Kang, Han. The Vegetarian. Hogarth: Crown. Feb. 2016. 192p. ISBN 9780553448184. $21; ebk. ISBN 9780553448191. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY
Highly regarded internationally, an award winner in her native South Korea, and a former student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Kang is breaking out with this tale of surprising subversion. Haunted by images from a terrible nightmare, Yeong-hye makes the decision to stop eating meat—which might not sound so radical, but in her strait-laced society it turns out to be positively scandalous. Thus do her vegetarian ways end up changing her life—and, ultimately, her. The book reached the second spot on the London Evening Standard‘s best sellers list, and rights have been sold to nearly a dozen countries. Not a huge first printing, but any book described as A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife meets Herman Koch’s The Dinner should be heeded.
Nesbø, Jo. Midnight Sun. Knopf. Feb. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780385354202. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780804172585. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. THRILLER
Nesbø here departs from his celebrated Harry Hole series, but no matter; this brief, intensely fable-like account of a golden-hearted hit man is a sequel to the New York Times best-selling Blood on Snow, which attracted not only an LJ star but movie interest; Leonardo DiCaprio is working with Warner Bros. to adapt it for the big screen. Calling himself Ulf, our antihero arrives in a small Norwegian town above the Arctic Circle and is welcomed without intrusive questioning from the insular townsfolk. Actually, Ulf is on the run from the Fisherman, a particularly vicious Oslo drug lord for whom he once acted as fixer. Now, after a single act of mercy, he’s the one who must watch his back.
Smith, Katy Simpson. Free Men. Harper. Feb. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780062407597. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062407603. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Smith debuted last year with The Story of Land and Sea, a quietly affecting unfolding of love, loss, and death at the time of the American Revolution. If that book could be described as a beautiful murmur, this book is a shout, sharply written and more urgent. In the late 1700s American South, the escaped slave Bob meets up with a tough, troubled white man named Cat, as well as Istillicha, a Creek (Muskogee) Indian honor bound to seek some sort of redress after losing his bid for leadership of his town. Together they commit a terrible crime, and the chief of the Creeks sends loyal Frenchman Le Clerc after them. Le Clerc, a sort of early anthropologist who’s long been welcome in the Creek town, is as interested in understanding how these three very different men joined forces as he is in seeking justice. Based on a true story and getting significant in-house love; with a 40,000-copy first printing.
Welsh, Irvine. A Decent Ride. Doubleday. Feb. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780385540896. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385540902. Downloadable: Random Audio. SATIRE
Wildly popular not just for Trainspotting, cult figure Welsh has sold 400,000 copies of his books in this country since 1994 and now lives in Chicago; maybe he needed a break from Edinburgh’s dragging-on-the-ground underbelly, as famously depicted in his raucous, raunchy novels. Resurrected from Glue, brazen, hustling, drug-dealing porn star Terry “Juice” Lawson encounters some interesting challenges as he steers his cab through Edinburgh’s streets: What should he do about missing beauty Jinty Magdalen? Can he keep her unworldly lover, Wee Jonty, from prison? What’s shady American businessman and reality-TV star Ronald Checker out to get? And how is Juice going to manage with his sexuality dented by an awful event? Billed as Welsh’s funniest, filthiest novel yet, so be prepared.
Wink, Callan. Dog Run Moon: Stories. Dial. Feb. 2016. 272p. ISBN 9780812993776. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812993783. SHORT STORIES
It’s not every newbie writer who sells two stories to The New Yorker, as Wink did with both “Dog Run Moon” and “Breatharians,” the latter eventually selected by Elizabeth Strout for The Best American Short Stories. Granta published two of the pieces as well, and the four remaining titles are fresh stuff. Based in Montana, Wink serves as a fly-fishing guide on the Yellowstone river, and the American West echoes in his stories: a high school janitor spars angrily with her former stepson over land and cattle, and a Wild West reenactor maintains an enduring affair with the Indian woman who “kills” him on the battlefield each year. Also echoing throughout: the kind of relationship and familial strife that happens everywhere. Wink got another vote of confidence when he was chosen to be a Stegner Fellow at Stanford from 2015 to 2017, though fly fishers should be assured that he’ll be working the river during the summer.