Fiction Reviews | May 15, 2013

WeightofaHumanHeartWeb 199x300 Fiction Reviews | May 15, 2013OrangeReviewStar Fiction Reviews | May 15, 2013 O’Neill, Ryan. The Weight of a Human Heart: Stories. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9781250024992. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250025005. F

In this debut collection, O’Neill shows large-heartedness and a remarkable depth of experience in stories whose settings range from Australia to Rwanda to war-torn Eastern Europe, often seen through the eyes of writers, teachers, and participant observers. The tour de force “English as a Foreign Language,” set in Rwanda in the midst of genocide, is surprisingly reminiscent of Leo Rosten’s Hyman Kaplan stories in its humorous examples of fractured idioms but with much more at stake. The pedagogical framework here and elsewhere allows O’Neill to make clever use of learning tools and typography, including phonetic spelling and sample answers to an ESL exam. Stories set outside the classroom likewise incorporate academic conventions. “The Footnote,” about a writer named Thomas Hardie, is filled with actual footnotes, and “Figures in a Marriage” features a time line, a graph, and a flow chart. Other stories poke fun at lit-biz gamesmanship, in one instance played out through a series of book reviews with a subtext of marital infidelity. VERDICT The variety of narrative modes here never feels like experimentation for its own sake, and the singular mix of humor, intelligence, and global awareness sets this impressive collection apart from the crowd. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/12.]—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA

Sankaran, Lavanya. The Hope Factory. Dial: Random. 2013. 371p. ISBN 9780385338196. $26. F

Welcome to the New India! In this first novel by Sankaran, following her story collection, The Red Carpet, readers are again transported to Bangalore, where two families live very different lives. Even if he isn’t a doctor or lawyer, as his family wanted, Anand is a success, running a small but thriving auto-parts plant on the verge of winning a major contract and expanding. He appears to be happily married as well. But Anand feels pressured by his job and his domineering wife and father-in-law. Meanwhile, single mother Kamala is employed as a maid in Anand’s household, trying to make a better life for her bright but rebellious son with an income barely providing for their needs. Working for Anand’s discontented wife isn’t easy, but if she leaves her job, Kamala will be back on the street. The vivid depiction of Kamala’s struggles gives the reader a clear view into the harrowing world of a woman trying to make it in bustling Bangalore. VERDICT This novel has much going for it: well-developed characters, an engaging plot, and a memorable setting in modern India. Not just for fans of Indian fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 11/1/12.]—Shaunna E. Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA

OrangeReviewStar Fiction Reviews | May 15, 2013  Bohjalian, Chris. The Light in the Ruins. Doubleday. Jul. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780385534819. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385534826. F

In 1955 Florence, Italy, a serial killer is carefully, gruesomely killing off members of the Rosati family. Tearing out each victim’s heart and leaving it on display, the murderer has something important to say about this family of noble blood, and Det. Serafina Bettini suspects it may have something to do with their activities during World War II. Serafina, massively scarred from the war, can’t remember all that happened one disastrous night, and she keeps her partisan background secret. Back in 1943 in the Rosati family villa, German soldiers make themselves at home while investigating an Etruscan burial site, and the youngest Rosati daughter finds herself falling in love with a young German soldier. Weaving pieces back and forth through the two time periods, best-selling author Bohjalian (The Sandcastle Girls) illuminates the ruination of family, trust, and community in crisis in time of war. VERDICT Thoroughly gripping, beautiful, and astonishingly vengeful, this novel is a heartbreaker. Bohjalian’s latest turn to historical fiction is immensely rewarding. [See Prepub Alert, 1/25/13.]—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA


The following titles are reviewed in the February 1 print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

Andrews, Mary Kay. Ladies’ Night. St. Martin’s. Jun. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781250019677. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250019653. F

Brockmole, Jessica. Letters from Skye. Ballantine. Jul. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780345542601. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780345542618. F

OrangeReviewStar Fiction Reviews | May 15, 2013 Bulawayo, NoViolet. We Need New Names. Reagan Arthur: Little, Brown. May 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780316230810. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316230834. F

Burke, Alafair. If You Were Here. Harper: HarperCollins. Jun. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780062208354. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062208378. F

Cabot, Sally. Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. Morrow. May 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780062241924. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062241948. F

Campbell, Aifric. On the Floor. Picador. Jun. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781250028396. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781250028426. F

Daniel, Susanna. Sea Creatures. Harper: HarperCollins. Aug. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062219602. $25.99. F

Extence, Gavin. The Universe Versus Alex Woods. Redhook: Hachette. Jun. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780316246576. $25.99. F

FitzGerald, Gerry. Redemption Mountain. Holt. Jun. 2013. 496p. ISBN 9780805094893. $27. F

French, Dawn. Oh Dear Silvia. Harper: HarperCollins. Jun. 2013. 352p.ISBN 9780062271815. $24.99. F

Gardam, Jane. Last Friends. Europa, dist. by Penguin Group (USA). 2013. 208p. ISBN 9781609450939. pap. $18. F

OrangeReviewStar Fiction Reviews | May 15, 2013 Greenwood, Kerry. Medea. Poisoned Pen. (Delphic Women). Jun. 2013. 250p. ISBN 9781464201431. $24.95; pap.ISBN 9781464201455. $14.95. F

Guinn, Matthew. The Resurrectionist. Norton. Jul. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780393239317. $25.95. F

Guzeman, Tracy. The Gravity of Birds. S. & S. Aug. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781451689761. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451689785. F

McCall Smith, Alexander. Trains and Lovers. Pantheon. Jun. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780307908544. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780307908551. F

MacManus, James. Black Venus. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. May 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781250014238. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250020925. F

Slouka, Mark. Brewster. Norton. Aug. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780393239751. $25.95. F

Thoft, Ingrid. Loyalty. Putnam. Jun. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780399162121. $25.95. F

Thompson, Jean. The Humanity Project. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780399158711. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101611050. F

Zambrano, Mario Alberto. Lotería. HarperCollins: Harper. Jul. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780062268549. $21.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062268563. F

SHORT STORIES

Dermont, Amber. Damage Control. St. Martin’s. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780312642815. $23.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429985246. F

Quatro, Jamie. I Want To Show You More. Grove. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780802120755. $24. F

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