Fiction Reviews, February 15, 2012

starred review star De Robertis, Carolina. Perla. Knopf. Mar. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9780307599599. $25.95. F

While house-sitting for her well-to-do parents, Buenos Aires college student Perla Correa is confronted by a strange intruder. Having recently ended a serious relationship with Gabriel when his well- intentioned prying into her family background became threatening, Perla is now forced to examine the role her father, a high-ranking military officer, played in Argentina’s horrific state-sponsored terror of the 1970s‚ 80s, as well as her mother’s complicity. Perla’s journey intersects with the fate of thousands of the disappeared (los desaparecidos) as she pores over the clues to her family’s past and realizes the way to her own future. A translator, short fiction writer, and novelist‚ her debut, The Invisible Mountain, was an international best seller‚ De Robertis skillfully weaves a lyrical voice around her characters that treats victims, perpetrators, and bystanders with the same care and honesty. The result is a powerfully humanizing effort that examines a nation struggling with a very dark, recent past. VERDICT Highly recommended for all fiction enthusiasts, particularly those interested in Latin and South American issues; read with works like Marie Arana’s Cellophane and Laura Restrepo’s Delirium and No Place for Heroes. [See Prepub Alert, 9/11/11.]‚ Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll.‚ Northeast, TX

starred review star Flanery, Patrick. Absolution. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2012. c.400p. ISBN 9781594488177. $26.95. F

Truth, reconciliation, and forgiveness are just a few of the complicated themes explored in this sophisticated debut novel about pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. Sam Leroux arrives in Cape Town to interview renowned author Clare Wald for an authorized biography. The two circle each other like nervous cats, each withholding pertinent information about when and where their paths have crossed. At the center of this mystery is Clare’s daughter, Laura, a political activist who disappeared years earlier while working with Sam’s parents to bring down the apartheid regime. But after Sam’s parents are killed in a bombing gone awry, Laura’s loyalties are questioned even as she reluctantly becomes involved in finding a safe home for the orphaned Sam. Emblematic of the troubled country they inhabit, Clare, Sam, and Laura represent the difficulty of reconciling past with present and forgiving the unforgiveable. VERDICT This remarkably assured, atmospheric novel perfectly reflects the tenuous trust being forged among South Africans as they look to the future. The London-based Flanery, whose books have been sold to several countries, has already been called the next J.M. Coetzee; order accordingly. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/11.]‚ Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL

starred review star Palmer, Liza. More Like Her. Morrow. Apr. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780062007469. pap. $14.99. F

Frannie Reid is a thirtysomething speech therapist at a private school in Los Angeles, where her biggest problems include seeing her ex-boyfriend‚ a coworker‚ each day, dealing with a new boss, and deflecting her best friend Jill’s constant matchmaking efforts. Frannie’s bad luck with men continues as she stumbles into a relationship with Sam, an architect working on a team renovating the school. As the fall semester progresses, though, she and the new headmistress, Emma Graham, are forging a friendship, and things with Sam are heating up. The funny, sharp tale takes a dark turn when Emma’s husband arrives at the school armed with handguns. What would have been a perfectly enjoyable chick lit novel is transformed as Palmer (Conversations with the Fat Girl; A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents) deftly shows the characters dealing with the aftermath of the shooting while navigating their continuing relationships and work issues. VERDICT The blend of humor and sadness is realistic and gripping, and watching Frannie figure out who she is and what matters is gratifying. This will appeal to those who enjoy Jodi Picoult along with chick lit fans willing to read something a little darker. Recommended.‚ Beth Blakesley, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman

starred review star Englander, Nathan. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories. Knopf. Feb. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9780307958709. $24.95. F

