These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany (Grand Central). A first novel whose author has a lot of strings to her bow; novels may not be her constant focus, but this one raises real hope. …
These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany (Grand Central). A first novel whose author has a lot of strings to her bow; novels may not be her constant focus, but this one raises real hope. “Romantic comedy” has been said of it, but that’s oversimplifying; the column’s own “women’s friendship fiction” gets a little closer. There are romances and comedy in this big, London-set book, but finally, stuffing it into a category just doesn’t do justice to a novel this rich and wise. There certainly is both satirical wit and something like slapstick here; El-Wardany (she’s Egyptian, and explicitly Muslim) is clear-eyed but not ungenerous, with her characters or her readers. And much that’s far from funny is given us, too. Several stories are told; the central cast is three fast friends, and more than a little drama informs their friendships and their romances. The pressures of faith and family are rather different from mine and I suspect yours, but their humanity could have been lived out in, say, New York or Boston (it is a big-city book).
Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe (Morrow). Another first novel, beautiful and moving, very American and more than a little dark, but with a narrator, a brainy, articulate 12-year-old, that you love and believe and root for. So, another author on our watch-for list: this one might just be a great American writer. Her skill at bringing characters to life and getting us to care for them is especially irresistible. State Street is a real, South-side Chicago street, which gave its name to the public housing project, now long since demolished and only a stinging memory, where Toya Wolfe grew up.
Wasteland: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial by Corban Addison (Knopf). An infuriating, at first, but pretty soon thrilling story of corporate bullying brought down (and yet another writer to follow wherever he thinks to go). As slowly as this work was accomplished, the account of it is fast and soon soaring. Filth is the issue, in the earth and in the air; it’s commercial hog farming in North Carolina. When those corporations have their neighbors both furious and hopeless, a couple of lawyers, heroically stubborn, stalwart, enter the picture and conduct a finally triumphant battle on behalf of all the surrounding countryside and its inhabitants, and the reader gains (or regains) faith in, and hope for, humanity.
The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager (Dutton). So, for this week’s “needs no introduction” introduction: welcome to Riley Sager’s already-on-bestseller-lists novel, a fiendishly ingenious and yet welcoming and satisfying psychological thriller. A troubled, brave young widow is on her own for very good reasons, and in a spooky house that’s new to her, and with attractive, likable neighbors—with secrets. Sager, whom the column has somehow missed before this, is the real deal; you’ll go looking for his earlier books when you’ve caught your breath after this one.
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