Given all that’s been happening in the US over the past few years, it’s a brave author who decides to write a piece of fiction about contemporary America but perhaps Hari Zunzru’s White Tears isn’t the state of the nation novel it first appears, more a comment on race relations. Two very different young New Yorkers, friends since college, share a passion for music and are now the rising stars of the city’s music scene. A chance discovery of an old blues song sets in train a chain of events which leaves them in grave danger. ‘Electrifying, subversive and wildly original, White Tears is a ghost story and a love story, a story about lost innocence and historical guilt. This unmissable novel penetrates the heart of a nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge and exploitation, and holding a mirror up to the true nature of America today’ say the publishers. The music theme seems to have cropped up several times recently: last year saw the publication of both Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Kim Echlin’s much overlooked Under the Visible Life which I’ll grab any chance I can to mention.
Set in the summer of 1920, Laird Hunt’s The Evening Road explores a more extreme racial tension. Two women are on the road, one black the other white. Smart, attractive Ottie Lee Henshaw is caught up in a suffocating marriage and suffering the unwelcome attention of a lecherous boss; Calla Destry is trying to find the lover who has promised to help her escape her violent circumstances. Meanwhile Klan members are gathering in Marvel. ‘The Evening Road is the story of two remarkable women on the move through an America riven by fear and hatred, eager to flee the secrets they have left behind’ say the publishers. Both Emma Donoghue and Hilary Mantel are fans.
Tensions run high in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Devil and Webster which explores student politics at an elite New England college where Naomi Roth, a feminist scholar, has been elected president. When a student protest breaks out which includes her daughter, she’s initially supportive but the focus of attention on a Palestinian student strains the campus atmosphere to breaking point leaving her overwhelmed. ‘The Devil and Webster is shot through with caustic comedy, and yet the Faustian notes are a persistent reminder that the possibility of corruption – personal or institutional – remains our persistent companion, however good our intentions might be’ according to the publishers. I’m a sucker for campus novels and this one sounds particularly intriguing.
Staying in New England for what sounds like a very different novel: Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley has been billed by Ann Patchett as ‘one part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade’ while the publishers liken it to Patrick Dewitt’s wonderful The Sisters Brothers which immediately snagged my attention. Samuel has spent years on the run but has moved to his late wife’s hometown with his teenage daughter who is increasingly curious about what happened to her mother not to mention the twelve scars on Samuel’s body, each from a bullet. ‘Both a coming of age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the price we pay to protect the people we love most’ say the publishers whose synopsis suggests the makings of a rollicking good bit of storytelling.
Phillip Lewis’ The Barrowfields takes us south of New England to the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. Just before Henry is born, his father – a lawyer and frustrated novelist – returns to where he was brought up, moving into a gothic mansion nicknamed ‘the vulture house’. Henry grows up in awe of his brilliant father but a death in the family brings about an unravelling which leaves Henry’s respect for him in tatters. Henry flees the family home, forced to return by events many years later. I’m not entirely sure about this one but Jenni Fagan’s dubbed it ‘A beautiful, evocative novel with an amazing sense of place and an understated, dark sensibility. A brilliant debut’ so I’m willing to give it a go.
That’s it for new April titles. As ever a click on a title will take you to a longer synopsis should your interest be piqued and if you’d like to catch up with part one it’s here. Paperbacks soon…