Exploring the art of prose


New books: week of September 24

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


Elliot Ackerman, Waiting for Eden

From Kirkus Reviews: “Wounded terribly in Iraq three years ago, a soldier awaits his death in a burn center in San Antonio, and we learn of his fate through a surprising, unconventional, and risky narrative strategy. Eden is the soldier who just barely survived when his Humvee hit a pressure plate in the Hamrin Valley, and the narrator is a fellow soldier who was killed in the same explosion—and who considers Eden’s fate worse than his own. Because the narrator is dead, he is granted a kind of omniscience that would be denied someone living; for example, he has access to what passes through Eden’s mind even as Eden is immobilized and practically catatonic… Through a series of flashbacks we also learn of the narrator’s attraction to Eden’s wife, Mary, who in the present is grieving over Eden’s hopelessly burned body and is worried about exposing her 3-year-old daughter to Eden’s insentience… The poignancy arises out of the fact that they both love Eden in their own way. An affecting, spare, and unusual novel.”

Watch a video of Ackerman at BookExpo.


Kate Atkinson, Transcription
Little, Brown and Company

From Publishers Weekly: “Atkinson’s suspenseful novel (following A God in Ruins) is enlivened by its heroine’s witty, sardonic voice as she is transformed from an innocent, unsophisticated young woman into a spy for Britain’s MI5 during WWII. Initially recruited to transcribe secretly recorded conversations between British fascist sympathizers who think they are conspiring with the Gestapo, Juliet Armstrong is one day given an infiltration assignment (and a gun), during which she discovers an important document—and just like that, she becomes an undercover agent… The book ends on an uncertain note for Juliet, a poignant denouement for this transportive, wholly realized historical novel.”


Deborah Eisenberg, Your Duck is My Duck

From Kirkus Reviews: “A vivid mix of stories that pick up and expand on Eisenberg’s (The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg, 2010, etc.) signature concerns. Eisenberg is among our most interesting writers of short fiction, author of four previous collections that track the dislocation of her characters in ways both large and small. Of the six pieces in this, her first book in 12 years, five appeared in venues such as the Paris Review and the New York Review of Books; one garnered an O. Henry Award. It’s not hard to understand why. Eisenberg’s métier is reticence: Her characters move through a world they find bewildering, with no easy strategy to reach out and connect… Here, we see Eisenberg’s approach to narrative, which is to tell us something both incidental and important and then follow it where it goes. The stories here are long, most more than 30 pages, and they take their time in getting to the point. But that’s OK; in fact, it’s the whole pleasure of reading her, the assurance that there is no quick fix, no easy resolution, that things are as muddy, as complicated on the page as they are in the world. What is never muddy, though, is her writing, which is sharp and pointed and direct.”

Read “Your Duck is My Duck” at Electric Literature.


Samuel Park, The Caregiver
Simon & Schuster

From Kirkus Reviews: “A young Brazilian woman arrives undocumented in Los Angeles, where she becomes a home caregiver for a patient who dredges up painful memories of her mother. When Mara Alencar is 8 years old, her mother, a voice-over actress, is drawn into an anti-government plot that will change their lives forever. Mara knows Ana Alencar is “beautiful because of the way men on the street turned to stare at her,” but she is also an uncanny actress willing to scrap for their family of two. Ana’s determination to put food on the table leads her to accept a dubious job acting for the student guerrillas—a con meant to lure the loathed Police Chief Lima from his post. Park (This Burns My Heart, 2011, etc.) weaves the terrifying story of Ana’s mission with Mara’s new life in America, decades later… This is an elegy that reads, in some moments, like a thriller—and, in others, like a meditation on what it means to be alive. “It’s not because I love to dance, or because I’ll miss the music of Bono, or because I haven’t been to Vienna yet,” Kathryn says of her desire to live. “There’s no why I want to stay. I just do.” A ferocious page-turner with deep wells of compassion for the struggles of the living—and the sins of the dead.”

Read an opinion piece by Park about his cancer in the New York Times.
Read a piece about Park by Curtis Sittenfeld in The New Yorker.


Anna Serre, The Governesses
Translated by Mark Hutchinson

New Directions

From Publishers Weekly: “Serre’s first work to be translated into English is a hypnotic tale of three governesses and the sensuous education they provide. Roaming the country estate of a staid married couple, Monsieur and Madame Austeur, Inès, Laura, and Eléonore are not exactly Jane Eyre types. Prone to Dionysian frenzies, they lounge naked in the sun or bound about like deer. Should any passerby fall “into the trap of their vast, lunar privacy,” they pounce upon, seduce, and devour him (“in a ladylike manner”) to sate their ungovernable desires… On the neighboring estate, an old, solitary man watches the voluptuous displays through a telescope, his omnipresent gaze at once leering, reverent and affirming. Serre’s wistful ode to pleasure is as enchanting as its three nymph-like protagonists.”