There are so many great reads in this month’s selection of new Contemporary Fiction; we would advise reading them all. But if pressed for time we highly recommend The Room by Jonas Karlsson, and From out of the City by John Kelly. You will not be disappointed.
See how small : a novel / Scott Blackwood.
“One late autumn evening in a Texas town, two strangers walk into an ice cream shop shortly before closing time. They bind up the three teenage girls who are working the counter, set fire to the shop, and disappear. This novel tells the stories of the survivors, family, witnesses, and suspects, who must endure in the wake of atrocity. Justice remains elusive in their world, human connection tenuous. Hovering above the aftermath of their deaths are the three girls. They watch over the town and make occasional visitations, trying to connect with and prod to life those they left behind.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Driving the king : a novel / Ravi Howard.
“Montgomery, Alabama, December 1945. The fighting in Europe is over and war hero Nat Weary has returned to his hometown, eager to build his taxi business and marry his sweetheart. His childhood friend, the famous Nat King Cole, is also home for a rare performance. During the concert, Weary plans to propose, and the singer will honor the special moment with an unforgettable song. But Weary’s dreams for the future are destroyed when a white man, armed with a pipe, rushes the stage. Leaping from the audience, the soldier who valiantly fought for his country stops the assailant–an act of bravery that leads to ten years of hard labor in prison. Free at last a decade later, Weary heads to Los Angeles to work for his old friend, Nat King Cole. It is the promise of a new life removed from the terror, violence, and degradation of Jim Crow Alabama. While the City of Angels is more progressive than the Deep South, Weary discovers here, too, that wealth, popularity, and talent cannot protect a black man from discrimination and hate.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The room / Jonas Karlsson ; translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith.
“The Authority looks favorably upon meticulousness, efficiency and ambition. Bjorn has all of this in spades, but it’s only in the Room that he can really shine. Unfortunately, his colleagues see things differently. In fact, they don’t even see the Room at all.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
From Out of the City / John Kelly.
“Dublin, some years from now, and the President of the United States has just been assassinated during a state dinner in his honour. The official account has already taken hold but a hawk-eyed octogenarian named Monk, believing that there’s nothing that cannot be known, has a version of his own, a dark and twisted tale of both the watcher and the watched. “Nothing gets past a man as invisible as me,” he says, introducing us to a cast of damaged characters he has kept under the strictest surveillance for years.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The offering / Grace McCleen.
“I thought it began the day Father came home without work. Then I thought perhaps it really began the day we arrived at the farm, rumbled up the track, opened the gate and stood looking around as if we had found ourselves in some enchanted land. Something happened on Madeline’s fourteenth birthday, something so traumatic that it triggered her mental breakdown. Many years later, she still can’t, or perhaps won’t, recall the events of that night. A charismatic new psychiatrist, Dr Lucas, believes he can unlock Madeline’s memory by taking her step by step through the preceding year, when her father moved the family to an island he was certain God had guided them to. But as Dr Lucas unearths the past, it becomes apparent that she was seriously misguided, and that he is treading on very dangerous ground.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The illuminations / Andrew O’Hagen.
“A beautiful, deeply charged story about love and memory, about modern war and the complications of fact. Standing one evening at the window of her house by the sea, Anne Quirk sees a rabbit disappearing in the snow. Nobody remembers her now, but this elderly woman was in her youth a pioneer of British documentary photography. Her beloved grandson, Luke, now a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers, is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, part of a convoy taking equipment to the electricity plant at Kajaki. Only when Luke returns home to Scotland does Anne’s secret story begin to emerge, along with his, and they set out for an old guest house in Blackpool where she once kept a room.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Alice and the fly / James Rice.
“This is a book about phobias and obsessions, isolation and dark corners. It’s about families, friendships, and carefully preserved secrets. Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition is caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I’ll flood out all these tears and it’ll all be ok and I won’t be scared of Them anymore. The truth is I can’t think of any single traumatic childhood incident to tell her. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories, Herb’s death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah, but none of these are what caused the phobia. I’ve always had it. It’s Them, I’m just scared of Them . It’s that simple.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The winter war / Philip Teir ; translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally.
“On the surface, the Paul family are living the liberal, middle-class Scandinavian dream. Max Paul is a renowned sociologist and his wife Katriina has a well-paid job in the public sector. They live in an airy apartment in the centre of Helsinki. But look closer and the cracks start to show. As he approaches his sixtieth birthday, the certainties of Max’s life begin to dissolve. He hasn’t produced any work of note for decades. His wife no longer loves him. His grown-up daughters, one in London, one in Helsinki, have problems of their own. So when a former student turned journalist shows up and offers him a seductive lifeline, Max starts down a dangerous path from which he may never find a way back.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
A spool of blue thread : a novel / Anne Tyler.
“”It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . .” This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Aquarium / David Vann.
“Twelve year old Caitlin lives alone with her mother, a docker at the local container port, in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamored of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequence.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)