With two brothers killed in WWI and a debt-ridden father who followed them to the grave soon afterward, 27-year-old spinster Frances Wray knows that she and her mother must take in lodgers (euphemistically described as “paying guests”) to maintain their large house in a genteel section of London. In the postwar social landscape of England in 1922, the rise of a new middle class and the dwindling of the old servant class are disrupting longtime patterns of life. The disruptions occasioned by the advent of their tenants, the lower-class couple Leonard and Lilian Barber, are minor at first. But as Frances observes the tensions in the Barbers’ marriage and develops a sexual attraction for the beautiful Lily, who soon reciprocates her love, a fraught and dangerous situation develops. Lost in the passion of mutual ardor, Frances and Lily scheme to create a life together. An accidental murder they commit derails their plans and transforms the novel, already an absorbing character study, into an expertly paced and gripping psychological narrative. When an innocent man is arrested for the women’s crime, they face a terrible moral crisis, marked by guilt, shame, and fear. Readers of Waters’s previous novels know that she brings historical eras to life with consummate skill, rendering authentic details into layered portraits of particular times and places. Waters’s restrained, beautiful depiction of lesbian love furnishes the story with emotional depth, as does the suspense that develops during the tautly written murder investigation and ensuing trial. When Frances and Lily confront their radically altered existence, the narrative culminates in a breathtaking denouement. British writer Waters (The Little Stranger) deserves a large audience.
A hint of the supernatural spices the latest from a mystery master as two detectives try to probe the secrets teenage girls keep—and the lies they tell—after murder at a posh boarding school.
Everyone is this meticulously crafted novel might be playing—or being played by—everyone else.
“In his powerful and significant debut novel, Thomas masterfully evokes one woman’s life in the context of a brilliantly observed Irish working-class milieu….a definitive portrait of American social dynamics in the 20th century. Thomas’s emotional truthfulness combines with the novel’s texture and scope to create an unforgettable narrative.”
Edgar-winner Krueger highlights the vulnerability of Native American youth in his excellent 14th Cork O’Connor novel (after 2013’s Tamarack County). PI Cork, a former Minnesota sheriff, reluctantly investigates the disappearance of 14-year-old Mariah Arceneaux, who left her home near Bad Bluff, Wis., a year earlier. The battered body of the friend who accompanied her, Carrie Verga, recently washed ashore on Windigo Island in Lake Superior. A plea for help from Mariah’s diabetic mother, Louise, to the sage Henry Meloux ends with Cork’s older daughter, Jenny, rashly vowing to help save Mariah. This move forces Cork’s hand, putting him on the trail of a ruthless man called Windigo. Jenny, Louise, and centenarian Henry play key roles as the mission tests both spiritual and physical powers. Krueger paints a vivid picture of the sordid cycle of poverty, abuse, alcoholism, and runaway (or throwaway) children on the reservation, and reminds us of the evil of men all too willing to exploit the innocent
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
A man badly disfigured in a gun accident ponders gaming, heavy metal, family, love and the crazed emotions that tend to surround our obsessions.
As the singer-songwriter of the band the Mountain Goats, Darnielle specializes in impressionistic, highly literate lyrics delivered in a stark, declamatory voice. Much the same is true of Sean Phillips, the narrator of Darnielle’s second novel, who has been largely housebound since his accident at 17 and is prone to imaginative flights of fancy. (Similarly, Darnielle's first novel was a consideration of the Black Sabbath album “Master of Reality” as told by an institutionalized teenage boy.) We know early on that Sean makes a modest income as the inventor of Trace Italian, a role-playing game conducted through the mail about a post-apocalyptic America; and we know that he was implicated in the death of a woman who obsessively played the game with her boyfriend. The novel shifts back and forth in time as Sean recalls a geeky boyhood of Conan the Barbarian novels, metal albums, and other swords-and-sorcery fare; its tension comes from Darnielle’s careful and strategic withholding of the details behind the woman’s death and Sean’s disfigurement. In the meantime, the mazelike paths of Trace Italian serve as a metaphor for the difficulty (if not impossibility) of finding closure, and they also reveal Sean’s ingenuity and wit. The book’s title refers to a diabolical subliminal message on a metal record, a topic Sean is particularly interested in. (The novel seems partly inspired by a teenager’s failed suicide attempt in 1985 that led to reconstructive facial surgeries and a lawsuit against the band Judas Priest.) Sean is a consistently generous and sympathetic hero, and if the novel’s closing pages substitute ambiguity for plainspokenness, they highlight the book's theme of finding things worth living for within physical and psychological despair.
A pop culture–infused novel that thoughtfully and nonjudgmentally considers the dark side of nerddom.