The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel
Thirty thousand years in the making and 31 years in the writing, Auel's overlong and underplotted sixth and final volume in the Earth's Children series (The Clan of the Cave Bear; etc.) finds Cro-Magnon Ayla; her mate, Jondalar; and their infant daughter, Jonayla, settling in with the clan of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonaii. Animal whisperer and medicine woman Ayla is an acolyte in training to become a full-fledged Zelandoni (shaman) of the clan, but all is not rosy in this Ice Age setting; there are wild animals to face and earthquakes to survive, as well as a hunter named Balderan, who has targeted Ayla for death, and a potential cave-wrecker named Marona. While gazing on an elaborate cave painting (presumably, the Lascaux caverns in France), Ayla has an epiphany and invents the concept of art appreciation, and after she overdoses on a hallucinogenic root, Ayla and Jondalar come to understand how much they mean to one another, thus giving birth to another concept—monogamy. Otherwise, not much of dramatic interest happens, and Ayla, for all her superwomanish ways, remains unfortunately flat. Nevertheless, readers who enjoyed the previous volumes will relish the opportunity to re-enter pre-history one last time.
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
By turns breathtakingly brilliant and stupefying dull—funny, maddening and elegiac—The Pale King will be minutely examined by longtime fans for the reflexive light it sheds on Wallace's oeuvre and his life. But it may also snag the attention of newcomers, giving them a window—albeit a flawed window—into this immensely gifted writer's vision of the human condition as lived out in the middle of the middle of America, toward the end of the 20th century…This novel reminds us what a remarkable observer Wallace was—a first-class "noticer," to use a Saul Bellow term, of the muchness of the world around him, chronicling the overwhelming data and demands that we are pelted with, second by second, minute by minute, and the protean, overstuffed landscape we dwell in.
The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
At 30, Willa Jackson returns to her small Southern hometown, Walls of Water, N.C., in the wake of a failed marriage to her college sweetheart. She's determined now to lead the quiet life she believes her father wants her to have, but is soon derailed by the wealthy and powerful Osgoods, the family that shaped her high school experience. The Jacksons were also wealthy once, until the logging industry failed, and Willa's teenage grandmother went to work as a maid for the Osgoods. Paxton Osgood, Willa's counterpart, has everything Willa envies—wealth, beauty and a sense of belonging—but Paxton hides a deep loneliness and discontent. To further complicate Willa's unrest, Paxton's brother, Colin, fled town years before but has returned and become an irresistible force in Willa's life. When a skeleton that holds the secret to both the Osgood and Jackson family fortunes is discovered at the Jackson family's old estate, long-held beliefs are likely to be overturned. Allen (The Girl Who Chased the Moon) juggles smalltown history and mystical thriller, character development and eerie magical realism in a fine Southern gothic drama. The underlying tension will please and unnerve readers, as well as leave them eager for Allen's next.
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
The sometimes crushing power of myth, story, and memory is explored in the brilliant debut of Obreht, the youngest of the New Yorker's 20-under-40. Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living (and, in between suspensions, practicing) in an unnamed country that's a ringer for Obreht's native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger's wife, as the deaf-mute becomes known, forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia's efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and several of her grandfather's stories about Gavran Gailé, the deathless man, whose appearances coincide with catastrophe and who may hold the key to all the stories that ensnare Natalia. Obreht is an expert at depicting history through aftermath, people through the love they inspire, and place through the stories that endure; the reflected world she creates is both immediately recognizable and a legend in its own right. Obreht is talented far beyond her years, and her unsentimental faith in language, dream, and memory is a pleasure.