Five Key Literary/Historical Debut Novels | Fiction Previews, Jan. 2016, Pt. 1

Brown, Taylor. Fallen Land. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781250077974. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466893078. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Montana Prize winner Brown has published short fiction in venues like the Baltimore Review and  browntaylorstorySouth but makes the leap to full-blown novelist with a work set in Georgia in the final years of the Civil War. Callum, a horse thief who emigrated from Ireland as a young orphan, decides to rescue Ava, who’s lost her family to war and huddles in her house as soldiers scavenge nearby, and together they gallop away on a remarkable horse named Reiver. Pursued by an angry slave hunter, a pack of bloodhounds, and some mean-spirited ex-partisan rangers, they ride through a war-battered landscape with hope in their hearts. Lots of in-house enthusiasm.

Chamberlain, Mary. The Dressmaker’s War. Random. Jan. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780812997378. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812997385. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Emeritus Professor of History at Oxford Brookes University in London and the author of several popular histories, Chamberlain has written popular history, but here she turns to historical fiction to get her thoughts across. In 1939 London, talented dressmaker Ada Vaughan falls hard for Austrian aristocrat Stanislaus, who takes her to Paris. Abandoned when war comes and the Germans occupy the city, Ada does what she must to survive; she becomes dressmaker to the wives of Nazi officials, a move that will haunt her for the rest of her life. A big book-club pitch.

Spivack, Kathleen. Unspeakable Things. Knopf. Jan. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780385353960. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353977. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
The daughter of management genius Peter Drucker, who fled Europe for America in the 1930s, published poet Spivack studied with Robert Lowell and befriended Sylvia Plath and Anne spivackSexton, introducing the latter to Elizabeth Bishop; 2012’s With Robert Lowell and His Circle celebrates these relationships. It’s not surprising, then, that her first novel is set in early 1940s New York, with Europe burning down in the background, and that it is propelled by the connections among its many characters: intelligent, exotic Hungarian countess Anna; her second cousin Herbert, a sharp businessman who cannot manage his wife or missing homosexual son; the Tolstoi String Quartet, whose members fled Bremerhaven with all their money sewn into the lining of their instrument cases; and Herbert’s eight-year-old granddaughter, Maria, who hears all their stories, which takes us back to imperial Russia.

Starck, Lindsay. Noah’s Wife. Putnam. Jan. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780399159237. $27. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Fiction editor of the Carolina Quarterly but, as her biography says, raised in the Milwaukee Public Library, Starck offers a debut of biblical proportions. When the heroine arrives in a small, damp coastal town with her minister husband, she’s initially enthusiastic about revitalizing the church community. But her efforts are thwarted by the town’s odd (and oddly resistant) denizens, her husband’s own destabilizing doubts, and the rain that keeps coming…and coming. Soon everyone is more worried about the rising waters than anything else, and faith takes on a whole new meaning. A big book-club pitch.

Williams, Andria. The Longest Night. Random. Jan. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780812997743. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812997750. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
In 1959, Nat Collier reluctantly moves from sunny California to Idaho Falls, where her army specialist husband, Paul, is tasked with overseeing the daily operations of one of the country’s first nuclear reactors. Alas, Paul quickly discovers that the reactor’s core was not constructed correctly and poses a real threat to the town. Paul hides this frightening news from Nat, who feels increasingly isolated both from him and from the town’s holier-than-thou military wives, which spurs her attraction to a young rancher. With the book drawing inspiration from the nation’s only fatal nuclear accident (on January 3, 1961) and Williams responsible for, which is aimed at military spouses, female veterans, and women in the military, this book should get attention.

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.