In Tayari Jones’ latest, Celestial and Roy are young newlyweds, an ambitious couple ready to figure out their life together. Their domestic dream is ruined by unforeseen circumstances and unfortunate timing, as Roy is unfairly jailed for twelve years for a crime he did not commit. As Celestial tries to find her balance between being there for Roy and living her own life, her normally independent nature becomes unsettled. She finds comfort in her childhood friend (and the best man at her wedding), Andre, and her art. When Roy's conviction is suddenly overturned and he's released after five years, our still married couple must decide what their bond means to them, and the form it will take after so much time apart. Rarely does no one get hurt in matters of the heart or in the decision to live one's own life. An American Marriage (Algonquin, $26.95) is enchanting and will be difficult to put down once started. And if you don’t believe me, believe Oprah, who chose this novel to be on her 2018 book club selection.
"Most of the great battles are fought in the creases of topographical maps." With the opening line of his bestselling Warlight (Knopf, $26.95), Michael Ondaatje prepares the reader to look for what is hidden in the creases. Ondaatje sets the scene in 1945 London. The Second World War has just ended and fourteen-year-old Nathaniel and his sixteen-year-old-sister Rachel are at boarding school. While under the care of their parents' mysterious colleague, who the children have nicknamed "the Moth," the two create a secret world of elaborate spy missions, tracing their adventures on a map. Nathaniel uses these mapped narratives, told from the child's perspective, to explain his parents’ otherwise unaccountable absence as well as to make sense of the Moth’s shadowy business dealings. As the narrator grows from child to adult, Ondaatje skillfully pieces together the family’s secrets and revelations with the deeper realities of wartime activities—all of which lead to a devastating truth.
Julie Schumacher made the letter of recommendation an art form and an unexpectedly effective tool of satire in Dear Committee Members; her equally funny, pointed, and ultimately moving sequel, The Shakespeare Requirement (Doubleday, $25.95) uses a more conventional narrative to delve into the lives of students, faculty, staff, and assorted mascots of the second-tier Payne University. As in Committee, the focus is Jason Fitger, now chair of the English department. From his powerless seat of authority he attempts to keep the department operating without a budget and to avoid being evicted by the rapacious Department of Economics. Rather than thinking like a CEO as he’s advised, he gets caught up in the SOS (Save our Shakespeare) movement, advises a pregnant freshman, becomes a care-provider to an ailing colleague, and semi-adopts his assistant’s rescue dog. In short, his year as Chair is an education in the true meaning of the humanities. If Fitger starts as a widely disliked, but not untrusted, figure, a man who can’t eat “misspelled food” (like that “Ceasar salad”), he ends as a warmer, more engaged member of his community. Along the way, Schumacher raises many important issues, such as the purpose and cost of higher education, the plight of adjunct faculty, sexism in higher education, and more.