Barbara’s Picks: October 2012, Pt. 3: Erdrich, Helprin, Lehane, Wolfe, Egan, Gompertz

Erdrich, Louise. The Round House. Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780062065247. $26.99; eISBN 9780062065261. lrg. prnt. LITERARY FICTION
Erdrich continues the trilogy begun with The Plague of Doves‚ not to mention her luscious, long-standing oeuvre‚ with the story of an Ojibwe woman named Geraldine Coutts who is ruthlessly attacked one summer morning in 1988. Because she refuses to speak about the event, instead retreating to her bed, her husband, Bazil, and their 13-year-old son, Joe, try to answer the most basic questions: Was the attacker Indian or white? Did the attack occur on the reservation or on state land (the state being North Dakota)? Frustrated with their ineffectual efforts, Joe rounds up three friends and hunts for the truth himself. Erdrich is such a natural that one almost forgets how good she is; with a 100,000-copy first printing and a seven-city tour to Boston, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Helprin, Mark. In Sunlight and in Shadow. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2012. 720p. ISBN 9780547819235. $28. LITERARY FICTION
Home from the war and basking in the bright lights of 1947 New York, wealthy Harry Copeland encounters heiress and aspiring actress Catherine Thomas Hale on the Staten Island ferry, and a great passion is born. Alas, Catherine is engaged to a much older man, but she and Harry pursue a romance against the backdrop of Broadway theaters and Long Island mansions, with financiers and gangsters among the walk-on players in this grand pageant from the author of A Soldier of the Great War. What I’ve read so far is glorious and golden, truly like reentering another world where another sensibility prevails and even the sunlight and shadow have a different weight; the 100,000-copy first printing seems right.

Lehane, Dennis. Live by Night. Morrow. Oct. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780060004873. $27.99; eISBN 9780062200297. lrg. prnt. CD: Harper Audio. HISTORICAL THRILLER
A New York Times best-selling author with multiple awards to his name, Lehane writes vividly enough to have seen three books turned into movies (e.g., Shutter Island). Not surprisingly, the promotion for his latest, set in Roaring Twenties Boston, Florida, and Cuba, brings up HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Youngest son of an upright Boston police sergeant, Joe Coughlin opts for the dark side, working his way to the top of organized crime as he enjoys the money, the thrills, and the femmes fatales but setting himself up, inevitably, for betrayal and revenge. With a one-day laydown on October 2 and a 400,000-copy first printing; hard not to imagine this one triumphing, as long as readers like Lehane in hot-jazz historical mode.

Wolfe, Tom. Back to Blood. Little, Brown. Oct. 2012. 608p. ISBN 9780316036313. $30; lrg. prnt. CD: Hachette Audio. LITERARY FICTION
About every eight to ten years since the 1987 publication of Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe writes a novel summing up America’s zeitgeist. This wide-lens view of Miami’s Biscayne Bay sounds no different. Here we meet the Cuban mayor and black police chief, the ambitious young journalist (a Wolfe in character’s clothing?) and a light-skinned Creole from Haiti (whose darker brother preens like a gangster), the billionaire porn addict and the artists at the Miami Arts Basel Fair, the spectators at the regatta and the former New Yorkers at an “Active Adult” condo‚ not to mention some suspicious-looking Russians. What are they up to? You must read this book to find out.

Egan, Timothy. Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780618969029. $28. BIOGRAPHY
Curtis was a famed photographer and outdoorsman when in 1900 he became determined to chronicle Native American culture before it vanished entirely. He worked mightily to photograph more than 80 tribes‚ it took six years to persuade the Hopi to let him see their Snake Dance‚ and eventually produced 20 volumes. Even as he became a fierce advocate of the people captured by his lens, his family life and reputation splintered, and he died penniless. (Marianne Wiggins’s exquisite novel, The Shadow Catcher, captures the turmoil of his life and would make a great companion read.) From Egan, a Pulitzer Prize‚ winning journalist and National Book Award winner for The Worst Hard Time; with a 75,000-copy first printing and a ten-city tour to New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Denver, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Portland, and Seattle.

Gompertz, Will. What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of One Hundred Years of Modern Art. Dutton. Oct. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780525952671. $27.95. FINE ARTS
Few of us would have the nerve to do a stand-up show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. But BBC arts editor Gompertz does, appearing there in 2009 and, in a one-man piece called Double Art History, styling himself as a substitute art teacher explaining modern art. That show, a sell-out, bodes well for his new book, which covers the artists, movements, and signal works of modern art while asking some unpretentious questions, e.g., why do we instinctively love or hate it. Former director of Tate Media (as in the wonderful Tate Britain and its wild sister, the Tate Modern) and named one of the world’s top 50 creative thinkers by Creativity magazine, Gompertz apparently has an eye for the telling anecdote. A great art history lesson; New Yorkers, note that he’s bringing his show to you.

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.