Fiction Reviews | October 1, 2013

redstar Doyle, Roddy. The Guts. Viking. Jan. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780670016433. $27.95. F

It’s rare to read about a man’s midlife crisis, complete with a stalled career, bowel cancer, and an extramarital affair, and burst out laughing. Yet acclaimed Irish author Doyle (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha) pulls it off with his trademark running dialog replete with Irish obscenities and sly musical references. Readers may remember Jimmy Rabbitte from Doyle’s first novel, The Commitments. Now a music promoter reviving old bands at ­, Jimmy is your average bloke trying to pay his bills, raise his kids, and come to terms with his own mortality, all while struggling with text messaging and other modern tribulations. When Jimmy and some lads, including his estranged brother Les and former Commitments guitarist Liam “Outspan” Foster, take in an outdoor music festival (think: Irish Woodstock), hilarity ensues. There are plenty of poignant moments among the laughs, too. VERDICT Sensitive readers may not get past the foul language, which is a shame, and even Anglophiles may need to read sections aloud to decipher the Irish slang, but this work is too good to miss. Grand! [See Prepub Alert, 7/8/13.]—Christine Perkins, ­Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA

redstar Singh, Jaspreet. Helium. Bloomsbury. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781608199563. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781620401187. F

Singh’s second novel (after Chef) recounts Cornell professor Raj’s obsessive search for the truth behind the murder of his own college professor and mentor during anti-Sikh riots across India in 1984. Years later, when Raj returns to India to visit his ailing father, he is driven to seek out Nelly, his professor’s widow and an archivist. Nelly has secretly documented the events in defiance of widespread denial about the killings and official incitement from Indian police and the Congress party. Raj suspects, and later confirms, that his father, a retired police official, played a significant role in the events. Trained as a rheologist, Raj has a way of uncovering, describing, and explaining sordid events of the past, which Singh uses to structure and enrich the stream-of-consciousness narrative. Through the inclusion of archival photographs, Raj’s tangential references to helium’s chemical properties, and chemist and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s writings, Singh re-creates the complicated tide of India’s past, a past perniciously influenced by colonialism. VERDICT A well-crafted and weighty story, if not indictment, of this horrid era of history, this book is another achievement for Singh. While its asynchronicity is challenging, the writing offers a messy and disturbing beauty that is worth the effort. Recommended for all fiction collections.—Faye Chadwell, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis

redstar Rosen, Renee. Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties. NAL. Nov. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780451419200. pap. $15. F

Gun molls, speakeasies, gangsters, jazz, flappers, Prohibition, and Al Capone—it’s the Roaring Twenties, and Vera Abramowitz is ready to bust loose. Vera, or Dollface, as her North Side “gentlemen’s gangster” lover Shep Green calls her, is tired of the stink of the meatpacking industry hanging on her mother’s house and escapes to Chicago for independence and a little fun. Fortunately, a pretty girl can drink and dance all she wants in the Green Mill speakeasy. Vera finds passion with a handsome bootlegger named Tony along the way, complicating the solid, safe relationship she has with Shep—well, as safe as a relationship with a high-level gangster can get. VERDICT Rosen, author of the YA novel Every Crooked Pot, has done her homework and written a flashy story that is more than your average gangster noir. As Vera’s life unfolds and the consequences of her choices become clear, the novel evolves with her—from a coming-of-age tale, to a love story, and, finally, a lesson on redemption and coming home. Those interested in novels set in the 1920s and all things Gatsby will not be disappointed.—Jennifer Funk, ­McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

redstar Lee, Patrick. Runner. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781250030733. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250030757. F

redstar Lloyd, Robin. Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain’s Tale. Sheridan House. Oct. 2013. 342p. ISBN 9781574093209. $24.95. F

Mingle, Pamela. The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel. Morrow. Dec. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062274243. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062274250. F

redstar Owuor, Yvonne Adhiambo. Dust. Knopf. Jan. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780307961204. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307961211. F

Patel, Shona. Teatime for the Firefly. Mira: Harlequin. Oct. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780778315476. pap. $15.95. F

Perry, Drew. Kids These Days. Algonquin. Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781616201715. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616203481. F

Riggle, Kristina. The Whole Golden World. Morrow. Nov. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9780062206459. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062206466. F

Smith, Lee. Guests on Earth. Algonquin. Oct. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781616202538. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616203467. F

Sundstøl, Vidar. The Land of Dreams. Univ. of Minnesota. 2013. 344p. tr. from Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally. ISBN 9780816689408. $24.95. F

Trigiani, Adriana. The Supreme Macaroni Company. Harper. Nov. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780062136589. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062136602. F

Vapnyar, Lara. The Scent of Pine. S. & S. Jan. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781476712628. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476712642. F

Wald, Elissa. The Secret Lives of Married Women. Hard Case Crime: Titan. Oct. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781781162620. pap. $9.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781162637. F

Wilk, Lucie. The Strength of Bone. Biblioasis. Oct. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781927428399. pap. $16.95. F


redstar Oates, Joyce Carol. Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong. Mysterious: Grove/Atlantic. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780802120472. $23; ebk. ISBN 9780802194022. F