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Exploring the art of fiction

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New books: Week of January 8!

Here’s a quick look at some of the great books out this week. Happy pub day to all!

Chloe Benjamin, The Immortalists
Penguin Random House

 From Publishers Weekly: “In her second novel, Benjamin (The Anatomy of Dreams) constructs an imaginative and satisfying family saga. In 1969, the four rambunctious Gold children, Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya, visit a psychic on Manhattan’s Lower East Side who predicts the date each of them will die. The novel then follows how the siblings deal with news of their expiration dates… The author has written a cleverly structured novel steeped in Jewish lore and the history of four decades of American life. The four Gold siblings are wonderful creations, and in Benjamin’s expert hands their story becomes a moving meditation on fate, faith, and the family ties that alternately hurt and heal.”

Read an excerpt.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Peculiar Ground
Harper Collins

 From Kirkus Reviews: “An award-winning historian (Gabriele D’AnnunzioPoet, Seducer, and Preacher of War, 2013, etc.) makes her fiction debut with a story vast in scope but intimate in its details. The year is 1663. England’s civil war has ended. Newly returned from exile, royalist Arthur Fortescue, the Earl of Woldingham, has hired the landscaper John Norris to turn his ancestral home into a private paradise…Time feels like a circle, and the novel brings us to 1989 before taking us back to the 17th century. There are multiple narrators and perspectives here, but the text never feels cacophonous because each voice is so exquisitely limned. Hughes-Hallett’s choice to turn minor players into major characters is especially satisfying; of course those who rely upon the wealthy and powerful must be canny observers of the wealthy and powerful. The novel is a pleasure to read for the loveliness of its language. It’s also a timely meditation on walls, on what they keep in and what they keep out. A first novel stunning for both its historical sweep and its elegant prose.”

Read about Hughes-Hallett’s move to becoming a novelist.
Read an excerpt.

Jamie Quatro, Fire Sermon
Grove Atlantic

From Publishers Weekly: “Quatro’s resonant debut novel (following the story collection I Want to Show You More) starts with a couple, married to other people, heading to a hotel. As the text quickly informs, “the story begins where others end,” with “a happily-ever-after” nod to the marriage plot that ends a typical love story before disillusionment creeps in. Then the story moves back in time to the wedding of Maggie, 21, to Thomas, 24… Though some readers might be put off by the preciousness of the characters (they discuss “apophatic” literature and read Moby-Dick to their young children), Maggie’s quandary—should she grab happiness if it causes tremendous pain and risk losing her connection to God?—is affecting and memorable. Quatro’s novel will appeal particularly to readers interested in a dissection of how one reconciles belief with desire.”

Read an excerpt.
Listen to an interview with Quatro and her agent Anna Stein on the tk with James Scott podcast.

Ali Smith, Winter
Pantheon

From Kirkus Reviews:Christmas 2016 is a time of memory and confrontation for two estranged sisters in this second installment of the British author’s Seasonal Quartet… Smith (Autumn, 2016, etc.) knits together the present-time narrative and many flashbacks to reveal secrets, ironies, old loves, and the unfolding lives enriched by them. She embarked in 2016 on a sequence of four novels, each named after a season. Though the first two can be read separately, Smith has also forged intriguing links between them from history and current events, including fences and protests, female visual artists, and the fallout from Brexit. A sprightly, digressive, intriguing fandango on life and time.”

Read an excerpt.
Read an interview with Smith.