This week, new Stephen King, new Jhumpa Lahiri, new Julian Barnes. Plus: fairy tales done by cartoonists.
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (Knopf) - Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) offers a delicately oblique, emotionally tricky geography of grief, which he has constructed from his experience since the sudden death in 2008 of his beloved wife of 30 years, literary agent Pat Kavanagh. The “levels” of the title—a high, even, and deep “moral space”—play out in the juxtaposition of two subjects that are seemingly incongruous but potentially marvelous and sublime together, as Barnes delineates through his requisite and always fascinating historical examples.
Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry (Graywolf) - There are a lot of pleasures to be had in Barry’s short story collection. First, there’s his way with language—a bent form of Irish that makes the most mundane exchange, like those of the mileage-obsessed locals at the hotel bar in “Fjord of Killary,” somehow hilarious. Then there’s the pleasure of safely spending time in the company of people you might well cross the street to avoid, like the Mullaney brothers in “White Hitatchi,” who are well-known to the local constabulary, or the law-abiding but big, sweaty, and, as their beer-tasting excursion extends, presumably loud, friends of “Beer Trip to Llandudno.”
All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry (Viking) - This melancholy tale of a village outcast unfolds through the thoughts of Judith, who was kidnapped, held prisoner, and maimed by her captor. Two years later, she has returned home at age 18, but because of her severed tongue, she cannot explain her misfortunes or the crime she witnessed the night she was taken.
The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden (St. Martin’s) - In this stunning debut, Bodden effortlessly transports the reader to 1852 Alabama, where slavery and racism may rule the day, but everything isn't as black and white as it may seem. Sixteen-year-old Sarah Campbell is a housemaid to her half-sister Clarissa. Both daughters of plantation owner Mr. Allen, they secretly reject the roles they are expected to play. Sarah yearns for the day when she can escape slavery, while Clarissa is disinterested in her father's wishes for her to marry young and become mistress of her own plantation. But then Clarissa unexpectedly becomes pregnant before she's wed—changing the trajectory of both girls' lives.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by K.G. Campbell (Candlewick) - Newbery Medalist DiCamillo and illustrator Campbell meld prose with comics sequences in a broad comedy tinged with sadness. Bitter about her parents’ divorce, Flora Buckman has withdrawn into her favorite comic book, The Amazing Incandesto! and memorized the advisories in its ongoing bonus feature, Terrible Things Can Happen to You! She puts those life-saving tips into action when a squirrel is swallowed whole by a neighbor’s new vacuum cleaner, the Ulysses Super-Suction Multi-Terrain 2000X.
Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists edited by Chris Duffy, illus. by various artists (First Second) - Duffy has assembled a dazzling lineup of comics versions of more than a dozen fairy tales in this hilarious follow-up to Nursery Rhyme Comics. Favorites like "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and "Rapunzel" (whose heroines gain welcome agency) join rarities like "The Small Tooth Dog" and "The Boy Who Drew Cats." The stories' visual styles range from Gilbert Hernandez's straightforward, flat-color cartoons for "Hansel and Gretel" to Brett Helquist's elaborately rendered Rumpelstiltskin.
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Scribner) - King picks up the narrative threads of The Shining many years on. Young psychic Danny Torrance has become a middle-aged alcoholic (he now goes by “Dan”), bearing his powers and his guilt as equal burdens. A lucky break gets him a job in a hospice in a small New England town. Using his abilities to ease the passing of the terminally ill, he remains blissfully unaware of the actions of the True Knot, a caravan of human parasites crisscrossing the map in their RVs as they search for children with “the shining” (psychic abilities of the kind that Dan possesses), upon whom they feed.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf) - Lahiri’s haunting second novel crosses generations, oceans, and the chasms that despair creates within families. Subhash and Udayan are brothers, 15 months apart, born in Calcutta in the years just before Indian independence and the country’s partition. As children, they are inseparable: Subhash is the elder, and the careful and reserved one; Udayan is more willful and wild. When Subhash moves to the U.S. for graduate school in the late 1960s, he has a hard time keeping track of Udayan’s involvement in the increasingly violent Communist uprising taking place throughout West Bengal. The only person who will eventually be able to tell Subhash, if not quite explain, what happened to his brother is Gauri, Udayan’s love-match wife.
Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? By Alan Weisman (Little, Brown) - In this follow-up to The World Without Us, journalist Weisman visits more than 20 countries to explore four urgent questions. How many people can our planet hold? Is it in our own best interest to limit population growth? Which species are essential to our survival? And how can we design a prosperous economy that does not depend on endless growth and consumption? Weisman argues that this will be the century in which we must manage our population, “or nature will do it for us in the form of famine, thirst... crashing ecosystems, and wars over dwindling resources.”