Novelist and essayist Ben Fountain contends that American society has a history of burning in order to survive—it did so literally in the fields of the Civil War and figuratively in the streets of the Great Depression. In Beautiful Country Burn Again (Ecco, $27.99) he contends that another fire is due. He bases his argument in his experience covering 2016's presidential candidates as they postured, promised, and dwindled their way from Iowa to the White House. In that reportage, the author conveys both the absurdness and the tragedy of that race while documenting a country he sees becoming a democracy in name only. Is Trump the problem, or a symptom of a much larger problem we can no longer avoid facing? This is a tough book about tough issues—the reader doesn't get many sentences off. But what Fountain addresses in these essays eloquently and frankly speaks to the threat he feels we all must confront, no matter who wins the next election.
Babe Ruth takes Manhattan, and the rest of the country, by storm in Jane Leavy's biography, The Big Fella (Harper, $32.50). Using the lens of a twenty-one-day baseball exhibition cash-grab, Leavy reveals Ruth as a man who lived hard and, though he never wanted to be a role model, helped create the ubiquitous celebrity/pitchperson that dominates modern culture today. Forced from a dysfunctional home by an unfit set of parents, Ruth both bucked authority over his actions and looked for acceptance in the grandstands where his every at-bat was cared about and remembered. Ruth changed America's game through the power of his home runs, and changed American culture through the power of his boyish charm, outsized lifestyle, and pure love of the spotlight.
Andromeda Romano-Lax’s Plum Rains skillfully combines speculative sci-fi, historical fiction and an unconventional romance into something emotionally satisfying and hopeful. In Japan’s near future, where artificial Intelligence is replacing human health care aides, nurse Angelica’s livelihood is at risk. A prototype healthcare AI, nicknamed “Hiro”, threatens to push out Angelica while it forms a bond with her client, an unhappy centenarian named Sakoyo. Hiro’s presence brings Sayoko’s repressed memories back to the surface, and then each character must struggle to reconcile the past, learn to trust, and pursue future happiness as each sees it. This book is a joy that defies genre and should just be shelved under “terrific book”.