This month’s book recommendations include works by Peng Shepherd, Paul Tremblay, Megan Abbott, Eric Rickstad, Dwayne Alexander Smith, Rebecca Makkai, 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.
By Daniel Ford and Sean Tuohy
Daniel: We’ve met Frances and Yasha, the two main characters in Rebecca Dinerstein’s charming, quirky debut The Sunlit Night, in literature before. They are two young people who find comfort and passion in each other while avoiding something else—Frances escapes her parents’ separation and a douchey boyfriend in New York City, while Yasha has come to Norway to bury his beloved father at the “top of the world.” With a supporting cast that includes a neglectful mother, an artist who paints only in yellow, and a Norwegian desperate to be lovestruck, The Sunlit Night makes your heart swell one moment and then shatters it the next. Dinerstein is smart though, she sews the pieces back just enough to make your ticker work again, but not so tightly that you feel whole. Most importantly, the novel is littered with beautifully crafted sentences surrounded by exuberant, honest dialogue. Plus, thanks to the Gregoriov Bakery, the novel features plenty of yummy baked goods!
Sean: The second book in Charles Willeford's unfortunately short-lived Hoke Moseley series is the possibly the best South Florida crime prose ever written. The novel follows a depressed and money-strapped Miami detective who finds himself in the middle of a homicide investigation with a partner going through a life crisis, his estranged daughters entering his life, and no way to pay for anything. Willeford is a true master who blends together pitch-black dark humor, hard-boiled crime, and moody characters to make the perfect crime novel cocktail.
Daniel Ford: Ross Ritchell’s The Knife has all of the hallmarks of a military novel: firefights, desert maneuvers, and solider hijinks. What makes it stand apart from many of the recent books about Afghanipakiraqistan is it’s clean, inspired prose and the quiet moments before and after each Special Ops mission (Oh yeah, did I mention that Ritchell is a former soldier in a United States Special Operations Command direct-action team that conducted classified operations in the Middle East? No big deal.).
The opening chapter set in a diner before the main character heads off to war and a chapter midway through the novel featuring a young Muslim by the name of Ahmed blew me away. I knew I’d enjoy all the military scenes and the brotherly banter, but those two scenes are maybe the best I've read all year.
Ritchell also writes about the desert conflict in a way that makes it more haunting and visceral than any newspaper feature or recent novel. An example: "As they flew on, the earth looked like the chalked bones of pale skeletons." That’s good stuff.
I emailed Ritchell back and forth while I was reading the book (he’s become a literary Obi-Wan Kenobi to me) and he said that he “tried to just write stuff that didn't feel like bullshit” to him. He added, “You shouldn't feel awkward or fake with any of your stuff.”
I can assure readers that there is not one ounce of BS in The Knife, and it has an ending that will leave you swearing through your tears.
Daniel: I told myself I wasn’t going to read another post-apocalyptic novel. I devoured books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Jose Saramago’s Blindness, and Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, and felt like I had consumed enough literature of that ilk to last me until the actual end of days. However, I picked up Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven while perusing the stacks at Barnes and Noble on a coffee run one afternoon and fell in love.
The story weaves in and out of the past and present, and mostly follows The Traveling Symphony—a band of survivors who perform Shakespeare and music throughout a landscape violently altered by a flu epidemic. The prose is lyrical, packed with heart, and infused with a passion for the arts. There are harrowing moments for sure, but if humanity follows main character Kirsten Raymonde’s lead after all hell breaks loose, we might be okay.
Daniel: I hate to damn Dean Bakopoulos’ Summerlong by saying it’s the perfect beach read, but damn if it’s not best enjoyed near a body of water—or in my case, the Atlantic Ocean—with copious amounts of ice-cold alcoholic beverages to cool you off. You’re going to need them because everything in this novel is on fire: the Midwestern weather, marriages, potential, sexual urges. The characters are so intertwined that they particularly have to say, “Excuse me,” to each other as the scene shifts perspectives. A couple’s marriage falls apart owing to neglect, lies, and boredom (but not sexual passions, my god), a young woman named ABC longs to join her dead lover while enjoying as much pot as possible, and a disillusioned actor comes home to deal with his sick father (the old guy may have failed at being a writer, but he was hell of a creepy ladies man). This book is eight kinds of hilarious, and I guarantee that you’ll be cackling in public places the whole time you're reading it (and possibly blushing when you get to the really juicy parts).
Also, Bakopoulos has one of his main characters utter this spectacular line of dialogue: “I’m living in a Bruce Springsteen song.”
Reader for life!