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Winners and sinners

Barth, Bolaño, Roth, Morrison, and more
By BARBARA HOFFERT  |  September 11, 2008

HISTORY LESSON: Sarah Vowell looks back at Puritan life in The Wordy Shipmates.

Ah, fall, when Nobel Prize winners are announced — and, now, when past winners turn up with more good reading. It’s A Mercy (Knopf; November 14) that TONI MORRISON has chosen to revisit the emotional territory of Beloved; her latest recounts a 1680s Anglo-Dutch trader’s cancellation of a debt in exchange for a slave girl whose mother wished her a better life. Everyone’s having a good time in JOSÉ SARAMAGO’s Death with Interruptions (Harcourt; October 6), since Death has decided that she needs a break.

More prize winners going for another gold: in PHILIP ROTH’s Indignation (Houghton Mifflin; September 16), a young man fleeing 1950s Newark — and his overwhelming father — encounters college life in far-off Ohio. Remember The Witches of Eastwick? They’re now The Widows of Eastwick (Knopf; October 30), courtesy of JOHN UPDIKE. Recent Booker Award winner ANNE ENRIGHT offers a story collection with Yesterday’s Weather (Grove; September 16). PER PETTERSON follows up his IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize winner, Out Stealing Horses, with To Siberia (Graywolf; September 30), in which two Danish children watch the Nazis march in.

Now that the late ROBERTO BOLAÑO has caught our attention, it’s time we read his masterpiece, 2666 (Farrar Straus Giroux; November 11), a complex tale of murder in Santa Teresa (read: Juárez) that will appear in a single-volume hardcover and a three-volume paperback. CARLOS FUENTES offers cozy vignettes in Happy Families (Random House; September 23); a ship called the Ibis floats across AMITAV GHOSH’s Sea of Poppies (Farrar Straus Giroux; October 14) en route to the Opium Wars.

And now for something completely different. In The Given Day (Morrow; September 23), DENNIS LEHANE moves away from crime fiction to paint a stark portrait of post–World War I Boston. And FRANCINE PROSE’s Goldengrove (HarperCollins; September 16), the study of a 13-year-old’s relationship with her drowned sister’s boyfriend, is not acid satire.

Stalin biographer SIMON MONTEFIORE revisits early-20th-century Russia in the debut novel Sashenka (Simon & Schuster; November 11); noted journalist IAN BURUMA also tries out fiction with The China Lover (Penguin Press; September 18), reimagining the life of film star Yoshiko Yamaguchi. Speaking of fictionalized lives: who knew that WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS and JACK KEROUAC got together to re-create friend Lucien Carr’s killing of David Kammerer? The novel, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks (Grove; November 1), is appearing only now.

The hero of JIM HARRISON’s The English Major (Grove; October 7) takes an improbable road trip after his ex-wife snares the family farm, but for the ultimate trip, try BURTON RAFFEL’s new translation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (Modern Library; November 18). Folks in JOHN BARTH’s The Development (Houghton Mifflin; October 7) stay put, if badly behaved; family, friends, and community cope with the disappearance of a popular high-school girl in STEWART O’NAN’s Songs for the Missing (Viking; October 30).

JOHN LE CARRÉ’s A Most Wanted Man (Scribner; October 7) is Issa, a young Russian who’s snuck into Hamburg claiming to be a Muslim medical student. LOUIS DE BERNIÈRES’s A Partisan’s Daughter (Knopf; October 10) is Roza, scion of a Tito supporter, who overwhelms bland Chris in 1970s London. P.D. JAMES’s The Private Patient (Knopf; November 19) is, alas, stuck at a clinic where murder is afoot. Gaze into MICHAEL COX’s The Glass of Time (Norton; October 13) and you’ll find reflected the sequel to his intriguing neo-Victorian thriller, The Meaning of Night.

At the New England prep school featured in ANITA SHREVE’s Testimony (Little, Brown; October 21), lives are demolished by a sex scandal — too bad about that videotape. Dark secrets also surface when scary-smart Sol travels to Germany with his family in NANCY HUSTON’s Prix Femina winner, Fault Lines (Black Cat; October 1). This French bestseller is available in 18 languages.

Hey, don’t blink. In Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don’t (Little, Brown; November 18), MALCOLM GLADWELL argues that it’s not an 80-hour work week but family and cultural particulars that put folks on top. Fall books from folks who got there: ANNE RICE limns her return to Catholicism in Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession (Knopf; October 7), and ART SPIEGELMAN offers Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist As a Young %@&*! (Pantheon; October 7).

Success? If you think it means big bucks, try NIALL FERGUSON’s The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Penguin Press; November 13). If not, you might appreciate RUSSELL SHORTO’s Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason (Doubleday; October 14), or JAY PARINI’s Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (Doubleday; November 4).

Among this fall’s surge of Lincoln celebrations, try JAMES M. MCPHERSON’s Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln As Commander-in-Chief (Penguin Press; October 7) and Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World (Norton; October 22), with offerings from contemporary historians edited by ERIC FONER. ANNETTE GORDON-REED reports on Jefferson’s slave relations in The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (Norton; September 29); H.W. BRANDS revisits FDR in Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Doubleday; November 4).

Don’t read SARAH VOWELL’s The Wordy Shipmates (Riverhead; October 7) if you think the Puritans were quaint. Likewise, KATHLEEN BURK’s Old World, New World: Great Britain and America from the Beginning (Atlantic Monthly; October 14) upends smug views of the special US-British relationship.

Want something current? BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY challenges totalitarianisms present and future in Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (Random House; September 16), and ANTONIA JUHASZ challenges fuel inefficiency in The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry — And What We Must Do To Stop It (Morrow; October 7). In The Ayatollah Begs To Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (Doubleday; September 23), HOOMAN MAJD explains the deep-seated insecurities of his native land.

Savage Detective lovers: ROBERTO BOLAÑO saw himself as a poet first, so grab his poetry collection, The Romantic Dogs (New Directions; November 28), when you pick up 2666. SHARON OLDS’s One Secret Thing (Knopf; September 25) offers a typically raw account of the mother-daughter relationship over time. GLYN MAXWELL’s Hide Now (Houghton Mifflin; September 25) plumbs contemporary life in fresh, colloquial language. And try to read NICK LAIRD’s latest collection On Purpose (Norton; October 6): it’s a knockout study of human relations.

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 See all articles by: BARBARA HOFFERT

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