This week, new Michael Cunningham, a big Michael Jordan biography, and an evil place called the Thickety.
Jupiter War: The Owner, Book 3 by Neil Asher (Skyhorse/Night Shade) - This dizzying and unusually thoughtful space opera, which concludes the trilogy begun in The Departure and Zero Point, shows the tyrannical forces of Earth trying to stop a lone genius from fleeing the solar system. Serene Galahad, Earth’s psychotic dictator, is willing to kill most of the “human scum” and genetically alter the rest in order to mend the damage of overpopulation. Alan Saul has been mechanically augmented until he is much more than human, and he now questions whether preserving the humans aboard his stolen space station is worth the bother.
The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham (FSG) - Two brothers grapple with aging, loss, and spirituality in this haunting sixth novel from the author of The Hours and By Nightfall. Barrett Meeks, a middle-aged retail worker with boyfriend troubles, is walking through Central Park one evening when he notices a mysterious light in the sky—a light he can’t help but feel is “apprehending [him]... as he imagined a whale might apprehend a swimmer, with a grave and regal and utterly unfrightened curiosity.” Uncertain what to make of his vision, Barrett returns to the Bushwick, Brooklyn, apartment he shares with his drug-addicted brother, Tyler, and Tyler’s wife, Beth, whose cancer has come to dominate the brothers’ attention.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner) - In 1944, the U.S. Air Force bombed the Nazi-occupied French coastal town of St. Malo. Doerr (Memory Wall) starts his story just before the bombing, then goes back to 1934 to describe two childhoods: those of Werner and Marie-Laure. We meet Werner as a tow-headed German orphan whose math skills earn him a place in an elite Nazi training school—saving him from a life in the mines, but forcing him to continually choose between opportunity and morality. Marie-Laure is blind and grows up in Paris, where her father is a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History, until the fall of Paris forces them to St. Malo, the home of Marie-Laure’s eccentric great-uncle, who, along with his longtime housekeeper, joins the Resistance. Doerr throws in a possibly cursed sapphire and the Nazi gemologist searching for it, and weaves in radio, German propaganda, coded partisan messages, scientific facts, and Jules Verne.
The True American: Murder and Mystery in Texas by Anand Giridharadas (Norton) - Competing visions of the American Dream clash in this rich account of a hate crime and its unlikely reverberations. New York Times columnist Giridharadas follows the encounter between Mark Stroman, a racist ex-con in Dallas who went on a killing spree targeting men he wrongly thought were Arabs after 9/11, and Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-born convenience-store clerk who was shot by Stroman but survived; Raisuddin later campaigned to spare Stroman the death penalty. Raisuddin’s initiative, inspired by his pilgrimage to Mecca, makes for an affecting story of forgiveness and redemption, but the book’s heart is the author’s penetrating portraits of the two men: Stroman’s violent, bigoted patriotism is a tribal affiliation that consoles the pain of his chaotic upbringing and sense of dispossessed white masculinity, yet it’s Bhuiyan, the immigrant striving to reinvent himself, who emerges as the more iconic “true American.”
The Painter by Peter Heller (Knopf) - Jim Stegner, celebrated painter, ardent fisherman and homespun philosopher, narrates this masterful novel, in which love (parental and romantic), artistic vision, guilt, grief, and spine-chilling danger propel a suspenseful plot. In one aspect of his personality, Jim is a gentle, introspective man who reads and quotes poetry, feels at one with nature, and has full-hearted empathy with animals. But every now and then, if provocation occurs, rage—“a red blindness”—swells up in him and destroys any restraint. When the novel opens, Jim has already served prison time for beating a man who leered at his teenage daughter. Now his daughter is dead, murdered at age 15, and Jim feels bitter guilt and endless remorse for the girl’s death. After the tragedy, Jim’s wife left him. He has retreated to a little house in a Colorado valley where he is painting with new urgency, beginning an affair with his young model, and conquering his alcohol and gambling addictions. When he comes upon a man brutally beating a horse, however, Jim’s rage rises again.
