This month’s book recommendations include works by Lyndsay Faye, Kat Howard, Nick Petrie, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Mesha Maran, Ottessa Moshfegh, Susan Orlean, James Rollins, and more!
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: Lauren Groff’s novel Fates and Furies was published on Sept. 15 and promptly longlisted for the National Book Award. Considering the novel’s beautifully crafted sentences, its dual narrative structure, and its multi-faceted look at a marriage between two young creative spirits, it’s not hard to figure out why critics and readers alike have made Fates and Furies a hit. The marriage of Lotto and Mathilde begins innocently enough—we’re told from Lotto’s point of view—but like all marriages, it falls prey to doubt, confusion, lies, and tragedy. Because of its narrative structure—the first half focuses on Lotto, an aspiring, out-of-work actor, the second half on Mathilde, a wife dedicated to making their lives a success—Fates and Furies has drawn comparisons to Gone Girl with some justification. However, what separates this novel from Gillian Flynn’s megahit is the presence of actual love and hope. I was much more invested and intrigued by the characters in Fates and Furies than I ever was reading Gone Girl. Without giving too much away, there’s a twist when the perspectives change, however, it fits with the character in such a way that I didn’t completely question everything I had read before. There’s a true love story in Fates and Furies that is as messy, complicated, and passionate as any in real life. The novel compels you to keep reading, so you’ll have this one done in just a couple days, but Lotto and Mathilde will stick with you long after you finish.
Sean Tuohy: In Make Me, Lee Child takes readers on a thrill ride that goes from the cornfields of the Midwest to the sun-soaked shores of Los Angeles and everywhere in between. Child's itinerant hero Jack Reacher steps off a speeding train in an oddly named sleepy town in the middle of nowhere and right onto the playing field with a bang, like always. Reacher wants to explore the town’s origins, but he’s suddenly finds himself racing down a dark path searching for a missing investigator and trying to out run hitmen. Child always delivers with solid action, well-paced plots, and hardboiled dialogue that pops out of Reacher’s mouth and socks you in the face.
Daniel: I haven’t read a Jack Reacher yarn in quite some time. I cracked open Make Me after being inspired by Sean’s recommendation and our field trip to Harvard to see Child interviewed by Stephen King. After reading some heavier literature and non-fiction earlier this month, the book was the perfect brain candy. Make Me is wildly entertaining and featured snappy dialogue and Reacher doing Reacher things (like expertly planning out a shootout with a trio of thugs well before the action happens). Reacher also gets a lot more beat up in this book than in some of the others I’ve read. He’s not 100 percent during the novel’s climatic events, which made me think about how the “Justified” writers portrayed Raylan Givens after they realized it wouldn’t be realistic if he shot and killed everyone every episode. Twenty books into the series, Child wisely reminded readers that Reacher isn’t a superhero. He’s just a guy trying to stay off the grid, which is getting increasing more difficult in an increasingly connected world (Reacher even has a debit card now!). Make Me made me (see what I did there?) even more excited for the next 20 Reacher adventures.
For more insights into Make Me, watch the Stephen King and Lee Child event Writer’s Bone attended at Harvard:
Gary Almeter: Say the title of this book aloud. Just do it. The six words put together are so discordant, so cacophonous that you almost don’t know how to feel when you say them. The rest of the book, on the heels of its title, is no less jarring for all the best reasons. Clegg’s debut novel is a story of profound loss and a meditation on grief, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness. Then it adds a layer of suspense as those affected search for the truth behind the accident at the center of the novel. All of this takes place in a small town where the visiting haves comingle with the native have-nots. The resultant anger and resentment from each are beautifully and authentically realized.
This narrative is told from many different points of view. Clegg navigates through a number of characters’ consciousnesses in an elegant and commanding way. He jumps back and forth between first and third person, back and forth in time, from coast to coast, and from the protagonist to an ancillary character who also sheds insight on the loss.
Clegg’s story is all about what happens in those serendipitous settings where people who wouldn’t ordinarily meet actually do. And how that meeting propels them forward. It is often beautiful; often adversarial; always interesting. One of the ancillary voices in this novel says, “It’s a relief to finally find where you’re meant to be.” It’s equally rewarding seeing Clegg get them there.
For more insights on Bill Clegg, listen to Gary’s recent podcast with the author:
Daniel: There are two statistics that struck me in Aziz Ansari’s excellent sociological study, Modern Romance. First, in a 2013 study about Japanese dating habit, “a whopping 45 percent of women aged sixteen to twenty-four ‘were not interested in or despised sexual contact,’ and more than a quarter of the men felt the same way.” Wow, that’s a lot of people who are not only not getting any, but don’t want any at all! And this from a country that has a serious population problem! Come on, Japan, get on that. Literally.
Secondly, “in nonmarried but ‘committed’ couples there is a 70 percent chance of cheating.” Damn. That’s a high percentage. And, as Ansari point outs throughout the book, it’s easier than ever to connect and communicate with people, so that number might even get higher in the future.
Some of the findings in the book might lead some to despair over the changing nature of relationships, marriages, and friendships. However, Ansari’s wit and charm ooze from every page and sort of make you optimistic about where we’re headed as a civilization. I’m just thankful that I found the headline to my article in Stephanie Schaefer, and that we got to discuss the book while enjoying a healthy, committed relationship.
Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill
Sean: There is a disappointing film out right now based on this stellar true-life crime tale. Spanning 30 years, the book, written by two award-winning Boston reporters, covers the unholy marriage between the FBI and Boston crime lord James "Whitey" Burgler. The prose has an odd, almost playful, tone. It’s much better than the film and has the added bonus of being a quick read.