Put some Miles Davis or Carly Simon on the iPod and dive deep into Arthur Phillips’s The Song Is You (Random House, $15), this gifted novelist’s tragic and ebullient novel about love, loss, and what was sung. This tightly constructed but wildly imaginative story is a genuine multimedia experience. Publishers Weekly calls it “enthralling…brilliant… triumphant.” This is a hyper-imaginative tale about a New York advertising executive’s midlife crisis and estrangement, who stumbles onto a gig by a bar singer, an encounter that Phillips magnificently weaves into an obsession with the singer and the song, and, best of all, dramatizes the healing power of art and music.
In Brooklyn (Scribner, $15), Irish novelist Colm Tóibín quietly, but with rising intensity, tells the coming-of-age story of a rather plain Irish girl. Eilis attains adulthood in the 1950s, a time of spiking unemployment, and her colorful older sister arranges for her to emigrate to a close-knit Irish community in Brooklyn. Once there, Eilis experiences terrible homesickness, but eventually falls in love with an outgoing immigrant Italian plumber. After a trip back to her Irish parish and the sudden appearance of a conventional, old-world suitor, Eilis must choose, not only with her heart but also in keeping with her nagging sense of family responsibility, between her tremendously likeable Italian and the Irish suitor from her childhood. Tóibín masterfully builds the emotional pitch so that readers come to care deeply abouts Eilis’s decision.
I’m a new member of the Christopher Hitchens fan club, a club I joined because I love his complicated but thoroughly enjoyable new memoir, Hitch 22 (Twelve, $26.99). A bon vivant whose polemics have often masked a deeply-felt and intensely thoughtful personal life, Hitchens is uncharacteristically reflective as he approaches 60. He was born into a family that functioned best in the company of guests or pets, and he was badly scarred by a mother who committed suicide. But, not surprisingly, the most interesting sections of this memoir revolve around the life of the mind; here’s Hitchens as a passionate young socialist who gave up any idea or plan for a “radiant future” to become the enemy of “absolute certainty.” That’s his Hitch-22--the need “to combat the absolutists and the relativists at the same time: to maintain that there is no totalitarian solution while also insisting that, yes, we on our side have unalterable convictions.”