, after the two
women are involved in a minor traffic accident, Margaret goes to the police station to file
a report while Cassie stays behind in the Brickshaws’ apartment. She comes across Margaret’s
journal, which she reads as the hours tick by
and her friend doesn’t return; the layering of
Cassie’s narrative and Margaret’s journal entries
provides dual perspectives on the same events.
Margaret’s disappearance adds an element of
suspense to an incisive examination of friend-
ship and betrayal and a skillful mingling of
cultural and domestic themes. Military wives
are also the subject of Fallon’s prizewinning
short story collection, You Know When the Men
Are Gone (2012). —Mary Ellen Quinn
Disasters in the First World.
By Olivia Clare.
June 2017. 192p. Black Cat, paper, $16
Clare’s debut short story collection explores
the lives of varied characters—lovers, family,
and tenants; the links they forge with others;
and the odd, confounding worlds they inhabit. In “The Visigoths,” a 28-year-old narrator
struggles to connect with her much-younger
half sibling while attempting to reconcile her
own shortcomings. “Pétur” follows Laura and
her adult son, Adam, on a vacation in Iceland.
The two find themselves unable to return
home after a volcanic eruption shuts down all
forms of travel, and the ash-filled terrain creates
an unsettling ambience further heightened by
Laura’s puzzling behavior. “Creatinine” follows
a couple grappling, in their own unique ways,
with the fallout of a potentially life-threatening
diagnosis. A nightclub singer in “Eye of Water” is at first ecstatic when her new roommate,
Willa, finds a way to curtail the town’s strict
water restrictions. But soon, Willa’s presence
coaxes out insecurities, along with new possibilities. In these thoughtful tales, Clare, winner
of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and
an O. Henry Prize, presents characters who,
instead of begging for sympathy, seem to desire
clarity. —Leah Strauss
By Gin Phillips.
July 2017. 288p. Viking, $25 (9780735224278).
Readers will likely be unable to put down
this literary suspense novel from Phillips
(Come In and Cover Me, 2012). Joan and her
four-year-old son, Lincoln, are at the zoo near
closing time. As they approach the exit, she
sees bodies on the ground and a man with a
gun entering a bathroom.
Retreating into the maze of
the zoo and its myriad of ex-
hibits and enclosures, Joan
finds a, hopefully, perfect
hiding place. But as time
passes and Lincoln gets hun-
gry and restless, Joan must
become proactive to protect
them both. The time starts each chapter, with
the whole book taking place over the course
of three hours. Joan’s voice gives shape to her
and Lincoln’s lives, but readers also get other
perspectives, including one of the shooters.
Phillips manages to combine beautiful imagery
with heart-pounding, nerve-fraying intensity.
Although there is very little description of
actual violence, the premise alone means the
squeamish (and animal lovers) should prob-
ably skip this one. Those who want a tidy
ending will also be disappointed. But fans of
literary page-turners, like Sunil Yapa’s Your
Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (2016), won’t
want to miss this. —Kathy Sexton