My Picks, May 23, 2011

Harrison, Rashad. Our Man in the Dark. Atria: S. & S. Nov. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9781451625752. $25. LITERARY
Harrison’s debut novel sounds both serious and seriously involving, as it’s based on the true story of a man working for Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) who became an FBI informant shortly before King was assassinated. Feeling unjustly neglected, SCLC bookkeeper John Estem steals money from the till so that he can found his own organization, but then he blows it all. Soon the FBI comes by to suggest that Estem has a duty to report on possible Communist infiltration of SCLC and threatens him with exposure if he doesn’t. A graduate of New York University’s MFA programs, where he was a Jacob K. Javits Fellow, Harrison has racked up a nice bunch of finalist/shortlist honors at various literary venues, so he seems poised for good things. I don’t know where to put this, precisely, with its deep-seated social/ethical concerns and the thriller-like suggestion of FBI manipulation, but I have a good feeling about this book.

Vigan, Delphine de. Underground Time. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Nov. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9781608197125. pap. $15. LITERARY
I wasn’t familiar with Vigan when I came across this book, so I did some digging. Her first work (under a pseudonym) was an autobiographical novel about her struggle as a teenager with anorexia; her recent No et Moi [No and Me] was a multiaward winner in France that sold 100,000 copies and was marketed here to raves as a children’s book, though it had crossover appeal elsewhere. Her current novel, shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt, which is no petits pommes de terre, concerns two lonely people in the big city: Mathilde, miserable at the multinational where she works after her mean boss gets it in for her, and paramedic Thibault, who rescues people all day. Do they connect? Vigan should manage that with delicacy and some emotion. Definitely try this.

Harris, Jana. Horses Never Lie About Love: A True Story. Free Pr: S. & S. Nov. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9781451605846. $24; eISBN 9781451605860. ANIMALS/INSPIRATION
A Pushcart Award‚ winning poet who also writes fiction and essays and founded and edits the longstanding electronic poetry journal Switched-on Gutenberg, Harris always wanted to raise horses. She finally got her wish when she and her husband moved to Washington State. Alas, her first broodmare, True Colors, had been caught in a range fire that had scarred her head, ears, and lungs, and she shied away from people, fences, and anything else she found unpredictably threatening. Then True Colors began to heal, becoming not only a tender mom but leader of the herd, the force that kept all the others horses happy and well behaved. This lovely book tells us not just about the animal-animal bond but the animal-human bond and what we can learn from our four-hoofed friends.

Pearse, Emma. Sophie: The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog. DaCapo Lifelong. Oct. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9780738214672. $25; eISBN 9780738215488. ANIMALS/INSPIRATION
When the Griffiths took their beloved Sophie Tucker sailing near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the three-year-old blue heeler was swept overboard in rough waters and lost, though the Griffiths circled relentlessly in search of her. But Sophie proved to be one tough canine, swimming six miles through shark-thick waters to the remote St. Bees Island. There she lived off baby goats for five months until captured by rangers and returned to the mainland. (The island is uninhabited but has facilities for camping and researchers.) When the Griffiths heard about the castaway dog through a friend, they doubted it could be Sophie but went to meet the ferry bringing her back. The rangers feared that the dog might now be truly feral and unable to adapt to humans, but when Sophie saw the Griffiths, she nearly broke out of her cage with joy. Pearse is an Australian journalist living in New York; her book is a tear-jerker for everyone.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.