J. Courtney Sullivan’s intelligent, sharply witty Commencement (Vintage, $14.95) traces the friendship, relationships, and careers of four women who meet at Smith College in the 1990s. It’s an affectionate yet critical portrait of a women’s school. But Sullivan’s smart, savvy characters would be furious if I referred to this book as chick lit. “When a woman writes a book that has anything to do with feelings or relationships, it’s either called chick lit or women’s fiction, right?” one character asks. “But look at Updike, or Irving. Imagine if they’d been women… Someone would have slapped a pink cover onto Rabbit at Rest, and poof, there goes the fucking Pulitzer.”

This summer, drop every other beach read and visit Maine (Knopf, $25.95) with the whip-smart, wickedly funny J. Courtney Sullivan. Sullivan’s debut novel, Commencement. a group portrait of friends who meet at Smith College in the 1990s, is a necessity for every smart girl’s reading list, and Maine is even more accomplished, ambitious, and addictive. We meet women from all different generations of the Kelleher clan: Alice, the boozy, strict Catholic matriarch; Kathleen, a recovering alcoholic who owns an organic worm farm in California; Mary Ann, a perfectionist in-law with a strange hobby; and Maggie, a struggling writer in New York. They converge at the family’s summer cottage, each bearing secrets that Sullivan teases out in chapters of pitch-perfect alternating points of view.

Commencement (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780307454966
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - May 11th, 2010

When The Madonnas Of Echo Park (Free Press, $14) came out about a year ago, I was certain that Brando Skyhorse would be recognized as one of the best young writers working today. This novel comprises interconnected stories set in a once lustrous, but now working-class and Chicano, neighborhood in Los Angeles.  The characters are realistic, the sights and sounds are vivid and exciting, and the stories pack an emotional punch. Take a moment and read the first page of this marvelous first novel—you’ll be hooked.

Brando Skyhorse’s debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park, recounts the lives of Mexican Americans living in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, once a fashionable home for people in the movie business and now a working-class community. Through a series of shifting points of view, we meet Felicia, a cleaning lady, and her daughter Aurora. We meet Efren Mendoza, a bus driver, and his brother Manny former jefe of the street gang Locos and father to Juan who’s just enlisted in the Army. And there are others - all of these people who make up a neighborhood, people we see every day, never imagining the richness of their lives, or knowing how they intersect. The title comes from an incident that shaped the whole community, an accidental shooting, affecting some tangentially and affecting others deeply and crucially. This is a fine and beautiful novel by any standard, but as a first novel, it is astoundingly good.

The Madonnas Of Echo Park (Free Press, $23), by first-time novelist Brandon Skyhorse, tells the story of a community of Mexican-Americans living in Los Angeles.  The group includes a bus driver, a cleaning lady, a student, a retail clerk, a mom, and a gang member. The lives of this disparate bunch of middle-class people are affected—some immediately and some tangentially—by an act of senseless violence. Skyhorse unfolds the narrative with enormous compassion and beauty; it resonates long after you put down the book.

The Madonnas of Echo Park Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781439170847
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Free Press - February 8th, 2011

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