Much like his previous work, this newest collection of short stories from Englander (The Ministry of Special Cases) continues to explore the complexity of Jewish identity through the diasporic experience. An homage to the Raymond Carver short story titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the first story in this collection features both a secular and an ultra-Orthodox couple discussing the tenants of Judaism under a haze of alcohol and marijuana. The characters in this story oscillate between serious intellectual debate and comical tangents that lead to serious questions, setting the tone for the rest of the collection. Introspective, self-divided, and self-ironical characters recur often in Englander’s stories, cutting the heaviness of the darker themes of loss and violence that permeate the narrative. Though many of the stories appear didactic in intention, a man lured into a peepshow is given a performance by his wife, former rabbis, and psychiatrists, Englander suspends the moralizing attitude, passively presenting thinly veiled parables to the reader as open-ended questions. VERDICT A wonderful collection of short stories that will appeal to fans of Etgar Keret and Jonathan Safran Foer.‚ Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

The following titles are reviewed in the February 15 print issue. Visit our Reviews Center (Beta) for the full reviews.

Archer, Jeffrey. The Sins of the Father. St. Martin’s. (Clifton Chronicles). Apr. 2012. c.400p. ISBN 9781250000972. $27.99. F

Begley, Louis. Schmidt Steps Back. Knopf. Mar. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780307700650. $25.95. F

Bernard, April. Miss Fuller. Steerforth, dist. by Random. Apr. 2012. c.192p. ISBN 9781586421953. pap. $14.99. F

Boyd, William. Waiting for Sunrise.Harper: HarperCollins. Apr. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9780061876769. $25.99. F

Epperson, Tom. Sailor. Forge: Tor. Mar. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780765328922. $24.99. F

Goldstein, Meredith. The Singles. Plume: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9780452298057. pap. $15. F

Gupta, Sanjay, M.D. Monday Mornings. Grand Central. Mar. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780446583855. $24.99. F

Harrison, Kathryn. Enchantments. Random. Mar. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781400063475. $27. F

Heller, Ted. Pocket Kings. Algonquin. Mar. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9781565126206. pap. $13.95. F

Iyer, Lars. Dogma. Melville House. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9781612190464. pap. 14.95. F

Kondor, Vilmos. Budapest Noir. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. c.304p. tr. from Hungarian by Paul Olchváry. ISBN 9780061859397. pap. $14.99. F

Lispector, Clarice. The Hour of the Star. New Directions, dist. by Norton. 2011. 82p. tr. from Portuguese by Benjamin Moser. illus. ISBN 9780811219495. pap. $12.95. F

McCarthy, Tom. Men in Space. Vintage: Random. Feb. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780307388223. pap. $15. F

Miller, Kei. The Last Warner Woman. Coffee House, dist. by Consortium. Apr. 2012. c.270p. ISBN 9781566892957. pap. $16. F

Nakamura, Fuminori. The Thief. Soho Crime. Mar. 2012. c.224p. tr. from Japanese by Satoko Izumo & Stephen Coates. ISBN 9781616950217. $23. F

Olmstead, Robert. The Coldest Night. Algonquin. Apr. 2012. c.304p.ISBN 9781616200435. $22.95. F

Redmond, Pamela. The Possibility of You. Gallery: S. & S. Feb. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9781451616422. pap. $15. F

Vizenor, Gerald. Chair of Tears. Univ. of Nebraska. Mar. 2012. c.152p. ISBN 9780803238404. pap. $16.95. F

Wilson, Susan. The Dog Who Danced. St. Martin’s. Mar. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780312674991. $24.99. F

Zimmerman, David. Caring Is Creepy. Soho, dist. by Consortium. Apr. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781569479773. pap. $15. F

Short stories

Skibsrud, Johanna. This Will Be Difficult To Explain: And Other Stories. Norton. Apr. 2012. c.240p. ISBN 9780393073751. $23.95. F

Straub, Emma. Other People We Married: Stories. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9781594486067. pap. $15. F

von Schirach, Ferdinand. Guilt. Knopf. Feb. 2012. c.160p. tr. from German by Carol Brown Janeway. ISBN 9780307599490. $24. F


Westlake, Donald E. The Comedy Is Finished. Hard Case Crime: Titan. Feb. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780857684080. $25.99. M

Winspear, Jacqueline. Elegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs Novel. Harper: HarperCollins. Mar. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780062049575. $25.99. M