With great economy of words, Jane Smiley gives us a rich glimpse into the Private Life (Anchor, $15.95) of her novel’s protagonist. Margaret’s story spans a number of important periods in American history, including the San Francisco earthquake, both World Wars, the age of westward expansion, and the late-18th/early-19th century’s explosion of ideas in science and technology. Through it all, she navigates the difficult terrain of family life, friendships, and marriage over the long haul. This is a skillful, beautifully rendered tale of one woman’s loves, losses, disappointments, and the inevitable bitterness that occurs after years of emotional isolation. Read this gorgeous book to enjoy a fine writer at the top of her craft.
What if you could re-write the endings to all your life stories, changing them to reflect experience and hindsight? This question is at the heart of The Nobodies Album (Anchor, $15), by Carolyn Parkhurst. Octavia Frost, a moderately successful author, has changed the conclusions of her novels. But that’s not all that is going on in this beautifully written book. Just as Octavia is delivering her latest manuscript to her publisher, she learns that her son, a famous rock star, has been arrested for murder. Although they have been estranged for years, and she is unsure of his innocence, Octavia goes to help him. What follows is part murder mystery, part examination of the forces and choices that sculpt our lives. Perhaps most interestingly, Parkhurst treats us to both the original and the revised endings of Octavia’s novels.
Smart, suspenseful and full of fascinating characters, The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst is a literary page turner. Octavia Frost, a moderately successful author, has just put the finishing touches on her new novel (a compilation of her previous novels but with new and different endings). She is in Times Square about to deliver the manuscript to her publisher when she looks up at the news ticker and sees her son, a famous rock star, has just been arrested for murder. The beauty of Parkhurst’s prose drives this complex story of murder, motherhood, loss and reconciliation.
The American Dream has always been elusive, but today you’d better make sure it includes health insurance. So Much For That (Harper Perennial, $14.99), Lionel Shriver’s sharp, direct novel about making a million and watching it evaporate, chronicles the fortunes of Shep Knacker, a successful entrepreneur who sells his business and plans to live on the proceeds in some idyllic—and cheap—exotic locale. While he dreams of the future, his wife develops cancer, and suddenly the nest egg is needed for health-care expenses. But, this being America, there are other ways to make money, and the Knackers bring a suit against Glynis’s former employer, claiming negligence with toxic materials caused her illness. No matter what their plight, Shriver’s characters are consistently lively and outspoken, cracking jokes, however dark, when you least expect them. They say things the rest of us only wish we could say—and they get away with it.