Fiction Previews, Sept. 2013, Pt. 5: Essential Reading Beyond the Commercial Blockbusters: Baker, Horn, Perrotta, & More

Baker, Nicholson. Traveling Sprinkler. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). Sept. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780399160967. $26.95. LITERARY
Baker’s The Anthologist, in which Paul Chowder tries valiantly to get started on a collection of formal verse, won best-book nods from a half-dozen venues. This new novel again features the hapless Chowder, here eager to jump-start his life by writing a pop song or a protest song or, ideally, both at once. Baker’s challenging narratives are still best sellers.

Brown, Carrie. The Last First Day. Pantheon. Sept. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780307908032. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908032. LITERARY
Honored with a Discover Great New Writers Award for her first novel, Rose’s Garden, Brown here writes a novel about the autumnal years. Orphaned as a child, Ruth marries accomplished, morally upright Peter, and together they pour their love, energy, and money into the school for boys that Peter famously heads for decades. Now that he is approaching retirement, the childless couple must plan for “the last first day”—and all the days that follow. Excellent for book clubs and relevant to a big chunk of the reading populace.

Doig, Ivan. Sweet Thunder. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Sept. 2013. NAp. ISBN 9781594487347. $27.95. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
I’m cheating a bit, since this wrap-up to the Morrie Morgan trilogy, begun with The Whistling Season and continued with Work Song, has a late August on-sale date. But news of the book just surfaced (it actually catalogs in the fall). In 1920s Butte, MT, Morrie becomes chief editorialist for the newly hatched Butte Thunder, which is taking on the powerful Anaconda Company. Septuagenarian Doig has been writing admired books for decades but lately seems to be breaking out, with mentions in New York and V Magazine and activity on the New York Times best sellers lists. Great expectations for this work, somewhat autobiographical as Doig has worked on newspapers himself.

Dolnick, Ben. At the Bottom of Everything. Pantheon. Sept. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780307907981. $24.95. ebk. ISBN 9780307907998. LITERARY
Dolnick offered two coming-of-age novels, Zoology and You Know Who You Are, as he was coming of age himself. They were nicely received (The New Yorker thought he had some growing to do but praised his light touch in Zoology). This is his hardcover breakout—and the chance to prove that he has grown. Adam has long since split from former best friend Thomas and is working as a tutor by day while sleeping with a student’s mom by night when he receives a plea for help from Thomas’s mother. Soon he’s on a voyage through mental illness, spiritual regeneration, and India.

Horn, Dara. A Guide for the Perplexed. Norton. Sept. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780393064896. $25.95. LITERARY
What do computerized data storage, sibling rivalry, the Book of Ruth, and Egyptian uncertainty after the Arab Spring have in common? They’re all part of this latest work about two crucial aspects of being human: the ability to remember and to love. Horn has already proven herself by being named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists and winning two National Jewish Book Awards. A sure bet.

Perrotta, Tom. Nine Inches: Stories. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781250034700. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250034694. CD: Macmillan Audio. SHORT STORIES
The 12 stories in this first collection by New York Times best-selling author Perrotta range from “Senior Season” to “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face,” the Boston Book Festival’s first One City, One Story selection. But they generally partake of Perrotta’s familiar theme: the craziness of family life in the suburbs. Look for a national tour.

Searles, John. Help for the Haunted. Morrow. Sept. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780060779634. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062199430. LITERARY THRILLER
One cold winter’s night, Sylvie Mason’s parents leave her in the car as they enter an isolated old church, clearly on a mission; their job is to help “haunted souls” find some measure of peace. Shortly thereafter, gunshots sound, and Sylvie is left an orphan in the care of an older sister who might be implicated in their parents’ death. Editor-at-Large at Cosmopolitan, Searles is the author of Boy Still Missing and Strange but True, both national best sellers and both optioned for film. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

Vian, Boris. Mood Indigo. Farrar. Sept. 2013. tr. from French by Stanley Chapman. 224p. ISBN 9780374534226. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780374710873. LITERARY
A man of many talents—he was an author, actor, engineer, jazz musician, and more who belonged to Sartre’s circle of friends, translated Raymond Chandler, and championed Duke Ellington (note the title)—Vian died young and is best remembered today for his novels. This love story, a modern French classic that came in tenth on Le Monde’s recent list of the 100 Books of the Century, has been translated before. But this fresh rendering by Chapman—just deceased and himself a polymath involved in architecture, theater, and writing, all on the experimental edge—comes just in time for a big new movie directed by Michel Gondry and starring Audrey Tautou.

Watson, Larry. Let Him Go. Milkweed, dist. by PGW. Sept. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781571311023. $24. LITERARY
Watson came on the scene two decades ago with the fiercely lyric, fiercely ethical Montana 1948, a Milkweed National Fiction Prize winner that won attention nationwide and sold 250,000 copies. His new work sounds of a piece. In early 1950s Dalton, ND, George and Margaret Blackledge are mourning the death of their adult son (thrown from a horse) when his widow, Lorna, gets remarried to Donnie Weboy and relocates to Bentrock, MT. Of course, she’s taken little Jimmy with her, and Margaret insists that she and George travel to Bentrock, hoping to persuade Lorna to return to Dalton because they miss their grandson. That means a fight with all the Weboys. A book I’m especially anticipating; with a five-city tour to Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, and St. Paul.

Woodrell, Daniel. The Maid’s Version. Little, Brown. Sept. 2013. 176p. ISBN 9780316205856. $25. CD: Hachette Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Woodrell’s first novel since 2006’s chillingly exact Winter’s Bone, made into the film starring Jennifer Lawrence, was inspired by a 1928 dance-hall explosion in his hometown that took 28 lives and left many others injured. The explosion reverberated for generations; Woodrell heard about it from his grandmother, maid to a family that included someone rumored to be responsible for the incident. Historical in content and lyrical in style, with some fracturing of chronology, this book represents a deepening of Woodrell’s art. Don’t miss.


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.