There’s a character in Adam White’s debut novel, “The Midcoast,” who at one point starts to get annoyed by her small-town conditions and decides to do something about it. “She went to the library,” White writes, “and started looking at all kinds of books—novels, spy novels, biographies, memoirs, history books, cookbooks—anything in print.” That’s my kind of character, I thought as I reached that passage, and if it’s your kind of character too, you could do worse than “The Midcoast” (think “Ozark” meets “The Great Gatsby” in Maine) to add to your reading list this week.
Other novels we recommend include Katharine Schellman’s Jazz Age Mystery, Karen Jennings’ Booker-nominated story about a lighthouse keeper in Africa, Jennifer Weiner’s story about a Cape Cod wedding, and Katie Runde’s debut,’ The Shore’, about a New Jersey family. brace himself for the death of his ailing father. In nonfiction, our recommended titles are the biography of a pioneering surgeon, a cultural history of Fire Island, two books about America’s political divisions, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s memoir of her midlife immersion in the Italian language. Enjoy reading.
Senior editor, books
THE FACEMAKER: A visionary surgeon’s struggle to restore the disfigured soldiers of World War I† by Lindsey Fitzharris. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.) Fitzharris chronicles the life and work of pioneering reconstructive surgeon Harold Gillies, a specialist in restoring those who survived the mechanized slaughter of World War I but were left with disfigured faces. Gillies, at least as he is presented here, was innovative, cheerful and relentlessly hopeful, with an encouraging manner of sleeping as impressive as his technical prowess. As a tale of medical advancements and extraordinary achievements, “The Facemaker” is “creepy yet inspiring,” writes our critic Jennifer Szalai.
LAST CALL AT THE NIGHTINGALE† by Katharine Schellman. (Minotaur, $27.99.) In this effervescent mystery debut – set in Manhattan, 1924 – a young seamstress named Vivian spends her evenings in a champagne-soaked speakeasy, until a man is found dead outside and she decides to investigate the murder. “What follows is a veritable half-mouth journey, populated by the useless, dangerous rich and the desperate, hungry poor, all with motive and means to kill,” writes Sarah Weinman in her latest crime column. “Vivian is a great character, brave and resourceful, determined to choreograph another life for himself.”
AN ISLAND, by Karen Jennings. (Hogarth, $25.) In the South African author’s first novel to be published in the United States, a reclusive old lighthouse keeper living on an island somewhere in the south of the continent encounters a living refugee who has washed ashore, who treats him with confidence and even a kindness treats he can. not perceive or hope to return. The novel “is beautifully and sparsely constructed,” writes Lydia Millet in her review. “In flashbacks to Samuel’s coming of age and then torturous imprisonment, Jennings provides a rough and stripped-down portrait of the bleak family dynamics and social circumstances that made him who he is.”
THE MIDDLE COAST, by Adam White. (Hogarth, $27.) Set in the mist-shrouded town of Damariscotta, Maine, White’s vibrant debut novel traces the trajectory of a lobster family from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of a small-town criminal empire. It also sheds light on the types of people and attitudes that midcoastal Maine produces, with its shocking juxtapositions of poverty and wealth. The book “shows an urge to know the unknowable, to place the chaos of disintegration and violence in some sort of order,” writes Lee Cole in his review. Brimming with keen observations not only of the landscape, but of dialect and class differences and all the little, vital details that make a place in fiction real, ‘The Midcoast’ is a captivating look at small town Maine and the thwarted dreams of a family trying to transcend it.”
TRANSLATE MYSELF AND OTHERS, by Jhumpa Lahiri. (Princeton University, $21.95.) At the age of 45, Lahiri, the acclaimed Indian-American writer, decided to start writing in Italian. Told with passion and insight, this memoir of the experience grapples with questions that are both philosophical and technical. “Her pursuit of Italian is about something much bigger than synonyms or dictionaries or nouns,” Benjamin Moser writes in his review. “Studying this foreign language is or can be a liberation, says Lahiri: ‘I write in Italian to feel free.'”
THE SUMMER PLACE, by Jennifer Weiner. (Atria, $28.99.) Leading up to a Cape Cod wedding, family secrets bubble to the surface and threaten to damage not only the marriage, but the trust of generations. A meditation on mothers and daughters, Weiner’s latest novel also explores class conflict, identity issues, and real estate drama. In a mixed review, Michelle Ruiz cites the family’s outraged novelist-matriarch for praise, as well as Weiner’s willingness to eschew sentimental conceptions of motherhood in favor of a more complicated ambivalence: “That’s the kind of caustic, delicious, terribly human revelation that makes a beach reading,” writes Ruiz.
LIBERALISM AND ITS DISSATISFACTION, by Francis Fukuyama. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) The famed political philosopher poses serious questions about how liberal democracy has functioned for generations in America and around the world, and calls for a new centrism, both individual and communal, to ensure the survival of liberalism . “Fukuyama writes with crystalline rationality,” writes Joe Klein in a review that also considers Yascha Mounk’s “The Great Experiment” (below). “Both authors suggest that some form of conscription could be a way to bandage the national wounds. … But Fukuyama disdains what he calls ‘a laundry list’ of policy proposals and, rather elegantly, settles for a plea for moderation.”
THE BIG EXPERIMENT: Why various democracies are falling apart and how they can endure, by Yascha Mounk. (Penguin Press, $28.) While Mounk is concerned about growing inequality and identity-based politics, he advocates for optimism and advocates for diversity and inclusion. “Mounk convincingly states that progress has been made,” writes Joe Klein in his review. “It will undoubtedly be a challenge to overcome the crusts of monopoly power and racial enmity, political stalemate and media cynicism. But a sense of helplessness is essential for the enemies of liberalism. Supporters of various democracies, Mounk writes, “will also have to rein in the pessimists in their own midst.”
FIRE ISLAND: A century in the life of an American paradise, by Jack Parlett. (Hanover Square, $27.99.) Parlett’s succinct and personal history of the fabled gay enclave off the south coast of Long Island draws everyone from Walt Whitman to Andy Warhol in, but never spills over into a sepia-tinged exercise in nostalgia. Wayne Koestenbaum, who reviews it, calls the book a “scrupulously researched, age-old chronicle of gay life” that “captures with a clear yet lyrical touch the power of the place to numb and shame, bring pleasure and symbolize transience.” .”
THE COAST, by Katie Runde. (Scriber, $26.99.) In Runde’s heartfelt and bittersweetly funny debut, a New Jersey family braces itself for the death of their beloved father, who has an aggressive form of brain cancer. The subject is difficult, but moments of frivolity abound. “This is Katie Runde’s first novel, and she writes with a fluid sensitivity to detail and mood, answering difficult questions harshly and directly,” writes Judy Blundell in her review. “It’s captivating, clear and true. Anyone who has lost an inch will recognize the struggle to push through despair and affirm the tenacious persistence of love.”
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