Books & Fiction

Slouching Towards Joan Didion in Tracy Daugherty’s ‘Last Love Song’

Lee Polevoi

Joan Didion has written at least one iconic novel, Play It As It Lays, and several groundbreaking works of nonfiction, including the essay collections, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and The White Album. As definitive impressionistic works of the 1960s, they should endure well into the future. Probably Didion is best known for her late-career memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking. In this book (later adapted for, of all things, the Broadway stage), she recounts the harrowing experience of losing her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, and their beloved adopted daughter, Quintana Roo.

The Best Books of 2015

Lee Polevoi

Over a 40-year career that includes the pivotal 1970s novel, 92 in the Shade, Thomas McGuane’s work has grown leaner and more mature, while continuing to juggle over-the-top comedy and heartbreaking tragedy. In Crow Fair, his new collection of short stories set mostly in Montana’s Big Sky country, McGuane depicts better than most what one character thinks of as “the blizzard of things that could never be explained and that pointlessly exhausted all human inquiry.”

Ann Beattie Returns With New Collection of Compelling Short Stories

Lee Polevoi

Ann Beattie, secure within this elite pantheon, returns after a decade’s absence with a new book, The State We’re In: Maine Stories. Those familiar with her work will immediately recognize the wry perspective, the closely observed details, and the smooth texture of her prose. As the title announces, these stories revolve, directly and indirectly, around people living in the Pine Tree State. 

Gary Rivlin’s ‘Katrina’ Portrays a Destroyed City and Its Painful Recovery

Lee Polevoi

Katrina opens with a compelling set piece that encapsulates many of the book’s themes—the chaos after Katrina made landfall, the lack of emergency coordination among local officials, dire situations made worse by crippling issues of race. On August 30, a group of predominantly black residents, seeking to escape flooding and destruction in their neighborhoods, crossed a bridge spanning the Mississippi for the relative safety of suburban Gretna, a predominantly white community. 

On the Water With a Surfing Memoir and History of the North Sea

Lee Polevoi

Water is the element through which two new books flow, though everything else about them is different. In his surfing memoir Barbarian Days, William Finnegan chronicles a life of more than half a century spent in pursuit of waves in Hawaii, California, Australia, Fiji and elsewhere. A staff writer for The New Yorker, Finnegan has supplemented his reporting from global hot spots—apartheid-era South Africa, Central America, and Sudan—with whatever opportunities he could find for surfing in (oftentimes) uncharted waters. 

Author Laura Pedersen Tackles the Highs and Lows of Life in New York

Gabriella Tutino

A native upstate New Yorker from Buffalo who arrived in 1984 and has chronicled her time and observations of NYC in her latest memoir, Life in New York: How I Learned to Love Squeegee Men, Token Suckers, Trash Twisters and Subway Sharks. Pedersen has already established herself as a successful writer, so this memoir doesn’t follow the upward mobility storyline of “country-girl-to-big-city-slicker.” Rather, Pedersen writes about the ever-changing history and culture of NYC--spanning the 1600s to the 18th century to the present

The Disappointment of Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’

Melinda Parks

The reception of this controversial second book, Go Set a Watchman, released in July of 2015, has met with equally mixed reviews. However varied their opinions of the story, critics seem to agree on one aspect of the work: one can’t read Watchman without comparing it to, or at least mentioning, To Kill a Mockingbird. For one, Mockingbird so strongly impacted society at the time of its release, winning Lee a Pulitzer Prize and the movie adaptation of her novel three Oscars, and it has remained a staple of high school curricula and American culture ever since.

Comedy, Tragedy Collide in Thomas McGuane’s ‘Crow Fair’

Lee Polevoi

Flash forward some 40-odd years, and McGuane’s writing has grown leaner and more mature, while maintaining a characteristically deft balance between over-the-top comedy and heartbreaking tragedy. In Crow Fair, a new collection of short stories set mostly in Montana’s Big Sky country, he depicts better than most what one character thinks of as “the blizzard of things that could never be explained and that pointlessly exhausted all human inquiry.”

Erik Larson’s ‘Dead Wake’ Chronicles Horrific Sinking of ‘Lusitania’

Lee Polevoi

On the first page of his masterful account of the sinking of the Lusitania, Erik Larson notes that while researching the book, he realized that “buried in the muddled details of the [Lusitania] affair … was something simple and satisfying: a very good story.” It’s one of those occasions when an author doth protest too much. How a deluxe ocean liner, among the fastest ships on the sea at the time, came to be torpedoed off the Irish Coast remains a powerful episode of history, no matter how many times it’s retold.

T.C. Boyle Focuses on Cycles of Rage in ‘The Harder They Come’

Lee Polevoi

In the opening pages of Boyle’s new novel, The Harder They Come, a 70-year-old Vietnam vet named Sten Stensen and his wife are part of a tour group robbed at gunpoint while on vacation in Costa Rica. At some point during the ordeal, his long-ago military training kicks in and Stensen subdues one of the robbers, killing him in the process. On the bus ride back to the Red Cross Clinic, he experiences the adrenalin-charged aftermath of the incident.

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