Dan Barrett

The reprinting of Tony and Susan has been described as the return of a modern classic—the book was first released in 1993.

The novel’s premise is unusual: A woman, Susan, has received a draft of a novel from Edward, a man she once briefly called her husband. Edward wanted to be a writer even when married to Susan, but it’s only now—long after their divorce—that he has realized his dream.

As Susan reads, she is awed by the skillful, harrowing story—a story that real-world readers of Tony and Susan will encounter in its entirety. It’s about a man, Tony, whose wife and daughter are abducted by some menacing men in the middle of the road. And as Tony copes with the aftermath of this violent incident, Susan copes with the memories of her dead marriage and the realities of her current domestic situation. Susan and Tony seem to speak to one another, the way any attentive reader feels that he is speaking with the characters on the page.

Tony and Susan accomplishes many difficult tasks. For example, Susan grows from a nonentity to something like a complex, living, breathing human being. Also, Tony’s situation in the manuscript subtly and plausibly sheds light on Susan’s predicament. Though Susan isn’t fighting for her life or seeking bloody revenge, she is deeply dissatisfied with some of her choices, and Edward’s tale forces her to confront some skeletons in her own closet. Readers may find themselves repeatedly thinking of David Mamet’s plays, which are similarly playful in their use of language and attuned to the darkness that runs alongside just about any simple, civil human encounter.

It’s impressive that Wright has invented such a bold structure for a novel, and that he has found a way to draw us so skillfully into not one, but two fictional worlds.

The reprinting of Tony and Susan has been described as the return of a modern classic—the book was first released in 1993. The novel’s premise is unusual: A woman, Susan, has received a draft of a novel from Edward, a man she once briefly called her husband. Edward wanted to be a writer even when […]

Bobbie Ann Mason became an American sensation with her books Shiloh and In Country. She has returned with a fabulous tale that takes her outside the United States, into France and back a few decades in history to the tumultuous years of World War II in The Girl in the Blue Beret.

Mason’s protagonist, Marshall, must navigate the choppy waters of memory in this riveting, understated novel. Years ago, Marshall was involved in a crash-landing in France, and he almost lost his life along the way. As part of his recuperation process, he was sheltered by a host of courageous French citizens—participants in the anti-Nazi cause. Having survived the war, Marshall enjoyed a fairly luxurious life in the States, flying for a commercial airline and drawing strength from a sturdy (if not very passionate) marriage to his patient wife, Loretta. But, newly widowed, Marshall must decide if he wants to fade quietly into senescence. A part of him longs to start a new life in France, back among the people who helped him so long ago.

Mason’s subtle, gorgeous prose keeps us captivated. She is not the kind of writer who relies on stylistic pyrotechnics, yet you occasionally pause to marvel at how real her fictional world seems. Tiny details lodge in your memory—a group of men spraying beer on a “newly-christened” plane, a small cardboard container of black-market ice cream “smuggled in newspapers and straw.” Her characters’ letters are unforgettable. A Frenchman writes—in choppy English—“I am sending you a little word to ask you what are you doing and to tell you that we are going very well and hope that you are the same since we see you.”

Readers who enjoy a well-told, realistic story will want to get their hands on The Girl in the Blue Beret. It’s a novel for lovers of the rich, fully plausible narratives of Anne Tyler and Mona Simpson. Like these two masters, Mason can say quite a bit about America just by telling one man’s tale.

Bobbie Ann Mason became an American sensation with her books Shiloh and In Country. She has returned with a fabulous tale that takes her outside the United States, into France and back a few decades in history to the tumultuous years of World War II in The Girl in the Blue Beret. Mason’s protagonist, Marshall, […]

The London Train, Tessa Hadley’s elegant novel, tells two linked stories. In the first half, a middle-aged man, Paul, goes on a journey. His daughter from his first marriage, Pia, is pregnant—and living with some disreputable people. Paul imagines he might save Pia, but as he considers how unhappy he is in his own current domestic situation, he decides he might take a page from his daughter’s book. He lives with her for a while. When he snaps to his senses and returns to his marriage and his bourgeois life, he must decide if he can resume being the person he once was.

Then, in the second half, a woman named Cora struggles with some weighty problems of her own. Most pressing: Her estranged husband has gone missing. It emerges that Cora once had an affair with Paul, the man from the first half of the book, and this is why she is now separated from her husband, Robert. As she searches for Robert, she thinks about her (now-defunct) affair and about the wreckage of her marriage. She wonders if maybe she doesn’t want to be divorced after all.

