48 Booklist September 1, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
varied topics, such as standing up to bullies, staying true to one’s word, and drinking
martinis properly. And as the men explore
questions of masculinity and responsibility,
Luke confronts the reasons he may be stuck
in arrested development. Despite some illogical plot points, and a final twist that will not
surprise perceptive readers, Eringer’s present-tense narration and conversational style keep
the reader engaged throughout the novel.
Fans of road-trip stories will enjoy the ride
and the descriptions of the American West.
By Nell Zink.
Oct. 2016. 304p. Ecco, $26.99 (9780062441706); e-book
Zink’s (Mislaid, 2016) latest novel explores
the amorphous complexity of family identity
and human connection amid modern-day
social perceptions. Penny is born in Brazil
to young Amelia and older Norm. After her
father’s traumatic death, Penny, now in her
early twenties, is sent to Norm’s childhood
home in Jersey City to oversee the eviction
of longtime squatters. She discovers that it
has become part of a group of abandoned
properties now housing diverse groups of
activists. Rather than revealing her identity,
Penny falls in with the residents, moving
into a nearby house and engaging in the
philosophical debates and actions of the collective. When Penny’s arrogant half brother,
Matt, catches wind of the situation, he takes
matters into his own hands, and everything
becomes more complex when he falls into
an intense liaison with Penny’s housemate.
Meanwhile, Penny navigates deepening connections with fellow residents, particularly
the easygoing Rob, while being besieged by
questions about her unconventional family.
Zink’s heady, witty novel traverses diverse
perspectives and intentions, offering rich explorations of the characters’ varied conflicts
and subversive lives. —Leah Strauss
A Question of Mercy.
By Elizabeth Cox.
Oct. 2016. 224p. Univ. of South Carolina, $27.99
(9781611177220); e-book, $17.99 (9781611177237).
Cox’s (The Slow Moon, 2006) disquieting
novel about the reality of life as a person
with cognitive disabilities in mid-twentieth-
century North Carolina hits hard. Adam
Finney’s brain was damaged during a forceps
delivery. Early on, doctors predicted that he
would likely never develop normal mental
capacity, and, indeed, he didn’t make it be-
yond first grade. His mother, Clementine,
raised him as best she could after Adam’s fa-
ther abandoned them. Life improved when
Clementine married widower Edward Book-
er. Suddenly, Adam had a stepsister, Jess,
who resented him at first but soon became
his best friend. Narrated from her point of
view, Adam’s story takes on a heart-wrench-
ing poignancy when he reaches puberty and
his unbridled affection for people, especially
young girls, is misread as inappropriate, bor-
dering on pedophilia. As Clementine and
Edward grapple with limited options for
Adam, including cruel, quasimedical inter-
ventions illegal in some states, 17-year-old
Jess becomes his champion, bravely op-
posing their parents and the authorities. A
powerful and evocative tale of a family grap-
pling with a cognitive disorder in a hostile
time and place. —Donna Chavez
YA/M: YAs will be taken with the two
resilient young characters pushing back
against the power and supposed wisdom
of adults confronted by the mysteries of a
neurological disability. DC.
The Red Car.
By Marcy Dermansky.
Oct. 2016. 224p. Norton/Liveright, $24.95
Ardent fans of Dermansky’s delectably
wicked novel Bad Marie (2010) will pounce
on her newest succinct and nervy tale about
a young woman of dubious moral standing
stumbling through life. An aspiring writer,
Leah ends up in San Francisco, reluctantly
working in an office where she accepts her coworkers’ contempt and is baffled by her kind
boss, Judy, who buys a “blindingly red” sports
car that Leah finds “sinister.” Ten years later,
at the start of the twenty-first century, Leah
is living in Queens, unhappily married to a
writer from Austria, when the red car reenters her life and propels her on a harrowing
tour of her past. Dermansky is vigilantly observant, hot-wire funny, and sharply attuned
to failures to empathize and the impulse to
lie. There is much here that is satisfyingly
canny, but Leah can be a drag, and some aspects of her misadventures, while meant to be
cuttingly subversive, instead feel forced. Still,
Dermansky is a gutsy storyteller, and this is an
eerie, psychologically astute tale of a woman
mysteriously goaded into changing her life.
By Abda Khan.
Oct. 2016. 194p. Harvard Square, paper, $22.95
Khan’s fast-paced debut novel portrays an
average high-school student whose life is irrevocably altered. Initially, Selina Hussain, a
British-born Pakistani, simply faces the typical obstacles of any young woman, struggling
to maintain high grades, manage a social life,
and meet her parents’ high expectations. Then
her father dies, and Selina is derailed. In an
attempt to steady her and halt her academic
slide, Selina’s mother enlists the aid of a close
family friend and respected community leader.
For a brief moment, Selina seems to stabilize.
Then she is raped by the very man who is sup-
posed to be her mentor and tutor, leaving her
clinging to a precipice. To preserve her fam-
ily’s honor, Selina attempts to hide the truth
from everyone while reconciling the recent
tragedies that she’s faced and keeping up with
school. Khan has written a contemporary Tess
of the D’Urbervilles, a heart-wrenching and
engrossing tale that challenges the definition
of morality through the story of a wronged
young woman fighting to come to terms with
harsh realities and finding empowerment
along the way. —Caitlin Brown
The Survivor’s Guide to Family
By Maddie Dawson.
Oct. 2016. 400p. Amazon/Lake Union, paper, $14.95
After the death of her adoptive mother,
35-year-old Nina Popkin is left questioning
where she belongs in the world. Her parents
gave her a great life, but Nina has always
fantasized about her birth mother. What
did she look like? Why did she give her up?
Nina’s search for family leads her to Lindy
McIntyre, the sister she never knew she had.
Determined to track down their mother,
Nina convinces a skeptical Lindy to join her,
and the two prove to be an odd couple. Lindy has a successful salon, two children, and
a seemingly perfect marriage, while Nina is
navigating an ill-advised relationship with
a much older man who has two teenagers.
Despite their differences, however, the two
women slowly develop a relationship as they
try to convince their birth mother to open
up and tell her story. In this heartfelt novel, Dawson (The Opposite of Maybe, 2014)
weaves together the stories of three very
different women who are bound by blood,
delving deeply into the true meaning of family. —Patricia Smith
A Tree or a Person or a Wall.
By Matt Bell.
Sept. 2016. 400p. Soho, paper, $16 (9781616955236).
As in Scrapper (2015), Bell’s new collection
paints familiar worlds with dark and peculiar
hues to form eerie, often poetic fables about
grief, loss, and hope. Many of these grim stories evoke Poe and H. G. Wells, such as “His
Last Great Gift,” which follows an obsessive
minister who attempts to build an intricate
machine that will become the Messiah. Kafka
also comes to mind, particularly in the title
story, in which a boy is confined to a bed in
a locked room with an albino ape that both
threatens and befriends him. Yet for all the
creepiness, there’s an equal amount of tenderness, such as when a girl speaks only to her
doll to fill the void created when a mysterious
man kidnapped her brother. In the vignettes
that form the novella, “Cataclysm Baby,” assorted parents try to love their children born
with deformities, hunt for fruit, and transform into butterflies, among other bizarre
instances. The ominousness can feel oppressive at times, but Bell’s confident style and
nuanced genre-blending will both delight and
disturb. —Jonathan Fullmer
The Undoing of Saint Silvanus.
By Beth Moore.
Sept. 2016. 480p. Tyndale, $24.99 (9781496416476).
When the mysterious death of Jillian