fiction

The Best Books of 2019

Lee Polevoi

For me, The Volunteer is the most accomplished work of fiction published in 2019. The story of Vollie Frade (the “Volunteer”) spans numerous generations, zigzagging from the American Midwest to the war in Vietnam, from the borough of Queens, New York, to New Mexico and Latvia. The intriguing opening chapters don’t prepare the reader for Vollie’s brutal ordeal as a POW in Vietnam, which he barely survives. That’s when the novel becomes something genuinely special.

A Look Back at Walter Mitty

Adam Gravano

While Thurber is generally considered a humorist, he has a bountiful capacity to write fiction of a darker mien. Stories like “The Lady on 142” and “The Catbird Seat” prove there's an edge to Thurber's mind. Walter Mitty is easily described as a henpecked husband who drifts into reveries to escape his wife. At first, it's easy to mistake the daydreams for flashbacks, but, on closer examination, they fall apart. 

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.

Joshua Ferris Examines the Life of a Cyberstalking Victim in New Book

Lee Polevoi

The plot, such as it is, kicks in when Paul discovers that someone, perhaps a former patient, has begun to impersonate him online. First, a new company website appears (not of Paul’s doing), with more or less accurate staff bios for everyone but him (which instead of facts about his life promulgates strange notions about religion). Then there’s a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Wikipedia entry—every upsetting development reported to Paul by Connie or Mrs. Convoy while he’s hard at work deep inside the mouths of his patients.

Smuggling Guns and Battling Fascism in Alan Furst’s ‘Midnight in Europe’

Lee Polevoi

No one can accuse Alan Furst of veering away from a successful formula. In Midnight in Europe, he once again sets his spy drama in the perilous realms of various European countries just before the Second World War. As any faithful reader will tell you, Furst has carved out a unique niche in espionage fiction, with an emphasis on deeply researched details of those times. But by now, in his 14th novel, a sort of underlying familiarity has set in, which the talented author does little to up-end in the course of the story. 

‘Resistance Man’ Is Latest Addition to Martin Walker’s ‘Bruno’ Series

Lee Polevoi

The story is set in motion by the death of a former World War II resistance fighter. In rapid succession, Bruno is called on to investigate a rash of summer home burglaries, as well as the murder of a gay British antiques dealer. As these investigations unfold, we meet several important people in Bruno’s personal life, including Pamela, his on-and-off-again lover, an old flame named Isabelle and a forensic specialist, Fabriola, who assists him in his police work. It’s a large, not to say unwieldy, cast of characters, especially for those of us new to the Bruno series.

 

Love, Loneliness Are Focus of David James Poissant’s' The Heaven of Animals'

Melinda Parks

If a purpose of literature is to expose universal truths about life and human nature, then David James Poissant’s The Heaven of Animals has done its job. Poissant, a celebrated young writer whose stories have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times, and whose work has already garnered impressive literary awards and critical praise, presents layered storylines and realistically flawed characters in his first collection of short stories.

Navigating the Mostly Difficult World of Chang-Rae Lee

Lee Polevoi

The decision proves to be a masterstroke, since one of the chief pleasures of On Such a Full Sea is the anxious, reflective, self-questioning and cautiously prideful “chorus of We” that tells the story of Fan, a 16-year-old fish-tank diver in a highly stratified, post-apocalyptic America. The collective voice emanates from B-Mor, “once known as Baltimore,” whose inhabitants are charged with raising fish and vegetables to feed the elite Charter villages, located across a vast, lawless territory called the “open counties.” 

The Story of the Joads Still Matters, 75 Years Later

Benjamin Wright

As an historical novel, The Grapes of Wrath is rooted in the events that took place three-quarters of a century ago, which may make it seem dated to some readers. But though times have changed, many of the troubles that the Joads confronted are (unfortunately) still with us – economic injustice, the struggle for human worth, corruption. Of equal significance, the work deals with nearly universal themes – human dignity, the struggle for survival and, more than anything else, hope – that make it as pertinent today as it was 75 years ago. 

Gruesome Murders Haunt ‘Quiet Dell’

Lee Polevoi

In 1931, after an exchange of love letters, a man calling himself Cornelius Pierson first relocated a middle-aged widow named Asta Eicher and later her three children, from their home in Park Ridge, Illinois, to the small town of Quiet Dell, West Virginia. Weeks later, the bodies of the Eicher family were discovered beneath the garage of a home owned by Harry Powers, who turned out to be a psychopathic killer. Powers was convicted of their murders (and others) and executed in 1932.

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