If Graham Greene were writing his boozy, pointed, and insect-infested thrillers in a post-9/11 world, they would be like The Laughing Monsters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25). The novel tells the story of a veteran spy with fluid affiliations and fickle loyalties attempting to monetize instability in Central Africa. Operating in a socio-political atmosphere defined by sectarian interests and a War on Terror, Denis Johnson’s spy must navigate both this new paradigm and his feelings for his partner/target/fixer’s fiancée. As in his previous work, notably Tree of Smoke and Train Dreams, Johnson demonstrates lyricism and emotional agility, coupling his elegant prose with a plot soaked in grimy realism. The Laughing Monsters provokes as it entertains; this is a literary journey not to be missed.
Part history, part travel narrative, part literary criticism, and part cultural analysis, Maureen Corrigan‘s lively tell-all and academically rigorous biography, So We Read On (Little, Brown, $26), reveals the rich and occasionally fraught rise of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Corrigan, NPR book critic and author of Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading, braids Fitzgerald’s inspirations and struggles into the storied print history of his novel and its continuing cultural impact. Corrigan’s wit, intelligence, and appreciation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece make her analysis as enjoyable as it is informative.