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About Books 12/18

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 12/17/20

PERESTROIKA IN PARIS by Jane Smiley (Knopf). Smiley has been a column favorite for about as long as there's been a column, for the sort of reasons any writer might be—she's a smart and thoughtful …

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About Books 12/18

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PERESTROIKA IN PARIS by Jane Smiley (Knopf). Smiley has been a column favorite for about as long as there's been a column, for the sort of reasons any writer might be—she's a smart and thoughtful novelist and essayist, a beautiful writer, unfussy, elegant. But then, too, she loves horses and the column does, too. The column orginator would especially have loved this surprising, delightful new novel, but so might anybody, whether or not they come to it with that predilection. Perestroika is a three-year-old steeplechase competitor, and the leading character in the fullest sense in this delicately ironic fantasy. She isn't the only creature with four legs (or feathers, or other such parts and features) who thinks and speaks—to other four-legged or winged creatures, also distinctively characterized—none of them open up to humans, though we get to know some humans, too. And yes, she's in Paris, once she's wandered off from her unlocked stall at the track, and Paris becomes as real as, if not your specific home town, maybe Albany. I'm inclined to go on and on, here, but I can't do warm and sharp at once as surely as Jane Smiley does (hardly anybody can, so that probably isn't just a seizure of modesty).

THIS TIME NEXT YEAR by Sophie Cousens (Putnam). Gift-y, or at least holiday-set, and also both smart and warm: a well worked out, complex romantic comedy with an irresistibly likable young woman at its center, a setup one could call laborious (well, we're present for the birth of both central characters), and a grandly satisfying resolution.

GERMANIA by Harald Gilbers (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's). At once a serial-killer, police-procedural mystery and a deeply realized historical novel, set in a terrible place at a terrible time: Berlin in the last months of World War II. The detective is a Jew protected, so far, by being married to a Gentile. I can scarcely call to mind a book at once so grim and so enjoyable. More earnest, less ironic than LeCarré, but that's the comparison that's wanted.

COLD WIND by Paige Shelton (Minotaur). The second of this essentially private-eye thriller series; Thin Ice was last year's, and Shelton again evokes very convincingly the otherworldliness of a remote Alaskan winter—you'll want a warm lap-blanket as you read. Our narrator is still very alone in her self-imposed exile, yet beginning to fit in, at least with the other loners; this is an already rewarding series.

THE LIES YOU TOLD by Harriet Tyce (Grand Central). Very strong, intensely involving psychological suspense/domestic suspense (but more the former); by the author of the highly praised (the column missed it, but clearly worth looking for) BLOOD ORANGE of about two years ago.

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