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July 3, 2020

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 7/3/20

THE SON OF GOOD FORTUNE by Lysley Tenorio (HarperCollins). A first novel, and a very important American literary novelist to introduce oneself to. What a pleasure it is that the book is also …

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July 3, 2020

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THE SON OF GOOD FORTUNE by Lysley Tenorio (HarperCollins). A first novel, and a very important American literary novelist to introduce oneself to. What a pleasure it is that the book is also delightful. This is very much a west coast novel—not shobiz California, and not so much laidback hipster California, either—rather, next-door-to-Asia California. And of course there is some overlap, anyway. These are Filipino Americans, who seem (Tenorio's bunch, at least) to be, if anything, even more American than the rest of us. More enterprising, energetic, independent, daring—and, into the bargain, hipper than most. The very first scene, a prologue featuring one of our principals, is a two-shot of a con artist and her hapless, very American hayseed mark, both of whom you'll wish nothing but the best for, from about the second paragraph on. The rest fully delivers on this extravagant promise. This is more intricately plotted and structured than I've managed to suggest—both tension and sorrow are convincingly and respectfully worked with, too—but all of it wickedly smart, much of it sweet seemingly in spite of itself, and an unmixed joy to recommend.

THE PATIENT by Jasper DeWitt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Okay, so a long-term patient in a mental hospital has always had the power to make psychiatrists who attempt to treat him literally insane, sometimes suicidal. Sounds like the kind of idea for a horror novel that every horror writer is likely to come up with, and write at for a while, and give up on. But this new novelist, too naive to be scared off—an actual psychiatrist with applicable real experience—steps up and hits this one out of the park. Composed in the form of treatment notes and blog posts and such, so you come to be on intimate terms with the doctor who's under that pressure, and it will at least loosen the top of your head, along with his.

THE SAFE PLACE by Anna Downes (Minotaur). Gripping, satisfying and also promising first suspense novel. Psychological suspense, really, but in a setting where we expect a “gothic romance”—isolated house, mysterious owner, troubled child needing care. . . . But a larger cast than that, and characters that, even though we are in close point of view with each in turn, continue to surprise us.

HER LAST FLIGHT by Beatriz Williams (Morrow). A historical novel, almost a fictionalized biography of Amelia Earhart. We have come to trust Williams for both sentiment and intelligence as well as intricate storytelling, and she comes through, as usual. Some details are certainly a little different from those of Earhart's life, but we come away with a comfortable sense of knowing intimately, if not that specific person, a very rare, daring and admirable person a lot like her.

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