The five women featured in the nine stories of Susi Wyss’s debut, The Civilized World (Holt, $15), are from various cultures and countries linked by the commonalities of life: longing, fear, love, grief. As the stories progress, the women’s lives intersect and the novelistic aspects of the book emerge. In “Names,” Ophelia, the wife of an American Foreign Service Officer, writes down the names of Malawians she meets—a desperate attempt to manage the emotions around her infertility. Ophelia reappears in “Waiting for Solomon” as she tours Ethiopia with Janice while both women wait for child adoptions to be finalized. In the last story, “There Are No Accidents,” Janice happens upon a beauty salon in Ghana run by her former employee, Adjoa, whose twin brother robbed Janice’s house. Wyss’s humane portrait of modern Africa and African women is carefully drawn and astutely, beautifully delivered.
By now, you are probably familiar with novels in the form of linked stories (Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge), but few are as eerie or as mesmerizing as Frederick Reiken’s Day For Night (Back Bay, $14.99). Each chapter is a haunting experiment in structure and voice, featuring characters who are grappling with a past mystery or trauma, whether personal (a parent lost to cancer) or historical (the murder of 500 Jewish men in Lithuania in 1941). And while every strand of the narrative connects to a larger whole, the deep reward of Reiken’s novel is that each segment contains a universe within itself.
After the unexpected deaths of his parents, both of them suicides and within an hour of each other, Wyatt Hillyer begins a new life and new career, learning the craft of sled- and toboggan-making under the caring eye of his uncle in 1941 Halifax, Nova Scotia. While confronting the grief, shock, and shame of his parents’ acts, he also comes face-to-face with the reality of World War II when German U-boats wreak havoc off the Canadian coast. First love and the consequences of a horrible crime and cover-up are just a couple of turns Wyatt also navigates. Revealed as a letter from the mature Wyatt to his daughter, Howard Norman’s story of WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25) is an exquisite narrative of love, family duty, loss, and responsibility.
Written as a series of letters from the narrator, Wyatt Hillyer, to his twenty-one-year-old-daughter, Marlais, Howard Norman’s What Is Left The Daughter (Mariner, $13.95) tells a rich, dramatic story set in the Canadian Maritimes during World War II as German U-boats stalked Canadian shipping. After the tragic and surprising deaths of his parents, Hillyer moves in with his aunt, uncle, and cousin in a small town. When a young German scholar moves to town, amid the fear and suspicion brought on by the war, allegiances are tested, and love, lust, and jealousy fuel a series of events that can’t be undone. Norman’s unerring sense of character, language, pacing, and plot make this an unforgettable novel.