Hannah Yancey

Victor Lodato’s Edgar and Lucy is a strangely alluring saga that, with every turn of the page, lures the reader in with stunning writing and simmering tension.

The novel follows 8-year-old Edgar Allan Fini, a skinny Albino boy who is torn between loving two women in his life: his young mother, Lucy, who, while capable of motherly devotion at times, is trying to figure out her own life surrounded by various “suitors” and impaired by alcohol. Then there’s Florence, Edgar’s traditional Italian grandmother and caregiver who feels broken whenever Edgar is away. All three are bound by the loss of Lucy’s late husband, Frank Fini, who took his own life after suffering from mental illness. Still coping with grief, each member of the trio deals with Frank’s absence in different ways, and each one uses his death as a catalyst for their actions.

When Edgar disappears with a mysterious man, Lucy searches high and low for him, a quest that enraptures his suburban New Jersey hometown. The reader is thrown into the hunt as well, and suddenly, the novel’s 544 pages race by, while touching on such themes as the meaning of family and motherhood, suicide and the afterlife. This is where author Lodato’s background as a playwright becomes invaluable; the action moves with a fluid, nearly perfect pace, and readers may feel as if they are watching a play they can’t step away from.

Lodato, whose 2009 debut novel Mathilda Savitch won the PEN USA Award for Fiction, writes with clarity and punch, making this evocative tale of loss and redemption one you won’t be able to put it down.

Victor Lodato’s Edgar and Lucy is a strangely alluring saga that, with every turn of the page, lures the reader in with stunning writing and simmering tension.

In her first novel, Emily Robbins thrusts the reader into the throes of a forbidden love triangle, set amidst political unrest in the Middle East. Bea is an American student studying abroad and working as a maid for a family in a country that is never named, but strongly resembles the current state of Syria. Obsessed with the Arabic language and the idea of love, Bea’s deepest desire is to have access to a book called “The Astonishing Text.” The story inside the text bears a striking resemblance to her own, as she falls for a policeman she is not supposed to talk to, and he, in turn, falls in love with the other maid that serves her host family named Nisrine, who is an Indonesian woman with a husband and child in her home country. Despite her ties to her family abroad and knowledge of Bea’s affection for the policeman, Nisrine returns his sentiments and Bea becomes the carrier of their love poems to each other.

As their romantic interest develops, so does the growing unrest in their country. The father of Bea’s host family participates in the revolutionary protests in the city, and turmoil surrounds him as the government seeks to expose him as a rebel.

A Word for Love is modest and lovely; it deals with complex issues like the flaws in language and the distance between what is said and what is meant through beautiful composition and simple words. Robbins does a wonderful job of writing about the uniqueness of Arabic in a relatable way: “In Arabic, the words for freedom is hurriya. I remember first learning this word as a beginning student, and memorizing it by its nearness to the English word ‘hurray.’ The joy it brought me.” As the novel moves to its dramatic and shocking climax, every word begins to feel heavy and important, as if the reader is also holding an “astonishing text.” Robbins drives home the lesson that, despite conflict, language is transcendent.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

In her first novel, Emily Robbins thrusts the reader into the throes of a forbidden love triangle, set amidst political unrest in the Middle East. Bea is an American student studying abroad and working as a maid for a family in a country that is never named, but strongly resembles the current state of Syria. Obsessed with the Arabic language and the idea of love, Bea’s deepest desire is to have access to a book called “The Astonishing Text.”

David Szalay, named one of Granta’s best young British novelists in 2013, has written a book that lives up to such an award. Longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, All That Man Is, a striking novel-in-stories, offers a piece-by-piece portrait of what it means to be human. The novel is made up of short, 30-page glimpses into the lives of nine men who are all at different stages in life and struggling with existential crises: Two British teenagers go on a trip to Germany and have to determine how to spend their time; a lazy boy from France gets fired by his own uncle and has a bizarre holiday in Cyprus; a work-obsessed newspaper editor from Copenhagen destroys a minister’s career by divulging details of his affair; a fitness trainer is roped into being a security guard for a beautiful woman who secretly works as a prostitute; a prestigious professor negotiates an affair with a student; a Russian weighs heavy thoughts of suicide; and a political figure recovering from a heart operation comes to grips with his own mortality.

With razor-sharp writing and lyrical vocabulary, All That Man Is never misses a beat. The men’s stories are defined and independent, but Szalay manages to weave in similar themes and echoes of past narratives (one man reveals that a prime minister’s mistress is pregnant and plans to get an abortion while the next story portrays a professor with a student girlfriend who discovers she’s pregnant and struggles with her decision, for example).

The novel almost seems to grow up itself—the age of each character increases as the book progresses, and the first narratives touch on concepts of teenage boredom and not feeling capable while the last few describe men who must accept the ideas of discontent and dying. All That Man Is also explores the spectrum of male relationships to women: Females morph from sexual objects to deeply complex humans who make life both richer and more complicated. Szalay has written an illuminating and enthralling work that will delight novel-readers and short story enthusiasts alike. 

David Szalay, named one of Granta’s best young British novelists in 2013, has written a book that lives up to such an award. Longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, All That Man Is, a striking novel-in-stories, offers a piece-by-piece portrait of what it means to be human. The novel is made up of short, […]

It is clear that the ideas behind The Nix have been swimming around in first-time novelist Nathan Hill’s head for many years. Deriving its title from the name of a Norwegian spirit that takes people away from the ones they love, this 640-page novel takes on just about everything—including pop culture, advertising, trigger warnings, politics, the degradation of literature, ghosts and the obsession with cell phones. Hill weaves these elements into a charged mother-son story with great poise and humor. 

It’s 2011 and Chicago English professor Samuel Andresen–Anderson learns that his mother, Faye, who abandoned the family when he was 11, has been arrested for throwing gravel at a right-wing presidential candidate. Since he owes his publisher another book, Samuel decides he can help his mother—whom he hasn’t seen since she left—and himself by writing an exposé on the woman behind the most-viewed YouTube clip of the moment.

Samuel visits Faye’s Iowa hometown and the Chicago suburbs, searching for fragments of his mother’s story. Hill explores Faye’s past via many angles: flashbacks to dangerous Chicago protests in 1968, Samuel’s memories and even the point-of-view of Faye’s Parkinson’s-ridden father. In these alternating sections, the reader discovers the details about Faye’s life that Samuel longs for. 

The Nix is a slow burn of a novel that explores the importance of empathy, family dynamics and dysfunction. When Samuel begins to understand his mother, he understands himself. Both laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly poignant, The Nix will be known as a great American novel.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

It is clear that the ideas behind The Nix have been swimming around in first-time novelist Nathan Hill’s head for many years. Deriving its title from the name of a Norwegian spirit that takes people away from the ones they love, this 640-page novel takes on just about everything—including pop culture, advertising, trigger warnings, politics, the degradation of literature, ghosts and the obsession with cell phones. Hill weaves these elements into a charged mother-son story with great poise and humor.

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