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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Top 10 First Novels
Last year publishers were peppering the market with first novels, and this year the same shotgun approach prevailed. This year’s crop (among those reviewed in Booklist from November 15, 1998, through November 1, 1999) looks extremely promising.
Egolf, Tristan. Lord of the Barnyard; or, Killing the Fatted Calf and Arming the Aware in the Corn Belt. Grove; dist. by Publishers Group West, $25 (0-8021-1641-8).
Egolf’s depiction of a small, benighted, smugly hypocritical midwestern city concerns a garbagemen’s strike led by a Homerically star-crossed idiot savant. Ultimately, this over-the-top novel becomes a sly allegory about U.S. labor.
Galvin, James. Fencing the Sky. Holt/John Macrae, $23 (0-8050-6220-3).
The beauty of Galvin’s naturalistic prose takes the reader deeply into this story of friendship and idealism, which is, in fact, a reinvented western. A former antiwar radical is on the run after having accidentally murdered a land speculator. As the plot hopscotches back and forth through 30 years, the reader comes to understand how this character’s life and the lives of his friends are shaped by their worldview. An evocative depiction of the modern West.
Haynes, Melinda. Mother of Pearl. Hyperion, $23.95 (0-7868-6485-0).
In this captivating novel, set in a small Mississippi town amid the social and economic challenges of the 1950s, Haynes writes powerfully of basic human longings and aspirations—love, community, identity, and security.
Logue, Antonia. Shadow-Box. Grove, $24 (0-8021-1647-7).
A man and a woman renew their acquaintance through letters, each recalling their past histories and the one person—friend to the former, lover and husband to the latter—whom they have in common. The man is Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion; the woman is Mina Loy, the modernist poet; and the man-in-common is Arthur Cravan, a boxer, a con man, and something of a cultural provocateur (also the nephew of Oscar Wilde). A remarkable novel.
O’Connell, Robert L. Fast Eddie. Morrow, $24 (0-688-16690-3).
Remember Eddie Rickenbacker—early car racer, World War I flying ace, founder of Eastern Airlines, and right wing cold warrior? War historian O’Connell presents an uproarious fictional biography of this singular individual. The author doesn’t twist any history as he tracks the entrepreneurial comet that was Rickenbacker’s life; he just fills it in, fleshes it out.
O’Hagan, Andrew. Our Fathers. Harcourt, $23 (0-15-100494-3).
In this generational novel, O’Hagan argues for the idealism of progress while simultaneously acknowledging the inherited faults of such an idealism and the faults of the dreamers themselves. It’s a beautiful elegy for Scotland’s postwar Labourites.
Realuyo, Bino A. The Umbrella Country. Ballantine, paper, $12.95 (0-345-42888-9).
Amid the poverty of Manila in the 1970s, eleven-year-old Gringo comes of age as he struggles to understand the behavior of his family and friends. When Gringo’s godmother tells him about an act of violence in the past, he understands how time has a way of answering even unspoken questions.
Strout, Elizabeth. Amy and Isabelle. Random, $22.95 (0-375-50134-7).
In a New England mill town during a summer in the 1960s, a lot of things were going on while Amy and her mother, Isabelle, were circling around the harsh knot of their ties to each other and their terror of them. An intense scrutiny of what makes women their mothers’ daughters.
Whitehead, Colin. The Intuitionist. Doubleday/Anchor, $19.95 (0-385-49299-5).
In a New York–like metropolis, elevators are mystical vehicles and their inspectors a priestly lot. Lila Mae Watson, the first black woman elevator inspector, is an Intuitionist whose faith is shaken to the core by a freak accident that not only jeopardizes her career but, as she attempts to clear her name, puts her very life in danger. A mesmerizing novel.
Yarbrough, Steve. The Oxygen Man. McMurray & Beck, $20 (1-878448-85-4).
Ned and Daisy Rose, brother and sister, have spent 23 years avoiding one another even as they share quarters in the family house. The narrative moves back and forth between 1996 and 1972– 73—the latter two years covering the period when Ned was a star on the high-school football team and Daisy fell in love. This novel mixes well the classic elements of the family cycle of cause and effect, hidden and imminent violence, and the long gestation before restitution.
Clarke, Breena. River, Cross My Heart. Little, Brown, $22.50 (0-316-14423-1).
Henley, Patricia. Hummingbird House. McMurray & Beck, $22 (1-878448-87-0). A 1999 National Book Award finalist.
Koenig, Andrea. Thumbelina. Scribner, $22 (0-684-85006-0).
McCarten, Andrew. Spinners. Morrow, $24 (0-688-16303-3).
Offill, Jenny. Last Things. Farrar, $23 (0-374-18405-0).
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