Throughout both halves of the novel, Hadley’s literary talents are on display. She takes great care to describe the irrational ways in which people behave—especially the way in which a person’s train of thought can get derailed when that person spends too much time on his or her own. She notices how comically hypocritical people can be when they give advice, and notes how a person can become exhausted by inhabiting a slightly false personality. It’s clear that Hadley loves and closely watches the people around her, and that she has a real gift for explaining how the mind works.

Fans of Hadley’s absorbing New Yorker stories won’t want to miss The London Train. And anyone who is unfamiliar with her work but enjoys the graceful prose and psychological insight of Roxana Robinson or Penelope Lively should pick up a copy of this paperback original.

The London Train, Tessa Hadley’s elegant novel, tells two linked stories. In the first half, a middle-aged man, Paul, goes on a journey. His daughter from his first marriage, Pia, is pregnant—and living with some disreputable people. Paul imagines he might save Pia, but as he considers how unhappy he is in his own current […]

Trouble is brewing on the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara. Here, on America’s version of the Galapagos Islands, many unique species are under assault. Someone has inadvertently introduced a species of rat—rattus rattus—to this fragile and ecologically rich area, and the rats are driving out rare, more exotic animals. The problem creates two warring camps. On one side, crusader Alma Boyd Takesue proposes to kill the rats with a method as humane as possible, so that the Islands’ delicate biological balance can survive. On the other side, fierce-tempered businessman Dave LaJoy feels that no group of animals deserves priority over any other; all creatures deserve to live, even rats. The conflict leads to several tense moments—a shouting match at a museum, a court case and an escalating sense of dread and hysteria.

T.C. Boyle presents an interesting question in When the Killing’s Done: If one species has a right to live in a certain area, shouldn’t all species be able to live there? Boyle’s novel is not just a ripped-from-the-headlines page-turner, but also a careful study of two memorable antagonists. Alma seems to leap from the page, and Dave will appeal to anyone who detects a whiff of hypocrisy in the idea of exterminating invasive species. Boyle’s lyrical, energetic prose is a pleasure: Anger surfaces “like a submerged log riding a contrail of swamp gas,” and a flashlight is “a darkened cylinder . . . held out like a homing device.”

Anyone who enjoys the topical, provocative novels of Jodi Picoult will want to pick up a copy of When the Killing’s Done. And, of course, Boyle’s countless fans—who have followed his career from Drop City to The Women—will want to get their hands on this new book.

 

 

Trouble is brewing on the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara. Here, on America’s version of the Galapagos Islands, many unique species are under assault. Someone has inadvertently introduced a species of rat—rattus rattus—to this fragile and ecologically rich area, and the rats are driving out rare, more exotic animals. The problem creates […]

In François Lelord’s utterly charming Hector and the Search for Happiness, a psychiatrist wants to know what makes people happy. He visits friends and keeps a list of observations—comparing your toys with a friend’s toys can make you unhappy, sun and sand can make anyone happy, happiness is caring for the people you love. Wealth and status seem to hurt some of the psychiatrist’s friends; for example, a businessman works 80 hours a week and becomes dependent on alcohol. Other characters have a gift for happiness: The psychiatrist encounters laughing, impoverished people at a picnic and wonders how they can overlook their own suffering and experience pleasure. Most notably, a very ill friend of the psychiatrist is able to forget that she is dying, enjoy her final days and inspire the people around her.

Hector and the Search for Happiness turns psychological research into a fast-paced, enchanting story. Lelord himself is a psychiatrist, and his interest in the human mind is infectious. He writes as if he were telling a bedtime story—calmly, authoritatively. His story makes you ask: Am I happy? How could I change to make myself happier?

Already an international hit, Hector and the Search for Happiness will be turned into a feature film in 2011. Fans of Eat, Pray, Love and The Elegance of the Hedgehog won’t want to miss this gem of a book.

 

In François Lelord’s utterly charming Hector and the Search for Happiness, a psychiatrist wants to know what makes people happy. He visits friends and keeps a list of observations—comparing your toys with a friend’s toys can make you unhappy, sun and sand can make anyone happy, happiness is caring for the people you love. Wealth […]

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