New Fiction: Must-Read Books for Summer 2013
Whether you're taking a "staycation" or traveling far and wide, we've got your short list of 10 great books to read this summer. This season's crop of must-reads includes new novels from the authors of "The Kite Runner" and "The Glass Castle"; epics of Texas and of New York; continent-spanning adventures via car, plane and pirate ship; and stories of sisters, sons and connubial mayhem.
It's been 10 years since Khaled Hosseini gave millions of readers around the world a sense of what it means to be an Afghan through his novel "The Kite Runner." In his third novel, "And the Mountains Echoed," Hosseini goes beyond Afghanistan to tell a multi-generational story that traverses the globe--Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek archipelago--illustrating the surprising ways in which our lives are interconnected.
Jeannette Walls made her name with her bestselling memoir, "The Glass Castle," about growing up in a poor, dysfunctional family. Her first novel, "Half Broke Horses," was also based on kin, retelling her grandmother's life story. Now, with her third book, "The Silver Star," Walls has gone fully into fiction: Left alone when their distractible mother goes off to find herself, sisters Liz and Bean travel across the country from California to live in their uncle's crumbling Virginia mansion. When older sister Liz is taken advantage of by her first employer, it's up to 12-year-old Bean to deliver justice.
Like a cross between the harrowing frontier landscapes and hewn prose of Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" and the ribald, shaggy storytelling of Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove," Philipp Meyer's second novel, "The Son," is an epic, multi-generational Texas adventure story. It begins with 100-year-old Eli McCullough recounting his life story: being taken as slave by Comanche Indians while a teenager in the 1850s, proving up and fighting as a Comanche warrior and, eventually, returning to white society to become a wealthy landowner. The narration alternates among Eli; Eli's son and reluctant heir to the ranch, Peter; and Peter's granddaughter, J.A., who takes the ranch from cows to pump jacks, becoming a Texas oil baroness.
It's bound to be a good summer when you can pack a new Cathleen Schine novel in your beach bag. Three years after "The Three Weissmanns of Westport," Schine takes her readers back to the city with "Fin & Lady," which tells the story of two orphaned half-siblings in the heady atmosphere of Greenwich Village in the 1960s. As in "The Silver Star," it may be up to the younger one, 11-year-old Fin, to come to his older sister's rescue when Lady nearly gets carried away by the Pied Piper-like song of freedom and free love.
After his National Book Award–winning high-wire act, "Let the Great World Spin," Colum McCann returns with another polyphonous novel that spans centuries and continents in "TransAtlantic." Re-imagined here are the stories of the British aeronauts John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, who in 1919 made the first transatlantic flight; the former slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, who went to Ireland in 1845 to champion freedom; and George Mitchell, a contemporary American politician involved in the Northern Ireland peace talks of the 1990s. What weaves the narratives of these men together are the stories of the women who lived the events alongside them, four generations of a matriarchal clan beginning with an Irish housemaid, Lily Duggan.
Summer is the perfect time for a swashbuckling adventure story, and Eli Brown delivers a tasty treat with his novel "Cinnamon and Gunpowder." The 1800s, at the height of ocean-borne trade in tea, sugar and slaves, were a golden age for piracy and high-seas shenanigans. Brown's Mad Hannah Mabbot is a rare but fearsome example of a female pirate, one whose taste for superior vittles leads her to capture a cook, young Owen Wedgwood, whom she forces at cutlass-point to prepare delectable meals for her from the ship's meager store. Like Scheherazade in "The 1001 Arabian Nights," he's allowed to live as long as he keeps the feasts coming.
With wedding madness hitting a summertime high, you may want to take a break from bridesmaids' mauves and bouquet blues and escape into a good book. Author of the summer hits "Commencement" and "Maine," J. Courtney Sullivan has just the thing: "The Engagements," a panoramic novel of love and marriage (or not) spanning the romantic lives of several couples over nearly 100 years. One character, a young ad copywriter in the 1940s, comes up with a slogan for the De Beers campaign that will shape the wooing process for richer and for poorer: "A Diamond is Forever."
Twins can have an almost supernatural ability to know what the other is thinking. In "Prep" and "American Wife" author Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel, "Sisterland," she takes this sixth sense further: Identical twins Kate and Violet can intuit future events and other people's secrets. Violet embraces her powers and becomes a psychic medium, while Kate keeps her abilities muffled beneath her outwardly stable, suburban family life. When both sisters sense a massive earthquake that will soon rock St. Louis, Kate has to decide whether to join Violet and take her knowledge public.
David Gilbert's sweeping New York family novel, "& Sons," takes inspiration from one of the city's great literary recluses, J.D. Salinger. The patriarch of the Dyer clan is the author of a classic novel of teenage angst published in the 1950s, called "Ampersand." Fifty years on, the three sons of A.N. Dyer gather around their famous father, who's having a late-life crisis about his legacy--not just his literary afterlife, but also the emotional bequest he's left to his family.
It's been a long wait for fans of Marisha Pessl's inventive, academic farce, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics." To cap off your summer reading, check out Pessl's second book, "Night Film," which is just as ambitious and rule-breaking as her first. A noirish, literary thriller about movies, monomania and murder, it tells the story of Scott McGrath, an investigative journalist obsessed with the dark dealings of a secretive filmmaker, Stanislas Cordova, and the mysterious death of Cordova's daughter, Ashley. McGrath's pursuit of the truth takes us down a rabbit hole that could have been devised by Lewis Carroll, after reading a lot of Chandler and "House of Leaves," and filmed by David Lynch.