Lots of paperbacks to look forward to in May, most of which I’ve already read and reviewed including several that made it into my 2015 ‘books of the year’ but the jewel in the crown has to be Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night. I’ve long been a champion of Haruf’s beautifully pared back, elegant novels set in Holt, Colorado and so was very sorry to hear that Our Souls at Night was to be his last. Haruf died in 2014, a sad loss at only sixty-nine. This final novel is also set in Holt – how could it not be? – and feels like a fitting end to the series: a beautiful, tender meditation on ageing and the joy it can sometimes bring along with sorrow. Haruf’s insightful writing is clean and simple, stripped of ornament and all the more powerful for it.
Hopping over Wyoming from Colorado to Montana, Malcolm Brooks’ Painted Horses is set in the mid-1950s. More used to sifting her way through the ruins of bombed-out London, archaeologist Catherine Lemay has a summer to excavate a canyon before it’s flooded as part of a new dam project. Meanwhile John H, a U.S. Army cavalry veteran and fugitive, has made his hideout in the canyon. I think we can guess the rest. ‘Painted Horses sends a dauntless young woman on a heroic quest, sings a love song to the horseman’s vanishing way of life, and reminds us that love and ambition, tradition and the future often make strange bedfellows’ is the publisher’s lyrical summing up. I’m hoping for striking descriptions of the gorgeous Montana landscape.
Heading east to West Virginia, Glenn Taylor’s A Hanging at Cinder Bottom is a rip-roaring tale of small town life in the coal rush where powerful men make their own kind of law and corruption is the name of their game. The city of Baltimore comes up once or twice which is perhaps why The Wire popped into my head but a more appropriate comparison would be with Boardwalk Empire. Whichever, in the right hands, it would make a corker of a film. It begins in August 1910 with the town of Keystone all agog as Abe Baach and Goldie Toothman face execution. Stuffed with colourful characters, goodies, baddies, gambling, cheating, a fantastically elaborate con and a monkey, the rest of Taylor’s novel is the story of how Abe and Goldie arrived on that gallows platform.
Scooting across to Seattle, Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite’s War of the Encyclopaedists is billed as ‘a smart, fresh tale for the millennial generation’ – not me, obviously but I need to keep up. Mickey Montauk and Halifax Corderoy have been hosting outrageous parties throughout the summer. Real life catches up with them when Mickey’s National Guard unit is sent to Baghdad and Hal heads for college in Boston, the only legacy of that summer a Wikipedia entry they’ve written dubbing themselves The Encyclopaedists. ‘Razor-sharp, urgent and authentic, this is the story of a generation at a crossroads, staring down the barrel of adulthood and trying desperately not to blink’ say the publishers, which does sound up my street although it may make me feel very old.
And finally, giving up on the American theme altogether, Haruki Murakami’s first two novels Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 both follow the fortunes of their narrator and his friend, the Rat. The first sees the narrator in college drinking and listening to music in J’s bar with Rat, and pursuing a relationship with a nine-fingered girl while the second moves our narrator on three years leaving Rat behind for life in Tokyo working as a translator, living with twin girls and searching for a replica of the pinball machine at J’s. It sounds as if many of those hallmark themes familiar to Murakami fans were already in place when the novels were written. As with the hardback edition, both will be published in the same volume.
That’s it for May’s first instalment of paperbacks. As ever a click on a title I’ve read will take you to my review and to Waterstones website for those I haven’t. If you’d like to catch up with May’s hardbacks they’re here and here. Second batch of May paperback goodies to follow shortly…