Fiction Previews, Aug. 2013, Pt. 1: Beach Reading for the Smart Set; Cooke, Daniel, Yarbrough, and More

Barlow, Toby. Babayaga. Farrar. Aug. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780374107871. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374709594. LITERARY
Remember Sharp Teeth, a sexy, scary horror/thriller mash-up about feral dogs in Los Angeles that was written in verse? Barlow returns with something equally eye-popping: the story of callow Will, an American adman in 1959 Paris whose agency is a CIA front; equally callow Oliver, eager to start a literary journal and manipulated by powers back in Washington; beautiful witches Zoya and Elga, around for hundreds of years; Inspector Vidot, hot on the trail of a vicious killer when he’s turned into a flea; plus LSD, buried rifles, and jazz. A wacky but ultimately thoughtful novel that is making the tweets and blogs sing.

Bock, Dennis. Going Home Again. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781400044634. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385349697. LITERARY/FAMILY LIFE
Canadian author Bock, who launched his career by revisiting Hiroshima in the award-winning The Ash Garden, then followed nicely if not smashingly with The Communist’s Daughter, here goes contemporary with the story of a man finally determining what’s really important. Charlie Bellerose, who’s wandered the world setting up language academies, separates from his wife, then returns to Toronto and reconnects with his brother. But he realizes that it’s the 12-year-old daughter he rarely sees who matters. A lead title in Canada; try it.

Boswell, Robert. Tumbledown. Graywolf. Aug. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9781555976491. $26. LITERARY
PEN West Award winner Boswell follows up his splendidly reviewed story collection, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, with a novel whose hapless hero watches his perfect life tumble down. James Candler’s career is soaring at Onyx Springs, the treatment facility where he’s a therapist. But he’s put the wrong friend in charge of an important program, he’s attracted to someone who’s not his fiancée, and he can’t meet his mortgage payments. Can this situation be saved? It only sounds pulpy; this is absorbing tale of modern chaos steeped in moral issues.

Cooke, Carolyn. Amor and Psycho: Stories. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9780307594747. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307962133. SHORT STORIES
Cooke, who won acclaim for her debut novel, The Daughters of the Revolution (e.g., best book accolades from the San Francisco Chronicle and New York magazine), also excels in the short form; her previous collection, The Bostons, garnered the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. The characters here include friends dealing with cancer and suicide, a hopeful writer spinning sexual fantasies for a rich man, and a husband building a doghouse for his wife as she slowly goes canine. With a reading group guide.

Daniel, Susanna. Sea Creatures. Harper: HarperCollins. Aug. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062219602. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062219626. LITERARY
With her business a shambles, her husband out of his job at Northwestern, and toddler Frankie suddenly tongue-tied, Georgia decides they should start anew in her hometown, Miami. Graham gets promising work, and Georgia starts assisting a local artist whose presence inspires Frankie to speak again. But then the reason behind his silence emerges. Daniel’s Stiltsville was a cult favorite that won the PEN/Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and was chosen as a Barnes and Noble Discover title, so pay attention; the 25,000-copy first printing seems kind of small.

Guzeman, Tracy. The Gravity of Birds. S. & S. 304p. ISBN 9781451689761 $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451689785. LITERARY
Celebrated painter Thomas Bayber asks art historian Dennis Finch and oddball art authenticator Stephen Jameson to sell a painting called The Kessler Sisters that he’s kept under wraps for over 40 years. It’s a rather saucy canvas of Bayber with Alice and Natalie Kessler, and he first wants Finch to locate the sisters, who seem to have vanished. This debut saw some auction action and has a 50,000-copy first printing, so watch closely.

Maher, Kevin. The Fields. Little, Brown. Aug. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780316223560. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316223577/9780316249027. LITERARY
Born in South Dublin and now working as a journalist in London, Maher is stirring interest on both sides of the Atlantic with his first novel. Drawing comparisons to Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha and Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies, it follows the travails of 14-year-old Jim Finnegan, who must contend with the argumentative family even as he falls for an appealing older girl. But a local priest falls for her, too, and Jim ends up the victim of the priest’s abuse. Not the hugest printing but possibly the little debut that could.

Maksik, Alexander. A Marker To Measure Drift. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780307962577. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307962584. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY
Maksik made his mark with You Deserve Nothing, a trade paperback original that sold 20,000 copies. Now there’s in-house excitement about his new work, featuring a Liberian woman named Jacqueline, who’s escaped untold horrors and is trying to forget them while living homeless on a Greek island somewhere in the Aegean. Intense reading; with a multicity tour, a reading group guide, and library marketing.

Orner, Peter. Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge. Little, Brown. Aug. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780316224642. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316224635. SHORT STORIES
Orner, whose recent novel, Love and Shame and Love, was well received, returns to the short form he handled so well in The Esther Stories, a Rome Prize winner and a PEN/Hemingway and New York Public Library Young Lions Award finalist. The publisher will in fact reissue that book shortly. Meanwhile, Orner offers telling little vignettes—a woman whose husband dies before their divorce is final, a father and daughter trying to outdistance a hurricane—that should please fans of astute literature. Look for a New York–San Francisco–Chicago tour.

Slouka, Mark. Brewster. Norton. Aug. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780393239751. $25.95. LITERARY
In 1968, 16-year-old Jon Mosher copes with guilt over his brother’s death by running. Then he meets Ray Cappicciano, who’s famously fast with his fists, and the two rescue each other through friendship. Slouka has done nicely in the past—Lost Lake was a New York Times Notable Book—but in-house enthusiasm recommends this one especially.

Spalding, Linda. The Purchase. Pantheon. Aug. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780307908414. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908421. LITERARY/FAMILY SAGA
Recent winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award, this novel is in fact set in early 1800s America; Spalding lives in Toronto, where she edits Brick magazine, but was born in Kansas and drew on family history to write this story. When the recently widowed Daniel Dickinson marries his servant girl to help with his young children, he’s shunned by his fellow Quakers and must move the family from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier. There he does something that offends his beliefs: he purchases a young black slave. Moral quandary and vivid historical detail; with a reading group guide.

Yarbrough, Steve. The Realm of Last Chances. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780385349505. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385349512. LITERARY/FAMILY LIFE
Yarbrough is much loved by readers in the know and has had some nice critical acknowledgement; he was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner award and has received the Mississippi Authors Award, among other honors. Perhaps a change in direction—Yarbrough here departs from his standard Deep South setting—will call in a larger audience. Fiftyish Kristin Stevens takes a position at a university in the Northeast after losing her job at a more prestigious institution in California. Immediately, she is caught up in academic politics while growing distant from her stay-at-home husband. Real midlife problems; with a reading group guide.

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.