Prayer by Philip Kerr (Putnam) - Edgar-finalist Kerr takes a break from his Bernie Gunther PI series (Prague Fatale, etc.) with this provocative standalone set mainly in present-day Texas. Houston FBI agent Gil Martins usually handles domestic terrorism, but he can’t resist pursuing a case involving the deaths of several prominent atheists around the country in circumstances that seem to rule out foul play, but that also don’t accord with accident or suicide.
Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby (Little, Brown) - Michael Jordan’s role as handsome pitchman/basketball champion belies a complicated life in this hefty, revelatory biography by veteran basketball author Lazenby. Nearly branded a lost cause by his parents, Jordan turned his passion for hoops into a furious work ethic that included not stopping one-on-one games until he won and catching an early morning ride with his high school coach to the gym before school. Lazenby’s work isn’t definitive—Jordan, after all, is still alive—but it yields a fascinating examination into the lonely, prideful man behind the glimmering icon.
The Accidental Feminist: The Life of One Woman Through War, Motherhood, and International Photojournalism by Toby Molenaar (Skyhorse/Arcade) - From WWII-devastated Rotterdam to the comforts of Sag Harbor, N.Y., photojournalist Molenaar travels through an extraordinarily wide world in this always absorbing memoir. Readers will: visit Mallorca, Brazil, Tanzania, and Delhi; witness the Bengal Lancers charge; spend time with the prostitutes of the Crepuri (Brazil) gold miners and the burqa-covered women of the Pathans; travel along China’s Silk Road and the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostela; meet poet Robert Graves, and novelists Lawrence Durrell and Joseph Heller; and see “one of the world’s most extraordinary galleries of pre-historic art” while traveling with the Spanish Foreign Legion. In between, Molenaar shares stories about her three husbands and blended family, as well as her working life as a writer-photographer, making award-winning documentaries (Memories of Monet).
The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert (Sourcebooks Landmark) - In her first novel, Rickert, whose Map of Dreams was a World Fantasy Award winner for short fiction, unwinds the magic and mystery of a mother and daughter and three old friends, all at the fragile juncture of truth and forgiveness. At the heart of the story are 64-year-old Nan, rumored to be a witch, and her 16-year-old adopted daughter, Bay, bound by a carefully guarded secret that’s revealed during a weekend reunion of Nan’s childhood friends, Mavis and Ruthie. Ghosts live in the garden of Nan and Bay—an angry boy killed in a car crash, an abused girl who died after a botched abortion, a disgraced neighbor—and Bay can see them.
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer (FSG) - The second volume of VanderMeer’s trilogy (following Annihilation) continues to investigate the secrets of Area X, a mysterious zone somewhere in the United States, isolated from the rest of the world through (as-yet) inexplicable processes, and from which participants of multiple expeditions have returned enormously changed—if they return at all. The narrator this time is John Rodriguez, who goes by the name “Control,” the newly appointed director of the Southern Reach, the organization that has, for 30 years, attempted to discover basic information about the zone. The Southern Reach is in turmoil following the calamitous 12th Area X expedition, which was the subject of Annihilation. In this sequel, VanderMeer supplements his evocative descriptions of the unnatural Area X with the shadowy, dusty, seemingly half-forgotten offices in which Control spends his time, as he parses video footage and interrogation testimony in order to get to the bottom of the Area X mystery.
The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White, illus. by Andrea Offermann (HarperCollins/Tegen) - The followers of the Path have left the sinful world behind to live in the isolated community of De’Noran, which is increasingly encroached upon by the Thickety, the domain of the forest demon Sordyr. Kara Westfall’s mother was executed for the crime of witchcraft, and now her family ekes out a living under the burden of the community’s suspicion. It falls to 12-year-old Kara to keep her sickly younger brother and dysfunctional father alive. She negotiates the treacherous road of a pariah, attempting to persuade a proto-Puritanical society that she is harmless, even while the dangerously addictive powers she has inherited from her mother well up within her.