The Vixen by Francine Prose (June 29, 2021)
It’s 1953, and Simon Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate newly hired by a distinguished New York publishing firm, has entered a glittering world of three-martini lunches, exclusive literary parties, and old-money aristocrats in exquisitely tailored suits, a far cry from his loving, middle-class Jewish family in Coney Island.
But Simon’s first assignment—editing The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic, a lurid bodice-ripper improbably based on the recent trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, a potboiler intended to shore up the firm’s failing finances—makes him question the cost of admission. Because Simon has a secret that, at the height of the Red Scare and the McCarthy hearings, he cannot reveal: his beloved mother was a childhood friend of Ethel Rosenberg’s. His parents mourn Ethel’s death.
Simon’s dilemma grows thornier when he meets The Vixen’s author, the startlingly beautiful, reckless, seductive Anya Partridge, ensconced in her opium-scented boudoir in a luxury Hudson River mental asylum. As mysteries deepen, as the confluence of sex, money, politics and power spirals out of Simon’s control, he must face what he’s lost by exchanging the loving safety of his middle-class Jewish parents’ Coney Island apartment for the witty, whiskey-soaked orbit of his charismatic boss, the legendary Warren Landry. Gradually Simon realizes that the people around him are not what they seem, that everyone is keeping secrets, that ordinary events may conceal a diabolical plot—and that these crises may steer him toward a brighter future.
At once domestic and political, contemporary and historic, funny and heartbreaking, enlivened by surprising plot turns and passages from Anya’s hilariously bad novel, The Vixen illuminates a period of history with eerily striking similarities to the current moment. Meanwhile it asks timeless questions: How do we balance ambition and conscience? What do social mobility and cultural assimilation require us to sacrifice? How do we develop an authentic self, discover a vocation, and learn to live with the mysteries of love, family, art, life and loss?
Wayward by Dana Spiotta (July 6, 2021)
On the heels of the election of 2016, Samantha Raymond’s life begins to come apart: her mother is ill, her teenage daughter is increasingly remote, and at fifty-two she finds herself staring into “the Mids” — that hour of supreme wakefulness between three and four in the morning in which women of a certain age suddenly find themselves contemplating motherhood, mortality, and, in this case, the state of our unraveling nation.
When she falls in love with a beautiful, decrepit house in a hardscrabble neighborhood in Syracuse, she buys it on a whim and flees her suburban life — and her family — as she grapples with how to be a wife, a mother, and a daughter, in a country that is coming apart at the seams.
Dana Spiotta’s Wayward is a stunning novel about aging, about the female body, and about female difficulty — female complexity — in the age of Trump. Probing and provocative, brainy and sensual, it is a testament to our weird, off-kilter America, to reforms and resistance and utopian wishes, and to the beauty of ruins. Tremendous new work from one of the most gifted writers of her generation.
The Perfume Thief by Timothy Schaffert (August 3, 2021)
Clementine is a seventy-two year-old reformed con artist with a penchant for impeccably tailored suits. Her life of crime has led her from the uber-wealthy perfume junkies of belle epoque Manhattan, to the scented butterflies of Costa Rica, to the spice markets of Marrakech, and finally the bordellos of Paris, where she settles down in 1930 and opens a shop bottling her favorite extracts for the ladies of the cabarets.
Now it’s 1941 and Clem’s favorite haunt, Madame Boulette’s, is crawling with Nazis, while Clem’s people — the outsiders, the artists, and the hustlers who used to call it home — are disappearing. Clem’s first instinct is to go to ground — it’s a frigid Paris winter and she’s too old to put up a fight. But when the cabaret’s prize songbird, Zoe St. Angel, recruits Clem to steal the recipe book of a now-missing famous Parisian perfumer, she can’t say no. Her mark is Oskar Voss, a Francophile Nazi bureaucrat, who wants the book and Clem’s expertise to himself. Hoping to buy the time and trust she needs to pull off her scheme, Clem decides to tell Voss the real story of the life and loves she came to Paris to escape. But Clem doesn’t have much practice telling the truth and it turns out to be more dangerous than she could have imagined.
