This week, a neglected novel from a master, the definitive biography of The Smiths, and the letters of William Styron. Plus: what happens when you get locked in a trunk with a strange man.
38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier’s End by Scott W. Berg (Pantheon) - Berg, a teacher of writing and literature at George Mason University, turns his attention from Pierre L’Enfant, planner of Washington, D.C., to the Dakota War of 1862 in a gripping narrative of this little-known conflict and a careful exploration of the relationships between events of the Civil War and America’s expansion west. Berg illuminates the growing clashes between whites and Indians and reveals the contradictory stances taken by such participants as Dakota chief Little Crow, a white woman Little Crow had taken as a hostage, an Episcopalian bishop, army officers, and political leaders—including Abraham Lincoln.
A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths by Tony Fletcher (Crown Archetype) - The Smiths, one of the most influential rock groups in the U.K. since the Beatles—perhaps the most influential U.K. band of the 1980s—finally get the complete (700 pages!) and vivid biography they deserve. Fletcher, a music journalist who has written well-received bios of rock icons R.E.M., Keith Moon of the Who, and most recently the Clash (The Complete Guide to Their Music) perfectly captures the wit and complexity of the band and its music. Fletcher details the formation of the band in Manchester in 1982 by guitarist Johnny Marr, whose goal was to combine music “led by an upbeat, chiming guitar riff” influenced by punk groups the Clash and the Jam with lyrics that were “’searingly poetic and jubilant” in the spirit of Leonard Cohen. He found his lyricist and lead singer in the now-legendary front-man Morrissey. Fletcher displays an unflagging enthusiasm in describing every aspect of how the Smiths produced “a torrent of brilliant work in a blazing stream of exhaustive glory.”
Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings (Scribner) – Jeopardy! champion Jennings (Maphead) tackles the not-so-trivial matters of parenting advice in his latest eye-opening book. With his trademark wit and genius, he dissects common phrases most adults say to their children at one time or another. Using solid research, he judges whether long-held beliefs are true or false. For example, are poinsettias really poisonous? Definitely not, he writes, citing a hilarious study to prove his point. Part entertainment and part informative, in a style that’s reminiscent of a quiz show, he assures parents that most of the things we worry about won’t hurt us at all. Jennings imparts wisdom and good sense in this highly entertaining and oddly educational book. Take a look at Jennings's favorite books.
Climates by Andre Maurois, trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter (Other Press) - This lucid new translation of a novel originally published in 1928 probes the timeless complications, betrayals, and fascinations wrought by love. Coming from a wealthy family that owns a profitable paper mill, young Philippe Marcenat lives a comfortable if empty life in central France, in Limousin, haunted by the notion of a romantic ideal gleaned from a favorite childhood book. While convalescing from bronchitis in Italy, he meets Odile Malet, a flirtatious French beauty from a lower-class family, and is instantly smitten. Despite his family’s objections, the two are quickly married. But as Philippe falls into a morass of jealousy and disillusionment, his overbearing behavior drives Odile into the arms of another man. The mismatched couple’s inevitable tragedy unfolds in the book’s first half, while the latter half, told from the perspective of Philippe’s second wife, Isabelle de Cheverny, details her own undaunted efforts to earn the love and respect of her dismissive and unfaithful husband, whose behavior has ironically come to mirror that of Odile.
Shiver by Karen Robards (S&S/Gallery) - Set in St. Louis, this spellbinding novel of romantic suspense from bestseller Robards (The Last Victim) stars Samantha “Sam” Jones, a 23-year-old single mother, who struggles to make ends meet by working nights repossessing cars while taking classes for EMT certification during the day. Her mundane life goes terribly askew after she finds an injured man in the trunk of a BMW she’s repossessing. Before she can decide what to do, she’s assaulted and thrown into the trunk with the man. In a fight for survival, Sam and her trunk mate, who turns out to be an undercover FBI agent, Danny Panterro, must seek a way to outwit their captors, members of a drug cartel.
Selected Letters of William Styron edited by Rose Styron, with R. Blakeslee Gilpin (Random) - In an extraordinary editorial feat, Styron’s widow, Rose (From Summer to Summer), a poet, translator, and activist, and University of South Carolina historian Gilpin (John Brown Still Lives!) have collected, transcribed, and annotated this fascinating trove of letters charting Styron’s development as a man and as a novelist. From Duke University through a WWII VD ward to the success of his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, and beyond, Styron emerges as a witty, tender, and intelligent correspondent. It is especially revelatory to hear the earnest voice of the young Styron in letters to his supportive father, as he wrestles with doubt and exaltation. Devotees of American literature will be especially gratified to find missives to a pantheon of 20th-century American greats, including Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, George Plimpton, Dorothy Parker, Robert Penn Warren, and Philip Roth. Read a 1967 letter from Styron to Robert Penn Warren.