New Fiction: Must-Read Books for Spring 2013
The slate of new and upcoming spring novels takes readers from Nigeria to New York City, from Rome in the radical '70s to the wilds of the Deep South in the '20s. They're full of love affairs and thwarted romance, great ambitions and dreams deferred; they come from literary favorites who've made us wait years for new books--and fresh voices we're already eager to hear from again. Here's a preview of your next favorite reads that'll take you straight through to summer.
Born in London to a Ghanaian mother and a Nigerian father and raised in Massachusetts, debut novelist Taiye Selasi solved the impossible riddle "Where are you from?" by coining the term "Afropolitan"--an identity that transcends nation, race and culture. Likewise, her first book, "Ghana Must Go," is not simply an African emigrant novel, but also a universal story of a family trying to define itself in the wake of a crisis, brought about by the sudden departure of its patriarch.
Another family novel with an absent father: Elizabeth Strout's "The Burgess Boys" centers on Jim and Bob Burgess, who escape their small hometown in Maine--and try to leave behind the memory of their father's awful death--and move to New York City. Decades later, they're called home by their sister, Susan, whose teenage son has unwittingly committed a hate crime. The follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize–winning "Olive Kitteridge," Strout's new novel is full of family drama that's both nuanced and near-nuclear.
James Salter's 1967 novel "A Sport and a Pastime" is an American classic, though Salter is relatively unknown. As Katie Roiphe wrote recently in Slate, "His books are as good as those of post-war novelists like John Updike, Philip Roth, Richard Ford, and critics have often said so, and yet he is nowhere near as beloved or popularly read." Now 88, Salter has given his latest novel a title that sounds like a summation: "All That Is." Its hero, Philip Bowman, is working in publishing in Manhattan after World War II, and we follow his career and personal journey--complete with Shakespearean, Salterian love affairs--to the near-present.
Rachel Kushner made a splash with her first novel, set in pre-revolution Havana, "Telex from Cuba," which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her new novel, "The Flamethowers," set in 1970s New York City and Rome, sounds like a blend of "The Motorcycle Diaries" and Bertolucci's "The Dreamers": A young woman comes to New York from Nevada, plunges into the underground art world in edgy SoHo and begins an affair with the estranged scion of an Italian motorcycle empire. When she follows him to Italy, she's thrown into an even more radical atmosphere.
The bestselling, London-based author of the "Shopaholic" series is back with her sixth standalone novel, "Wedding Night," whose heroine, Lottie, is so fed up with her commitment-phobic partner that she takes up an old flame's offer to get married, based on their pact to tie the knot if they were both still single at 30. That is, if Lottie's friends allow it to happen.
It's been seven years since Claire Messud's controversial, bestselling 9/11 novel about ambitious Manhattanites, "The Emperor's Children." Her long-awaited new book, "The Woman Upstairs," is about a wife and mother in her 40s whose ambition has been thwarted. Nora Eldridge was supposed to have been a world-beating artist. Instead, at 37 years old, she's a happy-enough elementary school teacher who's become "the woman upstairs"--a reliable friend and neighbor but not the trendsetter and leader she'd wanted to be. When Nora defends a student of hers named Reza Shadid from bullies who call him a terrorist, she's drawn into the boy's captivating family--the father a Lebanese scholar and the mother a glamorous Italian artist.
Like Edward P. Jones meets Cormac McCarthy--or Faulkner, infused with the blues--Bill Cheng's debut novel, "Southern Cross the Dog," is an epic story set in the wake of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. With all remnants of his old life swept away by the waters, Robert Chatham embarks on an odyssey through the Deep South--where he meets desperate refugees, piano-playing hustlers, ne’er-do-well Klansmen, well-intentioned whores, fur trappers who live on the land and hinterland Mississippians trying to clear the swamp--all while testing his conviction that he's been cursed by the devil.
Fans of "Half of a Yellow Sun" have had to wait a long time for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's new novel, "Americanah." Like "Ghana Must Go," it could be called an African emigrant story, but that's only part of the tale. Ifemelu and Obinze are teenage lovers in a Nigeria ruled by military dictatorship; Ifemelu escapes to America while Obinze goes to London. Thirteen years later, they come back together--or try. In the intervening years, they've both reinvented themselves: Ifemelu has become a blogger in the states, and Obinze is a wealthy man in now-democratic Nigeria.