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May 15, 2020

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 5/15/20

THE HOUSE OF DEEP WATER by Jeni McFarland (Putnam). Hardly a commanding recommendation for me to say that a novel gets real life in a small middle-western town really right. I couldn't get out of …

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May 15, 2020

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THE HOUSE OF DEEP WATER by Jeni McFarland (Putnam). Hardly a commanding recommendation for me to say that a novel gets real life in a small middle-western town really right. I couldn't get out of there fast enough, after all. But I can tell you that, in telling a very complex, crowded story in a style of both grace and strength, this literary novel set in a fictional town within a very few miles of the one I grew up in does, actually, get a lot right. Not only about the past, about now, too; a lot remains the same as it was when I left, but there's much that I could never have seen coming and it's right, too (I'm still in touch). Three women who made lives elsewhere, known to each other as everyone in such a place is known to each other (one of them once babysat another), but not close—have returned for various reasons, and much is stirred to new life. This is an important career a-borning, and sure to be mentioned for awards and year's-best lists—but for now just a terrific read.

THE GOODBYE MAN by Jeffrey Deaver (Putnam). I know, another best of the best of this kind—but it's Deaver, creator of Lincoln Rhyme. Seems likely that readers of this column either know him well already or can't be recruited—but if that's not so, go read an early Lincoln Rhyme novel, then come back to this new, Colter Shaw series (this is just #2). Eventually, you'll find yourself going back and forth until you've lived through all of them.

HARD CASH VALLEY by Brian Panowich (Minotaur). Just his third novel, but this is already unmistakably an elite writer in this category. Southern noir, the dust jacket calls it, and close enough—crime fiction with rednecks, but respectful of both his characters and his readers. An early reviewer's comparison to Ace Atkins is by no means overblown.

THE MAP OF KNOWLEDGE: A Thousand-year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found by Violet Moller (Anchor). Every decade or so somebody does a new serious-popular intellectual history—our civilization's ideas and discoveries, where they came from and then their growth and maturing; a whole foundation for an education in a book. They seem to grow, from decade to decade, in the breadth of their inclusion, their definitions of “our” civilization. So each really good one seems, while one's eyes are on its pages, to be better than all the ones that came before. And maybe each one is; among each author's reading is likely to be all the earlier ones, after all. You certainly won't regret a minute of the attention you give this one.

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