Ball, Jesse. Silence Once Begun. Pantheon. Jan. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780307908483. $23.95. LITERARY
A cutting-edge novelist and poet—as the Daily Beast says, he’s “unafraid to muddy the waters with a willful experimentalism”—Paris Review Plimpton Prize winner Ball is here being positioned to break out with a first hardcover. The narrator, a journalist named Jesse Ball, becomes intrigued with the case of a man who refuses to speak—even to stay his own execution—after having acknowledged his responsibility for the disappearance of eight people in a small Japanese town.
Cantor, Jay. Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka. Knopf. Jan. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780385350341. $24.95. LITERARY
MacArthur Fellow Cantor, responsible for such terrific novels as The Death of Che Guevara and Krazy Kat, here offers four sometimes heartbreaking stories featuring individuals connected to Franz Kafka: Kafka’s lover Dora Diamant, bereft when he succumbs to tuberculosis; German Communist Lusk Lask, who subsequently married Dora and vanished into the Gulag; friend and executor Max Brod, distraught over Kafka’s instructions to burn the unpublished stories; and a Nazi concentration camp prisoner whose survival depends on someone who once loved the great master of despair.
Cornwell, Sarah. What I Had Before I Had You. Harper: HarperCollins. Jan. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780062237842. $24.99. LITERARY
In this debut novel by Pushcart Prize winner Cornwell, whose stories have appeared everywhere from the Missouri Review to Zahir, Olivia returns to the Jersey Shore town she left behind at age 15. In tow are adolescent Carrie and nine-year-old Daniel, just diagnosed as bipolar, whose sudden disappearance compels Olivia to recall one exciting summer shattered by her seeing the ghosts of her twin sisters—a vision her wild psychic mother denies. And that sets Olivia on a search for some scary truths. Whoa!
D’Aguiar, Fred. Children of Paradise. Harper: HarperCollins. Jan. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062277329. $25.99. LITERARY
D’Aguiar, raised in Guyana until age 12, crafts a daring novel about Jim Jones’s utopian commune in that country. Alarmed by Jones’s sexual overtures, the commune’s brutal rules, and rehearsals for the looming mass suicide, Joyce determines to escape with young daughter Trina—which she manages with the help of a local boat captain and the commune’s pet gorilla. Not a huge first printing, but as a Whitbread First Novel Award winner (for The Longest Memory) D’Aguiar has the skills to deliver, and the primate-human bond is a powerful and current theme.
Doughty, Louise. The Apple Tree Yard. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. Jan. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780374105679. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374711313. SUSPENSE
A respected geneticist and happily married mother of two, Yvonne Carmichael stands accused of murder, her putative accomplice the gorgeously tailored man who seduced her in a deserted chapel at the House of Parliament and with whom she has conducted a delirious, empowering affair. Except now she realizes that he is not what he seems. Doughty’s Whatever You Love was an Orange Prize nominee and a Costa Book Award shortlisted title, which bodes well for this erotic chiller.
Fu, Kim. For Today I Am a Boy. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780544034723. $23. LITERARY
Fu offers an up-to-the-minute debut novel about second-generation Chinese-Canadian boy Peter Huang and his sisters Adele, Helen, and Bonnie. At birth, Peter was given the Chinese name juan chaun (“powerful king”) and as the only son is expected to fulfill his immigrant father’s big dreams. But he’s convinced that he should be a girl. Fu looks at the cost of not being yourself.
Heivoll, Gaute. Before I Burn. Graywolf. Jan. 2014. 336p. tr. from Norwegian by Don Bartlett. ISBN 9781555976613. $26. LITERARY
In this edgily imaginative novel, a Brage Prize winner and best seller in the author’s native Norway that has sold to 20 countries, an arsonist has systematically destroyed all the homes in a 1970s Norwegian village. Then a child named Gaute Heivoll is christened and grows up hearing stories about what happened, which he repeats to revelatory effect years later at a literary festival in Italy. Remember, this is the press that brought you Per Pettersen’s Out Stealing Horses and Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, both IMPAC Award winners.
Levine, James A. Bingo’s Run. Spiegel & Grau. Jan. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781400068838. $24. LITERARY
As in his well-regarded The Blue Notebook, the heartbreaking story of an Indian girl sold into prostitution, Levine portrays a child oppressed by society’s larger forces. Bingo runs drugs in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, until he witnesses a murder, ends up in an orphanage, and is adopted by an enigmatic American woman, which forces him to work out an ethics of his own. Levine, a Mayo Clinic professor of medicine, works with street children worldwide and based this book on his experiences in Nairobi.
Offill, Jenny. Dept. of Speculation. Knopf. Jan. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9780385350815. $22.95. LITERARY
Offill hit it big when she debuted with Last Things, a Los Angeles Times First Book Award finalist that also got end-of-the-year nods from the New York Times, the Village Voice, and the Guardian. Her second novel, whose protagonist (known only as the Wife) struggles with the small but inevitable crises of a long marriage, was bought in a heated auction involving eight publishers. Great expectations.
Owuor, Yvonne Adhiambo. Dust. Knopf. Jan. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780307961204. $25.95. LITERARY
Caine Prize winner for African fiction, as well as a former director of the Zanzibar International Film Festival and a 2010 TEDx Nairobi speaker, Owuor has the breadth of vision to make this ambitious novel work. The murder of Odidi Oganda in Nairobi reawakens painful memories for his family and sparks numerous events—including his mother’s flight and visits from both a desperate Englishman and a hard-bitten policeman—that take us back to the Mau Mau uprisings against British colonial rule in the 1950s and a political assassination in 1969.
Pastan, Rachel. Alena. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781594632471. $27.95. LITERARY
Pastan, whose previous novels have won Best Book praise from the Montserrat Review, Best Summer Reading praise from Fresh Air and Mojo Mom, and an A- from Entertainment Weekly, seems poised for good things with this new take on Daphne du Marier’s Rebecca. Here, however, our nameless heroine has been named chief curator at the Nauk, an out-there art museum on Cape Cod whose founder is still devastated by the death of the former curator, his childhood friend Alena. Interestingly removed from the original.
Snyder, Rachel Louise. What We’ve Lost Is Nothing. Scribner. Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781476725178. $25. LITERARY
With chic Frank Lloyd Wright homes directly to the west and urban blight directly to the east, the Chicago suburb of Oak Park manages an uneasy existence. Here, on a quiet cul-de-sac of Ilios Lane, high schooler Mary Elizabeth McPherson decides to skip school—on the very day when a series of violent burglaries alter the entire landscape. An NPR contributor and investigative journalist writing her first novel, Snyder should skillfully invoke the larger social issues.