Tag Archives: The Evening Road

Paperbacks to Look Out For in April 2018: Part One

Cover imageLots of paperbacks to anticipate eagerly this April which is when, I hope, we can expect spring to take off here in the UK  unless there’s another little winter reprise. For no reason other than my own convenience, I’ve divided this month’s preview geographically into America then Europe which is where all the titles are either set or originate.

I’m starting with one which attracted a good deal of attention in my neck of the Twitter woods when it was first published. Julie Buntin’s Marlena follows naïve fifteen-year-old Cat who finds herself becoming best friends with her neighbour when she moves to a new town in rural Michigan. Cat and Marlena make the town their own, partying like there’s no tomorrow until Marlena is found drowned in nearby woods. Decades later Cat is still trying to come to terms with her past. ‘Alive with an urgent, unshakeable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull ourselves back from the brink’ say the publishers a little dramatically.

Olivia Sudjic’s Sympathy is set in New York where twenty-three-year-old Alice settles after leaving London. There she becomes obsessed with a Japanese writer she meets online whose life seems to echo her own. ‘As Alice closes in on Mizuko, her ‘internet twin’, realities multiply and fact and fiction begin to blur. The relationship between the two women exposes a tangle of lies and sexual encounters’ according to the publishers putting me in mind of Delphine de Vigan’s Based on a True Story.

Cherise Wolas’ The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is also about a writer and comes garlanded with praise from A. M. Homes. A rising literary star, Joan becomes distracted when she falls in love. Neither she nor her lover wants children but Martin’s surprised delight when she becomes Cover imagepregnant results in her keeping the child. ‘Decades later, when she is finally poised to reclaim the spotlight, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportions forces Joan to question every choice she has made’ say the publishers enticingly. Very much like the sound of that.

I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss Laird Hunt’s fiction before now – he’s written six novels besides The Evening Road. Set in 1920s Indiana, Hunt’s odyssey follows two women through a searing summer’s night on which a lynching is to take place: one white, making her way to what she sees as a show; one black, travelling in the opposite direction. Hunt very effectively shows us both sides of this sorry story, each told by women who have more in common than they might imagine. It’s quite riveting: shocking at times, very funny at others, and vividly memorable.

In Tell Me How This Ends Well, David Samuel Levinson takes us to an anti-Semitic America in 2022 as the Jacobson family gathers for Passover in Los Angeles. Each of the three adult children is in the midst of a crisis, blaming their father for his mistreatment of them. Believing that he has their mother’s death in his sights, they begin to plot against him hampered by their own resentments and petty squabbling. ‘Tell Me How This Ends Well presents a blistering vision of near-future America, turning the exploits of one very funny, very troubled family into a rare and compelling exploration of the state of America itself’ say the publishers.

I’m ending this first paperback selection with a book from my 2017 books of the year list: Victoria Redel’s Before Everything. Five women, friends since school, come together when one of Cover imagethem is dying having called a halt to the emotional rollercoaster her illness has taken her on. The women gather themselves around Anna for what may be their last day of the constant conversation the five of them share, struggling with the imminent loss of the woman they love dearly. Redel uses a fragmentary structure for her novel – full of flashbacks, vignettes and anecdote – capturing the intimacy of death when the world falls away, all attention focused on the dying. It’s a gorgeous empathetic and tender portrait of friendship, shot through with a dry humour which steers it well clear of the maudlin.

That’s it for April in America. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to learn more, or to my reviews for The Evening Road and Before Everything. If you’d like to catch up with April’s new titles they’re here. Europe next week which will defiantly kick off with a British title because we’re still European

The Evening Road by Laird Hunt: A long dark night

Cover imageI’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss Laird Hunt’s fiction before now – he’s written six novels besides The Evening Road. I remember Neverhome being published but somehow failed to get around to reading it, something I’ll be putting right very shortly. Set in 1920s Indiana, Hunt’s odyssey follows two women through a searing summer’s night on which a lynching is to take place: one white, making her way to what she sees as a show; one black, travelling in the opposite direction.

Ottie Lee Henshaw is saddled with a lecherous boss and an increasingly withdrawn husband with whom she refuses to have a child. When Bud gets wind of a lynching in Marvel, he offers Ottie a lift, picking up her husband Dale on the way. Bud drops in at a church fish supper to pass the word around, knowing he’ll pick up a few life assurance sales once death has been stared in the face. They visit a Quaker prayer vigil, pick up another passenger, suffer a catastrophic blowout while avoiding two bloodhounds wearing neckties then commandeer a mule wagon. This somewhat quarrelsome party trundles along, swigging whiskey, telling stories and shooting the breeze until both Ottie and Dale fall out of the wagon. Then Ottie hears a shot and sees Calla Destry with a gun. Calla has been travelling away from Marvel, having stolen her adoptive parents’ automobile, too grand for a black family to be seen driving in the daytime without arousing suspicions. She’s been to see the site of the lynching, hoping to help the boys escape then deliberately provoked the crowd’s anger before fleeing. She’s eaten her first orange, thought about her lover who’d failed to join her at their picnic then stolen a wagon from his mother after seeing him speechifying at a prayer meeting. Both these women travel a short distance down a very long road, their paths crossing back and forth

Hunt narrates his characters’ stories through their own voices – first Ottie, then Calla – weaving them together neatly through the episodes and incidents in which each of them unwittingly plays a part in the other’s fate. Ottie’s voice is sassily sardonic, a mask for her secret loss and fears. Calla’s is angry, her narrative darker. Smart and curious, she’s incandescent at the way black people are mistreated by whites. The writing is striking, both in its chillingly dark comedy and its vibrant descriptions. ‘The man was so filthy he looked like he’d rolled around in bacon grease then taken a long nap under the tail of a sick cow’ observes Ottie; ‘Nobody out but old Turner Jenkins trickling false hope onto his doomed geraniums with a beat-up watering can’ thinks Calla. The two women’s paths crisscross until they are brought face-to-face, each incident mirrored and illuminated by the other’s narrative. Throughout it all is the prospect of the lynching: a festive event in prospect for Ottie; a source of fury and fear for Calla. We never get to Marvel, nor should we. Hunt has very effectively shown us both sides of this sorry story, each told by women who have more in common than they might imagine. It’s quite riveting, shocking at times, very funny at others, and vividly memorable.

Reading Hunt’s novel prompted me to check the date of the last lynching in the US: shockingly, it’s 1981. In Mobile, Alabama, Michael Donald was first beaten then killed by several Ku Klux Klan members who hung his body from a tree. I’ll leave you with that.

Books to Look Out for April 2017: Part Two

Cover imageGiven 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. Cover image

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.

Cover imagePhillip 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…