Week ending March 9, 2012
Kogan, Deborah Copaken. The Red Book. Voice: Hyperion. Apr. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9781401340827. $24.99. F
Four former roommates reconnect for a life-altering 20-year class reunion weekend (Harvard ’89). Despite their haut monde status, their lives are tainted by betrayal, disappointment, and the façade of having it all. Married Clover is tempted to rekindle her college flame with her first love. Mia rails against motherhood and yearns for her erstwhile acting career. Addison, the perfect wife, is also a closeted lesbian. And journalist Jane, who still pines for her late husband, wonders whether to have a child with her unfaithful lover. Ultimately, each must reread her bio from the titular Red Book, the collection of minimemoirs published quinquennially by Harvard, and rewrite herself so the next entry will reflect the life she really wants.
Verdict While the women’s privileged status could have made them inaccessible, Kogan (Harvard, Class of ’88; Between Here and April; Shutterbabe) has crafted a cast of characters who are relevant, authentic, and very human. A worthy, witty, and engrossing addition to the canon of reunion fiction occupied by Mary McCarthy’s The Group, Elizabeth Berg’s The Last Time I Saw You, and Tim O’Brien’s July, July.‚ Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY
Olson, Michael. Strange Flesh. S. & S. Apr. 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9781451627572. $25. F
The runaway success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Girl Who Played with Fire; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) has spawned a host of imitators eager to hitch a ride on Lisbeth Salander’s antiheroic coattails. Of these, James Pryce, computer security consultant and the first-person narrator of Olson’s debut thriller, is a particularly unconvincing example. Hired by his old flame Blythe Randall to find her twin brother, Blake, who has vanished into an online world called NOD, James leads us into a jumbled, confused mess of sex, mysterious disappearances, grisly deaths, and the pursuit of privileged excess.
Verdict The novel is chock-a-block with one-dimensional stock characters, stilted, cliché-ridden dialog, and situations that call for suspension of disbelief above and beyond the call of duty. Olson seems to be attempting to evoke simultaneously the cyberpunk vibe of William Gibson, the over-the-top scenarios of Chuck Palahniuk, and the baroque plotting of Neal Stephenson; sadly, he falls short on all counts. Not recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 10/31/11.]‚ John Harvey, Irving P.L., TX
Renner, James. The Man from Primrose Lane. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780374200954. $26. F
This debut novel opens with the vicious torture and murder of an elderly and eccentric recluse, whom Akron locals called The Man with the Thousand Mittens. Four years later, David Neff, best-selling author of a true-crime book about an Ohio serial killer, searches for answers to his wife’s apparent suicide while wrestling with fears for his young son. He also becomes intrigued with the still-unsolved murder of the recluse, while the police uncover new evidence incriminating David in the crime. In his search for the truth, David encounters scientist Victor Tesla and embarks on a series of time-travel adventures where he meets murderers, rapists, and other criminals in alternate time settings.
Verdict Truly ambitious in scope, this well-written debut by a true-crime writer (Amy: My Search for Her Killer; The Serial Killer’s Apprentice) features superbly drawn characters and escalates into a genre-bending narrative (noir, sf, and more) of thrills and twists. A great choice for readers who enjoyed Tana French’s In the Woods or any work by Philip K. Dick.‚ Rebecca M. Marrall, Western Washington Univ. Libs., Bellingham