Barbara’s Picks, Oct. 2013, Pt. 2: Fiction from Daniel Alarcón, James Franco, Kathleen Kent, David Leavitt, & Valerie Plame

Alarcón, Daniel. At Night We Walk in Circles. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Oct. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781594631719. $27.95. LITERARY
A PEN/Hemingway finalist and one of The New Yorker’s 20 under 40, Alarcón is being primed for a breakout with this second novel. At age eight, as his country descends into civil war, Nelson hears a radio interview with Henry Nuñez, imprisoned for inciting terrorism after the subversive theater troupe Diciembre stages a play of his called The Idiot President. Nelson is inspired to choose a life in the theater, and years later, when the war has ended and he has graduated from conservatory, he wins a role in Diciembre’s revival of the play. As the troupe travels, revealing a landscape ravaged by war, the actors become more intimately involved until a terrible betrayal from the past is revealed. Lost City Radio, a multiple best book nominee, was a breath stopper, so I’m anticipating this book.

Franco, James. Actors Anonymous. New Harvest. Oct. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780544114531. $30. POP FICTION
He’s a famous movie star, but the multidirected Franco got his debut novel published the way many fledgling writers do. One of his professors at Columbia’s M.F.A. program was really taken with it and bought it when he moved to New Harvest, Amazon’s literary imprint. (It may have helped that Franco’s 2010 story collection, Palo Alto, got mixed but encouraging reviews.) Not surprisingly, the novel is about acting—and since acting is an obsession, Franco’s using the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous as a framework seems right. The narrative, which weaves together scripts, memoirs, letters, and testimonials, is dark and quirky, and Franco is willing to be hard on himself in the autobiographical bits. I can’t yet swear by the writing, but you know this work will get attention. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

Kent, Kathleen. The Outcasts. Little, Brown. Oct. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780316206129. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316255998/ISBN9780316206136. CD: Hachette Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Kent’s fearlessly written debut, The Heretic’s Daughter, went through four printings in hardcover and six printings in paperback; I found her follow-up, The Traitor’s Wife, as good a story and as morally tenacious. Both books drew effectively on family history rooted deep in Colonial New England, but here Dallas-based Kent takes us to the 19th-century Gulf Coast. Having escaped from a Texas brothel, Lucinda Carter hunts for her lover, who’s rather fecklessly planning to secure their future by digging up buried treasure. Meanwhile, Texas policeman Nate Cannon is tracking a particularly vicious killer named McGill. You can imagine what happens next. As historically grounded and perhaps more explosive than her first works, this new offering should be great for book clubs, which have always favored Kent. With a five-city tour to Houston, Dallas, Austin, New Orleans, and Jackson, MS.

Leavitt, David. The Two Hotel Francforts. Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Oct. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781596910423. $26. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
It’s good to welcome back Leavitt, last seen in 2007 with The Indian Clerk, a PEN/Faulkner finalist and IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlisted title. Set in 1940 Lisbon, when the city was the only neutral port remaining in Europe, his new book brings together two couples seeking safe passage to New York on the SS Manhattan. Expatriate Americans Pete and Julia Winters are escaping Paris—not surprisingly, as Julia is Jewish—while Edward and Iris Freleng are wealthy bohemians. Even as they reckon with world events, all four characters get tangled up emotionally in life-changing ways—for one thing, Pete and Edward have an affair. Okay, you’re thinking Casablanca, but Leavitt will do something different.

Plame, Valerie & Sarah Lovett. Blowback: A Vanessa Pierson Novel. Blue Rider Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Oct. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780399158209. $26.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. THRILLER
Plame’s career as a CIA operative was demolished after George W. Bush’s White House blew her cover, but that hasn’t kept her from using what she knows to write first a New York Times best-selling memoir, Fair Game, and now a contemporary international thriller. (Coauthor Lovett has done nicely with five previous works starring forensic psychologist Dr. Sylvia Strange.) Here, undercover CIA agent Vanessa Pierson is determined to discover who’s in charge of building a nuclear weapon in Iran—and how the identities of several of her sources have been unearthed, ending in their assassination. And that leads her to Bhoot, a dark and dangerous dealer in black-market weapons of mass destruction. The action moves from Washington, DC, to Vienna, Prague, and Tehran, which should keep readers on their toes. So many thrillers, so hard to pick the best, but this one is certainly newsworthy; with a tour to Washington, DC, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Fe.

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.


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