Marlon James, Marilynne Robinson, Jane Smiley, Colm Tóibín | Barbara’s Fiction Picks, Oct. 2014, Pt. 1

James, Marlon. A Brief History of Seven Killings. Riverhead. Oct. 2014. 560p. ISBN 9781594486005. $28.95. LITERARY
In his novels, Jamaican-born James centers on his homeland while giving larger scope to the African diaspora in caustically beautiful language. John Crow’s Devil, featuring two battling  MarlonJamespreachers, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, while The Book of Night Women, about a slave revolt fomented by women, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. This third novel should be the charm that makes him a household name, partly because of the arresting subject. In a novel that moves from contentious 1970s Kingston, to crack-ridden 1980s New York, then back to a resurgent Jamaica, James offers a fictional investigation of the attempted assassination of reggae star Bob Marley just days before Jamaica’s 1976 general election and only 48 hours before he was scheduled to play the Smile Jamaica Concert. You’ll meet musicians and journalists, assassins and drug dealers, and even ghosts in what promises to be a wild ride. James will be a featured author at LJ‘s  Day of Dialog this year.

Robinson, Marilynne. Lila. Farrar. Oct. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780374187613. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374709082. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY
Stepping out of the rain into a small church in Gilead, IA, Lila enters a whole new life; eventually, she marries the minister, John Ames. First, though, we learn that she was a neglected toddler pulled to safety by a young drifter named Doll, with whom she shared a strong sisterly bond as they wandered from town to town, barely getting by and occasionally engaging in small-time crime. Lila is comforted by John’s gentleness, but she’s disturbed by his fierce judgment of her past companions. As always, Pulitzer Prize winner Robinson thinks big while writing in delicate focus. With a reading group guide.

Smiley, Jane. Some Luck. Knopf. Oct. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780307700315. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350396. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY
As Smiley demonstrated in her Pulitzer Prize winner, A Thousand Acres, she can write smileyjanepowerfully about American farm life while using it to illuminate deeper truths. Here, moving from the 1920s to the 1950s, she unfolds the life of Iowa farmers Rosanna and Walter Langdon, showing how they aim to pass on their values to their five disparate but equally intriguing children: brilliant Frank; animal-loving Joe, who’ll inherit the farm; sweet Lillian, who enters an enchanted marriage; iconoclast Henry; and Claire, who is specially loved by her father. As the children grow up, with some departing for America’s coasts, we get a wide-angle view of mid-century America. With a nine-city tour to Chicago, Iowa City, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Washington, DC; Smiley will be a featured author at LJ‘s Day of Dialog.

Tóibín, Colm. Nora Webster. Scribner. Oct. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781439138335. $27. LITERARY
The multi-award-winning Tóibín has a gift for portraiture, so expect lots from his new novel, which has a strong, sorrowing woman at its heart. Nora Webster is left a widow at 40, with four sons in her care and little money to support them. She’s desperate to retain her independence in a meddling community that would suck her back in and so grief-stricken that she barely registers how much her sons need her. But gradually she returns to singing, which she had abandoned years before, and finds herself. With a six-city tour to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC; 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.