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"Every page throbs with energy in this exhilarating novel about queer people loving each other in a country where their existence is literally outlawed, where spirits and the living commingle, where even the city itself—the volatile, many-eyed godhead of Lagos—has much to say. Kaleidoscopic, polyphonic, unapologetic, Vagabonds! is a ferocious debut." —Brandon
"What Claire Keegan manages to evoke in so few pages is a kind of miracle to me. Every word matters, nothing out of place, and at the end there were tears standing in my eyes. The final scene in particular stirred huge emotions, but so quietly, soft as snowfall. I love this novel and will read it again, likely every wintertime forever. An instant classic." —Brandon
A punch to the heart lies at the center of History of Wolves—a punch readers may not see coming until some critical point when they look up from the page and realize what Fridlund has been doing to them all along: setting them up to knock them down. Hard. In this tremendous debut, she writes with unbelievable craft and depth of feeling about girlhood, sexual awakening, guilt, belief, and above all the shattering limits of faith. The result is a novel of huge power, one destined to be among the most talked-about of the season. —Brandon
Green Island is a triumph. It's got everything going for it — epic historical setting, multi-generational sweep, insight after lacerating insight, gorgeous sentences that will thrill lit snobs but won't alienate more casual readers, and plot, plot, plot. Things happen in this novel. Important things. Devastating things. Hopeful things. Things I'll never forget. I love this book. —Brandon
Fiona Maazel writes like an angel—and prods and stabs like a devil. Woke Up Lonely is a torrent of narrative energy, rich with observation and incident, all of it shot through with a sad, savage humor that had me laughing and wincing at the same time. Maazel brilliantly taps into the sinking feeling that, even in wired and socially networked America, we're all in this together, alone. —Brandon
Much has been made of Adam Haslett's zeitgeist-capturing prescience in Union Atlantic (the New York Times, for example, noted an "eerie overlap of its narrative with current events in the American economy"), but ultimately this is a story about people. Wealthy businessman Doug Fanning is a despicable but compelling protagonist, Charlotte Graves and her unusual dogs are unforgettable, and Nate Fuller's emotionally brutal coming-of-age story ends on a grace note whose poignancy is among the most heartbreaking I've read. Highly recommended. —Brandon
Roth gives us two of his greatest novels in his so-called “American Trilogy.” I Married a Communist is a good book (good enough, anyway), but American Pastoral and The Human Stain—both of which were singled out by the New York Times as contenders for the best American novel of the last 25 years—are masterworks. If you’re familiar only with Portnoy’s Complaint (the book that made Roth a superstar), do yourself a favor and pick up the American Trilogy. The eloquence of Roth’s prose and the sagacity of his endlessly fascinating and agile mind are electrifying. Each is a stand-alone novel, so I recommend starting with American Pastoral, then The Human Stain, and finally I Married a Communist. —Brandon
A stunning collection of stories by a writer whose supple, understated prose is among the finest I know—all the more so for its ability to quietly set up one electrifying revelation after another. These are masterful stories about men and women, memory and loss, but above all they are stories about desire—how unfulfilled longing defines and dismantles us. Grab a copy and find a quiet spot in the bookstore. Open to the first story and read. I’m confident you’ll be unable to forget it. —Brandon
An impressively researched book not only about the flood that inundated Florence in 1966, but about the city’s dizzying collection of Renaissance masterworks, the men who created them, and the volatile river Arno that has routinely attempted to carry them off. Clark also tells the story of the angeli del fango, or "mud angels," who traveled to the devastated city to help however they could, and the art-besotted Life photographer who recorded it all for posterity. He reveals the struggles and triumphs of the men and women who labored for years to restore the work of Florence’s greatest sons -- Giotto, Michelangelo, Donatello and, most dramatically, Cimabue, whose Crosifisso, the painting that touched off the Renaissance, was found severely damaged in the church of Santa Croce. —Brandon
Jess Walter has written a 9/11 novel of darkly comic genius that is plot-driven, suspenseful, heavy on the dialogue (for which he has a remarkable ear), and above all, funny. Sadness, astonishment, absurdity and an exhilarating gallows humor easily coexist in The Zero, all of it rendered in prose that at times will take your breath away. —Brandon
Forgoing the graphic litany of atrocities that characterizes so much Holocaust literature, Auschwitz survivor Paul Steinberg instead focuses on the lingering effects of having survived—the fifty-plus years of sleeplessness, strained relationships and brutal self-recriminations that haunted him until his death in 1999. An unapologetic rejoinder to fellow prisoner Primo Levi—who recast Steinberg as “Henri,” the ultimate survivor, in If This Is a Man—Speak You Also asks the terrifying question, At what price survival? The answers tormented Steinberg all his life, but there is peace amid the turbulence of this astonishing little book. “A delivery,” Steinberg writes, “no matter how long overdue, is still a deliverance.” —Brandon
Zembla, Zenda, Xanadu:
All our dream-worlds may come true.
Fairy lands are fearsome too.
As I wander far from view
Read, and bring me home to you.
Like all good children’s fables—and this is among the best—Haroun and the Sea of Stories is dense with allusion and adult themes, in this case the vital role of storytelling and unrestricted speech in a healthy democracy. Mostly, though, you'll delight in the adventures of young Haroun and his friends Iff the Water Genie, Butt the Hoopoe, the glumfish Bagha and Goopy, and Haroun’s storyteller father, the famous Shah of Blah. (By the way, if you can find it, pick up the audio version, read by Rushdie himself. It’s one of the most joyous recordings I know.) —Brandon