Fiction Favs for May

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, Reif Larsen

As this debut novel opens we learn several things: that Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is a genius; that his drawing skills, especially as they pertain to mapmaking, are unparalleled; that scientific journals the world over are seeking his talents; that the Smithsonian is calling to tell T.S. that he has won the prestigious Baird award. The problem is, T.S. is 12 years old and lives in Butte, Montana, a long way from the Mall in Washington D.C. So T.S. tries to cross the United States without a driver’s license, money, or food–and without telling anyone his age or whereabouts. His detailed illustrations of his epic journey decorate the pages of this absolute gem of a story; you’ll feel like you’re on the road with him cheering the whole way! – Anne Holman, Penguin, $27.95 (TKE has a limited number of signed first editions!)

Sunnyside, Glen David Gold

Gold’s publisher calls this wondrous novel a romp, which on one level it is. He skillfully juggles three different plot lines, all in some way tied to WWII: In America, Charlie Chaplin wears multiple hats–film star, director, studio head as he jockeys for dominance against other more powerful studio heads. In France, a pregnant French whore suckles an American soldier’s orphaned puppies, as he struggles to find anything, anyone safe from the hell around him. On the Russian front, another soldier finds little use for the social skills learned at his mother’s knee in Grosse Point, as he and his unit fight the cold, far worse an enemy than the one hiding in the forest surrounding their Siberian camp. Like Catch 22, Sunnyside just may become another icon for the idiocy that is war. – Kathy Ashton, Knopf, $26.95

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin

A young woman in rural Ireland, with no apparent future, makes her way to a Catholic enclave in Brooklyn. There, she takes tentative steps to build a life, generally being the “good girl” she is expected to be. But Eilis has a mind of her own, or so she thinks. As events force her back to Ireland for a visit and she is pulled between the love of the man she’s left and a growing attraction for a new man and for the life she could have in the land of her birth, we recognize the randomness of her decisions, the ease with which people her age are swayed by forces they assume they control. Uncanny in its evocation of a young woman coming of age and of a city coming of age, Brooklyn is at once interior and ironic, distanced and involving. Toibin, who wrote one of the best books of 2004, The Master, is masterful here in his depiction of Brooklyn and Ireland circa 1950 and of such issues as self determination, love of country, love of family, and, of course, sexual love. – Betsy Burton, Scribner, $25

The Frozen Thames, Helen Humphreys

Small in size, lovely in design, unique in nature, Humphreys’ latest is, as its title indicates, a series of vignettes, none more than two or three pages, one for each recorded freeze of the River Thames and all as evocative as any full-bodied short story. Beginning with Mathilda under siege in 1142, and taking us through the last freeze in 1895 (once the London Bridge came down the river flowed too freely to freeze completely over), Humphreys gives us a quilt of history and intimate human drama, royal and plebian alike, that is astonishing in terms of its imaginative power. At first glance a curiousity, The Frozen Thames is a remarkable little volume that I already know I’ll always treasure. – Betsy Burton, Delacorte Press, $22

The Four Corners of the Sky, Michael Malone

Annie Peregrine is left on the family’s North Carolina farm on her seventh birthday, unceremoniously deposited in a barn next to her father’s airplane as he tears off in his latest convertible, leaving his daughter with her Aunt Sam and Sam’s friend Clarke. The book is rife with characters who make you dwell on their every word, settings that soar from the Naval Academy (the adult Annie is a Navy jet jockey) to the Smithsonian, from St. Louis to a small city in Cuba. Malone has once again conjured a tale that will make you laugh and cry and marvel at his ability to pry and poke and expose all the corners of the human heart. – Kathy Ashton, Sourcebooks, $24.99 (Michael Malone will be at TKE in June!)

Far Bright Star, Robert Olmstead

Far Bright Star is an elegant novel, its finely wrought prose spare. The landscape is searing and austere, the plot bleak to say the least, but Olmstead manages to foster real empathy for the brothers at the heart of the tale. At turns gruesome in its realistic portrayal of a senseless battle, and brilliant in its detailed description of the horses and cavalrymen, this is a portrait of grace under fire and a ringing endorsement for understatements–I really enjoyed the restrained quality of this novel as well as the meticulously crafted writing. – Jenny Lyons, Algonquin, $23.95

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