We the Animals - Justin Torres
An exquisite, blistering debut novel
Three brothers tear their way through childhood — smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn — he’s Puerto Rican, she’s white—and their love is a serious, dangerous thing that makes and unmakes a family many times.
Life in this family is fierce and absorbing, full of chaos and heartbreak and the euphoria of belonging completely to one another. From the intense familial unity felt by a child to the profound alienation he endures as he begins to see the world, this beautiful novel reinvents the coming-of-age story in a way that is sly and punch-in-the-stomach powerful.
Written in magical language with unforgettable images, this is a stunning exploration of the viscerally charged landscape of growing up, how deeply we are formed by our earliest bonds, and how we are ultimately propelled at escape velocity toward our futures.
The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
It’s the early 1980s — the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
As Madeleine tries to understand why "it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France," real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead — charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy — suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old "friend" Mitchell Grammaticus — who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange — resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.
Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.
Lightning People - Christopher Bollen
Joseph Guiteau is a working actor who moved to New York to escape a tragic family history in the Midwest. Wandering through a city transformed by the attacks of September 2001, he frequents gatherings of conspiracy groups, trying to make sense of world events and his own personal history. Looming over his life is a secret that threatens to undermine his new marriage to Del, a snake expert at a city park, whose work visa is the only thread keeping her from deportation back to her native Greece.
The new marriage influences the lives of those around them: William, a dark and troubled actor whose sanity is fading as quickly as his career, leading him to perform increasingly desperate acts; Madi, a young entrepreneur who will have to face the moral complications of a business made successful by the outsourcing of American jobs to India; and her brother Raj, Del’s former lover, a promising photographer whose work details the empty rooms of an increasingly alienated city.
Christopher Bollen’s first novel captures the atmosphere of anxiety and loss that exists in Manhattan. It is a story of the city itself, and the interconnected lives of those attempting to navigate both Manhattan and their own mortality.
The Stranger's Child - Alan Hollinghurst
From the Man Booker Prize–winning author of The Line of Beauty: a magnificent, century-spanning saga about a love triangle that spawns a myth, and a family mystery, across generations.
In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate — a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance — to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried — until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.
Rich with Hollinghurst’s signature gifts — haunting sensuality, delicious wit and exquisite lyricism — The Stranger’s Child is a tour de force: a masterly novel about the lingering power of desire, how the heart creates its own history, and how legends are made.
[The Stranger's Child was on the longlist for this year's Man Booker Prize, but shockingly did not make the shortlist.]
Conversions: Two Family Stories from the Reformation and Modern America - Craig Harline
This powerful and innovative work by a gifted cultural historian explores the effects of religious conversion on family relationships, showing how the challenges of the Reformation can offer insight to families facing similarly divisive situations today.
Craig Harline begins with the story of young Jacob Rolandus, the son of a Dutch Reformed preacher, who converted to Catholicism in 1654 and ran away from home, causing his family to disown him. In the companion story, Michael Sunbloom, a young American, leaves his family's religion in 1973 to convert to Mormonism, similarly upsetting his distraught parents. The modern twist to Michael's story is his realization that he is gay, causing him to leave his new church, and upsetting his parents again—but this time the family reconciles.
Recounting these stories in short, alternating chapters, Harline underscores the parallel aspects of the two far-flung families. Despite different outcomes and forms, their situations involve nearly identical dynamics and heart-wrenching choices. Through the author's deeply informed imagination, the experiences of a seventeenth-century European family are transformed into immediately recognizable terms.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Books I'm Excited About
Featured in the September 2011 issue of OUT