From Attenberg to Lesser to Schlink | Barbara’s Picks, Mar. 2017, Pt. 4

Attenberg, Jami. All Grown Up. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2017. 208p. ISBN 9780544824249. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780544824263. LITERARY FICTION
Author of the New York Times best-selling and Los Angeles Times Book Prize short-listed The attenbergMiddlesteins and, more recently, of the well-received Saint Mazie, Attenberg again lays bare the soul of a woman. Her heroine here is Andrea Bern, a successful designer and a loyal friend and sister but at 39 still unmarried and childless, an artist manqué, the survivor of a difficult childhood that seems to have left her brother unscathed, and a lonesome drinker convinced that everyone around her is managing adulthood better than she is. Then her niece is born with a tragic condition, and Andrea’s entire focus shifts. With a 30,000-copy first printing and an eight-city tour to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.

Baume, Sara. A Line Made by Walking. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780544716957. $25. ebk. ISBN 9780544716971. LITERARY FICTION
Short-listed for the Costa First Novel Award and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, Spill Simmer Falter Wither allowed Irish author Baume to launch her writing career with a bang. (She’s also winner of the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award.) In this new work, aspiring artist Frankie escapes the city for the countryside home left vacant since her grandmother’s death and tries to piece together a life undermined by her fragile mental health and struggles in art school. Her search for grounding compels her to pick up a camera again and explore the chaongorgeous solace of nature. Autobiographical fiction (Baume is also an artist) from a writer on the rise; with a 35,000-copy first printing.

Chaon, Dan. Ill Will. Ballantine. Mar. 2017. 480p. ISBN 9780345476043. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101885345. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Following Among the Missing, a National Book Award finalist best-booked by more than a dozen publications, Chaon tells the story of conflicted psychologist Dustin Tillman, who lost both his parents and his aunt and uncle to a massacre in 1983 for which his foster brother Rusty was held responsible. Now Rusty’s conviction has been overturned, and Dustin must consider the truth of his own testimony regarding Rusty even as an ex-cop patient draws him into the complexities of several unsolved murders. So much for the happy, settled life Dustin had managed to craft. With a five-city tour.

Finkel, Michael. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. Knopf. Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781101875681. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101875698. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY
In 1986, at age 26, Christopher Knight disappeared into the Maine woods and didn’t speak to a finkelliving soul for nearly three decades. Living in a tent even in the dead of winter, he survived by his wits—and by breaking into nearby homes for food, clothing, and reading material, which left the surrounding communities understandably on edge. (Can we ever truly cut ourselves off from society?) Finkel, evidently among more than 500 journalists clamoring for Knight’s story but the only one granted access, explains why Knight shut himself away and how he managed. Finkel’s GQ piece, “The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit” (August 2014) won extraordinary attention. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Holmes, Richard. This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer. Pantheon. Mar. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780307379689. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781101871768. AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL/HISTORICAL
Having thrilled us with award-winning biographies of Shelley, Coleridge, and Johnson, along holmeswith the best-selling The Age of Wonder, and been honored by the National Book Critics Circle, Holmes returns to the poets and scientists of the Romantic era to investigate his own passion for reconstructing others’ lives. Along the way, he ponders the very idea of biography, showing that each era tells the stories of its most significant figures its own way, thus shaping our understanding of human nature while sometimes creating myths that partly obscure the individual in question (think, for instance, of Coleridge’s opium addiction and Wollstonecraft’s love life).

Jen, Gish. The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap. Random. Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781101947821. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101947838. PSYCHOLOGY/BUSINESS
Having taken such a sharp, knowing look at America’s shifting multicultural boundaries in fiction like Typical American and Mona in the Promised Land, Jen turns to nonfiction to clarify how differently Easterners and Westerners regard the concepts of self and society and what that means for politics, business, art, and society in an ever closer world. Here, personal anecdote complements up-to-date research in cultural psychology as Jen address key issues like the relative weight granted individualism vs. the community.

Lesser, Wendy. You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn. Farrar. Mar. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780374279974. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374713317. BIOGRAPHY
Lesser is founder and editor of the Threepenny Review and winner of a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award, and her nonfiction ranges widely through art, literature, and music. Here she takes apart the life and work of renowned architect Louis Kahn brick by brick, uncovering the true individual beneath a warm but protective exterior. In the end, we understand Kahn, the creator of buildings like schools, museums, and libraries, to be first and foremost a “public” architect.

Norman, Howard. My Darling Detective. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780544236103. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780544237087. LITERARY FICTION
When the librarian mother of Jacob Rigolet, assistant to a normanwealthy art collector, flings black ink at Robert Capa’s Death on a Leipzig Balcony during an auction, Jacob’s police detective fiancée immediately becomes involved. As does Jacob himself, for the case leads him to dark secrets about the man he’s always assumed to be his father, a Halifax police detective suspected of murdering two Jewish residents in the city’s burst of anti-Semitism during 1945. Among the cliff-hanging scenes: a baby’s birth at the Halifax Public Library. So, an homage to noir, but given the far-ranging issues, and since this is from ever-humanizing Book Award finalist Norman, expect more than a detective yarn.

Reynolds, Nicholas. Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935–1961. Morrow. Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780062440136. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062440150. lrg. prnt. LITERATURE
We’ve had hints of Ernest Hemingway’s cloak-and-dagger activities during World War II, but Reynolds argues that his involvement was greater than previously understood. A former CIA officer and curator of the CIA Museum, which gave him unprecedented access to the relevant documents, he details Hemingway’s work with both America’s pre-CIA OSS and the Soviet Union’s pre-KGB NKVD. Aside from showing us scenes like Hemingway scurrying tactical intelligence to the Allies during the liberation of Paris, Reynolds attests that the author’s late-life writer’s block stemmed from wartime experiences that undermined his faith in literature. Bound to stir debate; scalziwith a 125,000-copy first printing.

Scalzi John. The Collapsing Empire. Tor. Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780765388889. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765388896. SF/SPACE OPERA
Is travel faster than light possible? Ask Hugo Award-winning, New York Times best-selling author Scalzi, who’s dreamed up The Flow, an extra-dimensional field humans can access at certain points in space-time for a trip to other worlds. Here, humans have used The Flow to spin out from Earth, with their various outposts governed by a mechanism called the Interdependency that assures both interstellar peace and the imperial rulers’ absolute control. Bad news, though: the Flow is shifting, possibly cutting off worlds from one another and threatening light travel forever. Enter a scientist, a starship captain, and the Empress of the Interdependency in a bid to save the day. Crowds are already lining up.

Schlink, Bernhard. The Woman on the Stairs. Pantheon. Mar. 2017. 240p. tr. from German by Bradley Schmidt & Joyce Hackett. ISBN 9781101870716. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781101870723. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY FICTION
In another tale of obsessive love from the author of the internationally best-selling novel The schlinkReader, a brilliant but untested young lawyer takes a case regarding the painting of a woman. The painting is being disfigured by the woman’s husband, who commissioned it, and the artist and the woman have joined forces to remove it from his grasp. Like both men, the artist soon finds himself dangerously in love with the painting’s stunning subject. And then both she and the painting disappear. A No. 1 best seller in Germany that has sold something like 300,000 copies worldwide, this promises to be literary mystery at its best.

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.