Complete with romance, espionage, champagne towers, and haute couture, this full-tilt sensory experience is a dazzling portrait of the underground resistance of twentieth-century Paris and a passionate love letter to the power of beauty and community in the face of insidious hate.
The Magician by Colm Toíbín (September 7, 2021)
Colm Tóibín’s magnificent new novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, exotic and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.
In a stunning marriage of research and imagination, Tóibín explores the heart and mind of a writer whose gift is unparalleled and whose life is driven by a need to belong and the anguish of illicit desire. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived — the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile. This is a man and a family fiercely engaged by the world, profoundly flawed, and unforgettable. As People magazine said about The Master, “It’s a delicate, mysterious process, this act of creation, fraught with psychological tension, and Tóibín captures it beautifully.”
Matrix by Lauren Groff (September 7, 2021)
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.
At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie’s vision be bulwark enough?
Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff’s new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (September 14, 2021)
“Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…”
To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home.
Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time.
Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn’t ask
Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa — the “Waldorf of Harlem” — and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.
Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?
Harlem Shuffle‘s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.
But mostly, it’s a joy to read, another dazzling novel from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning Colson Whitehead.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (September 28, 2021)
The heroes of Cloud Cuckoo Land are trying to figure out the world around them: Anna and Omeir, on opposite sides of the formidable city walls during the 1453 siege of Constantinople; teenage idealist Seymour in an attack on a public library in present day Idaho; and Konstance, on an interstellar ship bound for an exoplanet, decades from now. Like Marie-Laure and Werner in All the Light We Cannot See, Anna, Omeir, Seymour, and Konstance are dreamers and outsiders who find resourcefulness and hope in the midst of peril.
An ancient text — the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky — provides solace and mystery to these unforgettable characters. Doerr has created a tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness — with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us and those who will be here after we’re gone.
Dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come,” Cloud Cuckoo Land is a hauntingly beautiful and redemptive novel about stewardship — of the book, of the Earth, of the human heart.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (October 5, 2021)
It’s December 23, 1971, and the Hildebrandt family is at a crossroads. The patriarch, Russ, the associate pastor of a suburban Chicago church, is poised to break free of a marriage he finds joyless ― unless his brilliant and unstable wife, Marion, breaks free of it first. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college afire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has veered into the era’s counterculture, while their younger brother Perry, fed up with selling pot to support his drug habit, has firmly resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.
Universally recognized as the leading novelist of his generation, Jonathan Franzen is often described as a teller of family stories. Only now, though, in Crossroads, has he given us a novel in which a family, in all the intricacy of its workings, is truly at the center.
By turns comic and harrowing, a tour-de-force of interwoven perspectives and sustained suspense, Crossroads is the first volume of a trilogy, A Key to All Mythologies, that will span three generations and trace the inner life of our culture through the present day. Complete in itself, set in a historical moment of moral crisis, and reaching back to the early twentieth century, Crossroads serves as a foundation for a sweeping investigation of human mythologies, as the Hildebrandt family navigates the political, intellectual, and social crosscurrents of the past fifty years.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (October 5, 2021)
In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But after the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm had hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they hatch an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.
Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’s third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.
Fight Night by Miriam Toews (October 5, 2021)
“You’re a small thing,” Grandma writes, “and you must learn to fight.” Swiv’s Grandma, Elvira, has been fighting all her life. From her upbringing in a strict religious community, she has fought those who wanted to take away her joy, her independence, and her spirit. She has fought to make peace with her loved ones when they have chosen to leave her. And now, even as her health fails, Grandma is fighting for her family: for her daughter, partnerless and in the third term of a pregnancy; and for her granddaughter Swiv, a spirited nine-year-old who has been suspended from school. Cramped together in their Toronto home, on the precipice of extraordinary change, Grandma and Swiv undertake a vital new project, setting out to explain their lives in letters they will never send.
Alternating between the exuberant, precocious voice of young Swiv and her irrepressible, tenacious Grandma, Fight Night is a love letter to mothers and grandmothers, and to all the women who are still fighting-painfully, ferociously — for a way to live on their own terms.
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