Barbara's Picks, March 2012, Pt. 2: Lauren Groff's Arcadia, Anthony Shadid's House of Stone, and More

Ashworth, Jenn. Cold Light. Morrow. Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780062076038. pap. $14.99; eISBN 9780062076045. THRILLER
Ten years after teenagers Chloe and Carl died in a Valentine’s Day suicide pact, the ground is finally being broken for their memorial‚ and another body is found. Only Chloe’s friend Lola, who narrates, knows what really happened. Ashworth’s A Kind of Intimacy won a Betty Trask Award, given to under-35 first novelists in the (British) Commonwealth; this second novel, by all accounts twisty and chilling, is being compared to works by Tana French and Kate Atkinson. With a 100,000-copy first printing‚ clearly, there are great expectations‚ and a paperback format, increasingly common for reaching the broadest possible market. I have a good feeling about this one for all you genre readers.

Groff, Lauren. Arcadia. Hyperion. Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781401340872. $25.95. LITERARY
A Sixties commune going to seed, its utopian dream foundering, and a boy born there who must eventually rough it in the real world. That story has been told before, but a quick glance persuades me that Groff has made it wholly hers. Refusing to deck out her narrative in period tie-dye, Groff uses language at once nuanced, pointed, and gorgeous to vivify her setting‚ a tumble-down mansion in western New York called Arcadia House‚ and the trials of her protagonist. They can wound, stories, they can blister: that’s as true here as it was in Groff’s masterly debut, The Monsters of Templeton. But Groff is no gleeful monster here; dreams do die, but she doesn’t slay them meanly. Ambrosia for books clubs; consider multiples.

DeSanti, Carole. The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2012. 432p. ISBN 9780547553092. $26. HISTORICAL
Penguin editor DeSanti is famed for discovering and promoting topnotch women authors, among them Dorothy Allison and Tracy Chevalier, which suggests the kind of writing you’ll find in this first novel. During France’s Second Empire (1852‚ 71), Eugénie R. follows her beloved to Paris and soon finds herself deserted and pregnant. Forced to become a streetwalker and, eventually, to abandon the daughter to whom she gives birth, Eugénie falls in love with a woman yet meets her old lover as the Prussian army prepares to lay siege to the city during the Franco-Prussian War. Expect lush yet polished language from someone who’s already a pro.

Benfey, Christopher. Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781594203268. $25.95. MEMOIR/ART
Literary critic/author Benfey’s mother traces her lineage back to colonial craftsmen steeped in Quaker radicalism and, more recently, to brick-making artisans in rural North Carolina. His father fled Nazi-occupired Europe with his uncle and aunt, Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers, who found shelter at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, a radical experiment in arts education that under Josef’s direction produced the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Charles Olson. Benfey looks at his family to tell the larger story of America art‚ exactly the sort of far-reaching memoir I think works best. Really fascinated by this one.

Busch, Benjamin. Dust to Dust: A Memoir. Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9780062014849. $25.99. MEMOIR
From a charmed childhood as the son of novelist Frederick Busch, to two medal-strewn tours of duty as a marine in Iraq, to work as an actor who played a cop on The Wire, Busch has a life story richer than most. This memoir, with chapters framed by basics like water and metal, blood and bone, considers how we don’t put away childish things, keeping our younger selves with us always. At first glance literate and meditative, this work will benefit from some publicity muscle‚ note the 75,000-copy first printing‚ and I’m rooting for it.

Corn, David. Showdown: Inside the Obama White House. Morrow. Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780062107992. $26.99. lrg. prnt; eISBN 9780062108012. CURRENT EVENTS
Intractable unemployment, debt-ceiling battles, a near-shutdown of the government, revolution in the Middle East, two slippery wars, and falling approval ratings‚ 2011 has been tough on President Obama. Corn, who’s Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, an analyst for MSNBC and NBC News, and author or coauthor of a couple of New York Times best sellers (e.g., Hubris), seems well placed to evaluate how the year treated a pragmatic, center-liberal President who once inspired hope but is now getting whacked from Left and Right. No, Corn hasn’t talked to Obama himself (so far), but he’s had access to many senior-level officials in the administration. Out just as the primaries heat up and important for anyone interested in U.S. politics; with a 100,000-copy first printing.

Gessen, Masha. The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781594488429. $27.95. BIOGRAPHY/CURRENT EVENTS
Born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Russia, Gessen moved to the United States as a teenager but has since returned to Moscow, where she edits the magazine Snob while continuing to contribute to U.S. publications like Vanity Fair and Slate. She’s also written a handful of well-received books, mostly on Russian topics. All of which puts her in the perfect position to write rigorously about the rise to power of Vladimir Putin, a faceless former secret police chief who has since gutted both the independent media and the electoral process and delivered opponents to exile or death. Despite news reports, Putin doesn’t have quite the notorietyin the West he deserves; Gessen should push him to the forefront.

Shadid, Anthony. House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780547134666. $26. MEMOIR/CURRENT EVENTS
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Shadid, also author of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner Night Draws Near, was among four New York Times reporters covering the insurrection in Libya last spring who were captured and held for six days by forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi. After being released, Shadid returned to an estate built by his great-grandfather in Lebanon that he had been working for two years to restore. His stay there led to this meditation on past and present, the Middle East’s former grandeur and his family’s flight from Lebanon and resettlement in Oklahoma, current violence in the region and the profound need for home. A memoir in which the personal meets the political‚ and Shadid has already demonstrated that he has the ability to deliver.

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.