Fiction Previews, Feb. 2013, Pt. 4: Award-Winning Authors Jennifer Haigh, Jamaica Kincaid, Ron Rash, and More

Dee, Jonathan. A Thousand Pardons. Random. Feb. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780812993219. $26; eISBN 9780679645009. LITERARY
A Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009 with Chang-Rae Lee (Jennifer Egan won for A Visit from the Goon Squad), Dee goes au courant with the story of a woman who returns to work after her corporate-lawyer husband loses all following an egregious act at the office. Helen, now in public relations, uncovers a distinctive talent for getting powerful men to apologize for their misdeeds, which comes in handy when a childhood crush now reigning supreme on movie screens everywhere needs her help. Pitched to fans of Egan, Richard Russo, and Jonathan Franzen, this is a novel of family and social responsibility.

Ferrell, Sean. Man in the Empty Suit. Soho. Feb. 2013. NAp. ISBN 9781616951252. $24.95. LITERARY THRILLER
Winner of the Fulton Prize for “Building an Elephant,” Ferrell follows up his first novel, the wackily chilling Numb, with a sort of time-traveling novel of ideas with a bloody twist. Each year, our hero, who has pretty much covered all time in his travels, heads for an empty New York hotel in 2071 to get inebriated while celebrating his 100th birthday with other versions of himself. But when he turns 39, he enters the hotel and stumbles upon his 40-year-old self, murdered—as the chorus of his older selves tell him he had better figure out what happened, or they will all be dead. Highlighted at Day of Dialog 2012’s Editors’ Picks panel.

Ganesan, Indira. As Sweet as Honey. Knopf. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780307960443. $25.95. LITERARY
One of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists Under Forty and the recipient of numerous fellowships (e.g., Bunting Institute, Radcliffe), Ganesan sets her third novel on a luscious island in the Indian Ocean. There, an exceptionally tall, graceful young woman named (surprise) Meterling falls for a short and chubby Englishman, but she is widowed on their wedding day, even as she discovers that she is pregnant. Her efforts to cope and her relentless swing between Eastern and Western ideals are recalled by her niece Mina, now grown. Remember the readers who love all things Asian.

Gavin, Jim. Middlemen. S. & S. Feb. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781451649314. $22; eISBN 9781451649369. SHORT STORIES
Gavin may not be a big name yet, but he likely will be. This Stegner Fellow burst on the scene with that rare event—a story accepted unsolicited by The New Yorker. “Costello” is included in this debut collection, which is gathering big in-house support. I read the first story and was really impressed; the clear-eyed, sinewy writing captures exactly the uncertainties of a high school basketball player who doesn’t quite measure up. Story collections can be a hard sell, but you owe it to your readers to consider this one.

Haigh, Jennifer, News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780060889647. $25.99. lrg. prnt. LITERARY
Haigh won the PEN/Hemingway Award for Mrs. Kimble, as well as the Winship/PEN New England Award for Fiction for Baker Towers. (Her titles have been national best sellers, too.) This new book picks up where Baker Towers left off, painting a portrait of company town Bakerton, PA, from its rise during the world wars to its fall by the end of the century. Actually, it’s less a portrait than a series of miniatures, as the narrative proceeds by linked story; we see the return of a long-lost brother, the revelation of a devastating family secret, the ongoing ups and downs of Baker Towers familiars like Joyce Novak, and more. Look for galley giveaways at ALA Midwinter; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

Kincaid, Jamaica. See Now Then. Farrar. Feb. 2013. 176p. ISBN 9780374180560. $23. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY
Fans of Lannan Literary Award winner Kincaid’s Lucy and Mr. Potter have waited ten years for this novel—and more, because it was originally scheduled for September 2012. Ostensibly, it’s a study of a Mother and a Father living with their two children in small-town New England. In fact, as the characters follow their proscribed routines, their minds work overtime to make sense of past, present, and future. An interior novel, then, that reflective readers will want.

Koch, Herman. The Dinner. Hogarth: Crown. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780770437855. $24. LITERARY
Although Koch has won the prestigious Publieksprijs prize from the Netherlands for this book, it may interest you more to know that it has already sold over a million copies in Europe. Here, two couples meet at a posh restaurant in Amsterdam, but despite the politesse the subject they’ll eventually address isn’t pretty; their teenage sons have been caught on film in a gruesome criminal act that has upended the nation, but they have been recognized only by their parents—so far. Social drama, moral quandary, and, I’m told, a near Grand Guignol feel by the end. Great for book clubs, then.

Rash, Ron. Nothing Gold Can Stay. Ecco: HarperCollins. Feb. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780062202710. $24.99; eISBN 9780062202734. SHORT STORIES
As evidenced by his New York Times best seller, Serena (soon to be a film starring Jennifer Lawrence), as well as this year’s The Cove, also a New York Times best seller and an Amazon Spotlight Pick and Indie Next Pick as well, Rash writes arrestingly, even blazingly, about Appalachia. And as evidenced by his winning the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Story Award and the O. Henry Prize twice, he’s a real master of the short form. So the stories in this collection, set in Appalachia’s haunts and hills, should be required reading. Here, for instance, a convict trying to charm a young farm wife into helping him escape discovers that she’s as much a prisoner as he, but of circumstance. Not the biggest book on this list, but one I’d urge you to get wherever Rash, Southern writing, short stories, or simply good literature is popular.

Sneed, Christine. Little Known Facts, Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781608199587. $25. LITERARY
Sneed’s story collection, Portraits of a Few People I’ve Made Cry, won AWP’s 2009 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, was named the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, and received Ploughshares’s John C. Zacharis Award. So you bet  there’s interest among the cognoscenti in her first novel. Sneed’s protagonist is the legendary actor Renn Ivins, whose onscreen glow has all but swallowed up his ex-wives, his girlfriends, and his two grown children, all little more than a part of his story. A literate Hollywood novel.

Suri, Manil. The City of Devi. Norton. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780393088755. $26.95. LITERARY
PEN/Faulkner finalist for The Death of Vishnu, Suri sets us down in Mumbai, emptied of people on the eve of nuclear annihilation. Avoiding warring gangs of Hindus and Muslims, Sarita desperately treads the empty streets in search of her husband, even as the city’s patron goddess, Devi, lands on the beach to save her own. Lots of promotion, with a six-city author tour to Washington, DC, Baltimore, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, plus lots of reading group outreach. 

Wayne, Teddy. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. Free Pr: S. & S. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781476705859. $24.99; eISBN 9781476705873. LITERARY
Author of Kapitoil, Wayne is the winner of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award and a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, PEN/Bingham Prize, and Dayton Literary Peace Prize, which certainly recommends a look at his new book. With a name like Jonny Valentine, the protagonist sounds like a heartthrob, but he’s only 11, a purveyor of bubblegum pop who is utterly manipulated by his glitz-obsessed mom. And he’s longing to find his dad. A nice little push, with a four-city tour and a reading group guide, for an author who isn’t yet a household name but writes confidently.

Wolf, Christa. City of Angels: or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud. Farrar. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780374269357. $27. LITERARY
A distinguished German author and critic, originally from East Germany and a critic of reunification, Wolf won the first Deutscher Bücherpress (German Book Prize) for lifetime achievement (among many other awards). She died in 2011, and this final novel deals with an unsettling discovery she made while looking through Stasi files after the fall of the Wall. Along with volumes recording her defiance was a slender file showing that she herself had served as an informant in the early 1960s—something she recalled not at all. Autobiographical fiction at its most important.

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.