Summer’s over (sigh), and your vacation time and budget probably have been fully tapped — but if you’re a book nerd like me, you know there’s no better escape than a great novel (with a few tropical exceptions). These six books are some of the best of the season; let them carry you away.
Your Duck Is My Duck
If you’ve never heard of Eisenberg — I hadn’t until a few weeks ago — well, better late than never: She’s a stunningly creative writer, winner of the 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and this is one of the most intriguing books of short stories I’ve read. The six offerings in Your Duck Is My Duck, as with many short stories, are awfully hard to describe. They include a woman’s complicated relationship with her terribly critical mother (“as mean as a mace,” her boyfriend says), and how a guy’s life takes a turn after going to the memorial service of an uncle he has never met. But I can say that they’re wise and quirky, and if you’re into literary fiction you should read them.
This is an odd, dark, mystifying-but-mesmerizing tale by the British author of last year’s acclaimed novel The Essex Serpent. The story is based on a legendary figure known as Melmoth the Witness, a dark-robed figure who shows up at moments of cowardice and human failing throughout history. Set partly in Prague, a lonely translator haunted by her past discovers a revealing letter and sets out to understand Melmoth — and realizes their paths may have crossed years ago. Even if you aren’t usually a fan of books that include the supernatural (I’m not), this one is profound and beautiful.
It’s hard to believe that Wang is a first-time novelist when you read this warm and witty story. Her focus is a rather humorously dysfunctional Chinese American family in Silicon Valley, whose patriarch is terminally ill. His status-conscious, romantically challenged middle-aged kids and disdainful ex-wife, meanwhile, are dying to know what’s in his will and if his current wife has designs on the bulk of what may or may not be a massive stash of cash. It’s smartly written and a fun read.
Sometimes I Lie
Published in March, this thriller isn’t new, but it is out in paperback this fall, which gives us a reason to bring it back into the spotlight as well worth reading (and now more affordable!). Englishwoman Amber Reynolds is hospitalized and in a coma but with her mind working, and we (and she) have no idea how she got there: She doesn’t remember how it happens, and she’s also a pathological liar. She’s visited by her husband and other characters from her life, and the plot starts to twist and turn until you’re dizzy trying to distinguish between truth and lies. The ending is jaw-dropping, leaving you with a big question that — if you have friends reading it, too — will make for some lively discussions.
In paperback Oct. 30
Nine Perfect Strangers
The wildly popular Big Little Lies author is back with another irresistible story that’s both suspenseful and surprisingly funny. It’s set at a wellness retreat called Tranquillum House, where, yes, nine strangers — including the main character, a lovelorn and dispirited 52-year-old romance novelist named Frances — have gathered for 10 days to reboot their troubled lives. “In ten days, you will not be the person you are now,” they’re told, but the retreat director’s methods of transformation become alarmingly unconventional. TV/film rights already have been sold, with Nicole Kidman, costar of HBO’s Big Little Lies TV series, set to portray Frances (because it’s Hollywood; the book doesn’t exactly portray the appealingly disheveled Frances as a willowy Kidmanesque stunner).
The Feral Detective
If the plot sounds weird, it is — as well as super-entertaining: Charles, a misfit private investigator who lives in a dilapidated trailer at the edge of Los Angeles, teams up with a wry, anxious New York woman, Phoebe. She’s seeking her best friend’s missing daughter Arabella, who may have been drawn into the surreal world of a cultish group of outcasts squatting in the Mohave Desert — the same world where Charles, who is rather feral, was raised. Lethem’s writing is so good it may inspire you to seek more from the best-selling author, whose 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn is soon to be a film starring Edward Norton. (Movie rights also have been sold for The Feral Detective.)
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