Jonathan Lethem has long used his love of language and his acute sense of history to convey what’s best about the human aptitude for folly. Dissident Gardens (Doubleday, $27.95), his latest novel, spans three generations and their diverse cultural touchstones and political movements. From the Communism of the 1930s to the civil rights era to the post-idealism of the 1970s, this novel juggles shifts of hope and disillusionment, youthful idealism and jaded maturity. Lethem is particularly focused on the far left here, and we get the political scene through colorful family dynamics as the characters saw their way through time and each other’s lives.
Run across websites for the director Stanislas Cordova, his oeuvre of horror films (which may or may not depict fictional events), their screenings in the Paris catacombs, or his cult following, and you’d have no reason to question their authenticity. You can see pages from these sites in Night Film (Random House, $28), the spellbinding second novel by Marisha Pessl, whose Special Topics in Calamity Physics similarly blended invented and actual evidence. Truth, for Pessl’s characters, is a matter of life and death; here, Scott McGrath, a journalist whose career was ruined when Cordova short-circuited a planned exposé, resumes his investigation when Cordova’s daughter commits suicide. As McGrath recreates her final weeks, the book begins as a classic noir thriller. Then the mystery deepens and the story goes gothic, complete with witchcraft, ancient curses, and satanic rituals. Pessl channels these various genres while keeping the action at a brisk New York City pace, and her wild, but never quite over-the-top storytelling is grounded in a serious consideration of the power and moral limits of art in shaping beliefs and, with them, reality.
Leave it to Thomas Pynchon to capture what is exhilarating as well as truly frightening about the Internet. His Bleeding Edge (Penguin Press, $28.95) is set in New York City in 2001, where Maxine Tarnow is a gun-toting fraud-investigator and the mother of two young boys. She’s not sure of the status of her relationship with her ex-husband, Horst (Facebook has yet to define it for her), but her world begins to unravel when she investigates a suspicious computer-security firm and its brilliant but troubling CEO. Guided by her own code and a lot of quick thinking, Maxine makes her way through one of the most entertaining portraits of Gotham to hit a novel in decades. With Bleeding Edge, Pynchon makes a welcome return to the realm of mystery and the ridiculous, delving into the far reaches of the Web and the subway system with equal abandon.