Staff Pick

Described as an “illustrated novella,” and looking like a quirky coffee table book, A Field Guide to the North American Family (Knopf, $22), by Garth Risk Hallberg, is neither. This work, which Hallberg wrote before his 2015 New York epic, City on Fire, is an ingenious maze of a narrative based on the concept of the North American Family. Reminiscent of Lydia Davis’ seemingly quotidian pieces of pointed brilliance, Hallberg’s work is multi-layered, surprising, and deft. At one level the book uses a series of flash-fictions to recount the story of two families. At another, it’s an index of terms that readers can reference while reading the main plot—or savor for the wisdom they offer on their own. Then there are the photos. Each episode comes not only with its keywords but with a visual image. These are sometimes directly related to the text, like conventional illustrations, but often their relationship to the narrative is more elusive. Some pages look as if they’ve been torn from one scrapbook and pasted into this one, others look fresh and new. Grab this emotional map of North American family life and get ready to wander – it’s sure to be a warm, nostalgic trip.

A Field Guide to the North American Family: An Illustrated Novella Cover Image
$22.00
ISBN: 9781101874950
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - October 31st, 2017

Staff Pick

In Paul La Farge’s The Night Ocean (Penguin, $27), Marina Willett’s husband, a famous-turned-infamous literary historian, has disappeared, seemingly a suicide case but maybe that’s just what he wants people to think. From this hook, the book’s tentacles spread into a kaleidoscopic series of investigations, as Marina double-checks her spouse’s leads to get to the bottom of a mysterious bit of H. P. Lovecraft apocrypha called “The Erotonomicon.” Cameos extend from Lovecraft to William Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, and more, becoming something like “The Savage Detectives of American weird fiction.” To follow this book’s incredible story, you don’t need to like, or even know, these figures, which are all fictionalized creations anyway, despite the author’s deep knowledge of their histories. La Farge critiques and parodies but does not romanticize these writers. He’s deeply attuned to how our human sympathies toward icons we learn about from afar can morph into blind obsession despite our best intentions. His narrative is a seamless combination of trickster humor and utter heartbreak, plumbing the depths to which people will go to forgive, embody, and take revenge upon their former idols, all while preserving their own reputation. The best writing lives inside you —even possesses you. The Night Ocean does just that.

The Night Ocean Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101981085
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Penguin Press - March 7th, 2017

Staff Pick

Lily Tuck, whose novel The News from Paraguay won the National Book Award in 2004, is one of our finest writers of novels-in-vignettes, and her latest, Sisters (Atlantic Monthly, $20), takes compression to extremes. Its “chapters” are often over in a page, a paragraph, sometimes a sentence, but they’re such vivid shards that you feel like you’re catching all the other pieces in a mosaic without having to see them spelled out. This is the story of a woman reflecting on her shaky marriage, whose trappings—her husband’s children, passions, and memories—all come courtesy of a prior spouse. Tuck centers on her narrator’s relationship with this other woman, who, though living across town, always seems to be in the air. What could turn spiteful in another writer’s hands comes off as gentle and empathetic in Tuck’s, as her lead character seizes on snatches of imagery (“a messy ponytail,” “did not wear rings”), to think through what her ostensible rival’s life must be like. Is it the narrator and not the man who links the two of them who truly understands this woman, she who sees that the bouillabaisse dinner he fondly remembers from France might have made her pregnant body sick? For such a short novel, Sisters is full of these kinds of insights, simply but inimitably framed.

Sisters Cover Image
$20.00
ISBN: 9780802127112
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Atlantic Monthly Press - September 5th, 2017

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