Doctorow, E.L. Andrew’s Brain. Random. Jan. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9781400068814. $26; ekb. ISBN 9780812995046. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
We’re used to thinking of Ragtime’s towering author as painting a big, broad canvas for us, but his latest novel works a little differently. It focuses in tightly, giving us the conversation of a protagonist named Andrew with an unknown other in an unknown place, which allows Andrew to deliver not so much a sense of his life as the life of his mind as he reconsiders his hopes, his dreams, and his wrong turnings. A deeply intimate novel, then, reflecting on memory, identity, and how we perceive the world.
Grimes, Martha. The Way of All Fish. Scribner. Jan. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781476723952. $26.99. POP FICTION
Famed for her 22 Richard Jury mysteries, 2012 Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster goes entertainingly wonky with this sequel to her best-selling Foul Matter. Hitmen Candy and Karl, whom you’ll remember from Foul Matter, have been asked to take out literary agent L. Bass Hess but are reluctant to do so until they learn that he is suing author Cindy Sella for a commission on her previous novel, though she’d fired him before it was published. Then they think up clever ways to get him out of town. Insider publishing stuff delivered with acidulous wit.
Horan, Nancy. Under the Wide and Starry Sky. Ballantine. Jan. 2014. 496p. ISBN 9780345516534. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345516534. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
Horan’s second novel is widely anticipated, as her debut, the lovely Loving Frank, has sold nearly a million copies and received exceptional reviews. Once more, Horan depicts a rule-breaking relationship, that of Robert Louis Stevenson and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, who became his wife. They met in France in 1875, having both fled suffocating family situations—Fanny a cheating husband and Robert the expectation that he become a lawyer—and Horan should ably capture their wide and starry love.
Lee, Chang-rae. On Such a Full Sea. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781594486104. $27.95. LITERARY FICTION
From his PEN/Hemingway Award winner Native Speaker to his Pulitzer Prize finalist The Surrendered, Lee has written resoundingly of the immigrant experience and of the complexities of 20th-century history. Here he does something strikingly different, envisioning a futuristic dystopian America with rigid class divisions and walled-in labor communities whose inhabitants have descended from Chinese brought over from their environmentally devastated homeland. Among them is fish-tank diver Fan (the laborers deliver fresh food to the small, elite encampments outside their communities), who sets out for the great beyond when the man she love suddenly vanishes.