Margaret Atwood, Robert Bennett Jackson, Tana French, Emily St. John Mandel, T. Jefferson Parker, Merritt Tierce | Barbara’s Fiction Picks, Sept 2014, Pt. 4

Atwood, Margaret. Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. Doubleday. Sept. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780385539128. $25.95. SHORT STORIES
Of the nine stories featured in Atwood’s first collection since 2006’s Moral Disorder, only three atwoodmargarethave been previously published. The feel is generally witty and somewhat outré; a woman with a genetic abnormality is assumed to be a vampire, a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite figures in an Arctic act of vengeance, and a retirement-home resident makes peace with the idea that she keeps seeing little people even as a crazed populist group plans to burn down the home. Three linked stories explore the romantic entanglements of a group of artists and writers. With more than 450,000 Twitter followers, Atwood clearly pulls in readers.

Bennett, Robert Jackson. City of Stairs. Broadway. Sept. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780804137171. pap. $15. FANTASY
Bennett has won the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and a Philip K. Dick citation of excellence, which gives you a sense of how his fiction crosses borders. His new book is being billed as purely high fantasy and promises fine writing that should intrigue even those who don’t routinely read in this genre. Once a conquering city, Bulikov has been reduced to mere colonial outpost when Shara Divani is sent there by the ruling powers to take up a modest diplomatic post. Actually, though, she’s a top spymaster, tasked with investigating the murder of a milquetoast historian.

French, Tana. The Secret Place. Viking. Sept. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780670026326. $27.95. THRILLER
Winner of the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards, as well as the Los Angeles Times Prize for Best Thriller/Mystery, New York Times best-selling author French returns with a thriller that taps into private-school/boarding-school darkness we’ve seen in books ranging from Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies to Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea to Pamela Erens’s The Virgins. A year ago, the body of swoon-worthy Chris Harper was dumped on the grounds of St. Kilda’s, a girls’ school in a sedate Dublin suburb. Now St. Kilda’s student Holly Mackey has given Det. Stephen Moran a photo of Chris that she found pinned to a school bulletin board; inscribed on the back are the words “I know who killed him.” The case could make Moran’s name with Dublin’s Murder Squad, but it keeps circling back unsettlingly to St. Kilda’s feuding cliques.

Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven. Knopf. Sept. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780385353304. $24.95. CD: Penguin Random Audio. LITERARY/SFmandelemily
On an appropriately snow-swept night, a movie star who’s decided to pound the boards as King Lear collapses and dies mid-performance, and shortly thereafter civilization collapses and starts dying as well. The narrative then moves between the actor’s early career and the journey a troupe called Traveling Symphony makes through the blasted landscape 15 years after the book’s opening events. As evidenced by her first three titles, Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet—all Indie Next picks—Mandel writes propulsively about troubled, exactingly drawn characters sorting out painful personal dilemmas in a big way. Here she’s thinking really big. Fingers crossed for a terrific writer debuting with a big publisher.

Parker, T. Jefferson. Full Measure. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250052001. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466852990. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY
In his latest, three-time Edgar Award winner Parker departs from thriller territory to present the story of a young man risking everything for his family. Home from Afghanistan’s battlefields with the dream of establishing his own sport-fishing business, Patrick Norris is devastated to find his parents facing ruin because a wildfire has wiped out their avocado ranch in the foothills of San Diego. What’s more, yearning to prove himself, Patrick’s sweet-natured brother has been drawn into a bad crowd, and Patrick finds himself making some tough decisions—even as he falls for the lovely, decidedly different Iris. Parker’s evident talent for building tension, plus his sharp writing and characterization, makes this departure especially promising.

Tierce, Merritt. Love Me Back. Doubleday. Sept. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780385538077. $23.95. LITERARY
When Tierce was named a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree last year, I tierceimmediately looked up her work and came away a fan of her clear-eyed, no-holds-barred prose. So I’ve been anticipating this debut novel, which draws loosely on her own life (at age 19, she was heading for graduate school Yale when she became pregnant and returned home to waitress). Single mother Marie is lucky to score a job at a tony Dallas steakhouse but eventually succumbs to the dark side, self-destructively seeking to blot out her problems with drugs and sex. Tierce is a Rona Jaffe Award winner as well.

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.