Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.
Daniel Ford: Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen is set in 1990s Nigeria and tells the heart-wrenching and bloody tale of four brothers whose lives are changed on the banks of a haunted river. Benjamin, the story’s 9-year-old narrator, attempts to makes sense of the changing world around him as his family is torn apart by a madman’s prophecy. The Fishermen begins so lightheartedly—the reader is led to believe that this is another coming-of-age story set in a foreign location—that later events crush you even more. It’s a book that should inspire you to craft your own great art. The best authors light a fire under you, and I can assure you, Obioma will be lighting fires for years to come.
Also, if you don’t stand up and cheer when the boys’ father delivers a rousing speech encouraging them to be “fishermen” that “will dip their hands in rivers, seas, and oceans of this life and become successful: doctors, pilots, professors, lawyers” then I don’t want to know you.
Robert Hilferty: Wetlands has an honesty and humor that reminds me a lot of Charles Bukowski but without the more problematic shit attached to it. It's full of raw emotion and reckless abandon that reminds me of the poor decisions I made growing up.
DF: Any story that involves a S.W.A.T. sniper is going to have a thrilling plot, however, not all of them are going to have the big ole thumping heart beating on every page of Done in One (the novel was inspired by Jan Thomas’ real-life experiences). We first meet Jake Denton (“Fuckin’Denton”) on the hunt with his father. The lessons he learns are put to the test throughout the book, particularly when it comes to his equally badass wife Jill, a former medic (and aspiring author!) who is her husband’s first-response support team. But Jill isn’t some weepy female caricature. She’s whip smart, tough, demanding, compassionate, and honest. Jill has her tender moments for sure, but she proves over and over again that she’s very much Jake’s equal. Done in One is actually one of those novels that’s a character study wrapped in a thriller, which makes it so much more than a good beach read. Important questions are raised and dealt with and the authors humanize and reveal fresh insights into a world that is currently grossly misunderstood in today’s culture.
DF: I recently read James Swanson’s excellent Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse, so I was primed for another good Civil War read. Author Jeff Shaara (who I interviewed last June and will be speaking to again next week) didn’t disappoint with The Fateful Lightning, the final book in his series about the Civil War’s western front. The novel begins in November 1864 following William Tecumseh Sherman’s victory in Atlanta and covers the red-headed, cigar-smoking General’s famed “March to the Sea.” Shaara tells the tale from multiple perspectives on both sides of the conflict, humanizing these legendary figures with such skill that I’m convinced the author was close friends with them in another life. The Fateful Lightning is available for sale June 2, 2015 and would make the perfect Father's Day gift.
Alex Tzelnic: In February 2015, The New Yorker published an article on the tragic death of Eric Harroun—a U.S. Army veteran turned mercenary and informant. The piece mentioned the 1999 book My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd. "That is a hell of a title," I thought. I largely forgot about the book until April, when I was perusing the shelves of a friend and came across a weathered and torn copy. "That is one of my favorite books," he told me. "Borrow it. Read it. Pass it around." Sometimes the literary gods drop subtle hints, and sometimes they drop a book in your lap and give you clear instructions. I read it.
My War Gone By, I Miss It So is a visceral and gruesome travelogue. Travelogue might be a confusing categorization—it is technically war journalism, as the book covers the conflicts in Bosnia and Chechnya during the 1990s. But war books are full of reportage, and though they ask why, it is usually a practical why: why did this conflict begin, what happened, and what does it mean? Loyd's why is more existential. As in a travelogue, he considers the question Kerouac wrote in his journals before flinging himself on the journey that became On the Road: "The night before travel is like the night before death. Why must I always travel from here to there, as it mattered where one is?"
Indeed, many of Loyd's nights are the night before death (though not his own), and the answer is complicated; his military heritage, his strained relationship with his father, and his addiction to heroin all play a part in his attraction to war. In taking this more personal tack, Loyd not only provides a compelling narrative about the horrors that unfolded in these wars, but examines why it is that people seek out darkness and brutality, and what can be learned from plumbing the depths.
Lloyd's lessons aren't easy—they are haunting, conveyed with prose that is savage and scintillating. And his book doesn't just stay with you, it tears a hole and climbs in. Borrow it. Read it. Pass it around. But don't say I didn't warn you.
Sean Tuohy: The Right Hand is slim, but it packs a punch! It’s a spy thriller that doesn’t slow down until the last page. The novel features Austin Clay, the CIA’s secret weapon, as he tries to locate a missing deep cover agent in Russia. Author and screenwriter Derek Haas shoves in as much action as he can in between twist and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat. My biggest compliment is that in contrast to the current literary world’s overabundance of dark and brooding characters and edgy storylines, this book is fun, enjoyable, and hard to put down.