Author: Ben McNally

His Favorites Book Cover His Favorites
Kate Walbert
Fiction
Simon & Schuster
August 14

 

Jo Hadley has a comfortable, if vaguely dissatisfied life. She lives with her vaguely dissatisfied parents in Huntington Acres, on the border of the Huntington Country Club. They are members, have been since they arrived. They could, quite easily, "have gotten along just fine..."

 

Jo has a reputation for intoxicants (as do her parents.) She is blessed with two very close friends, and one night an ill-advised adventure turns all the above into the past tense.

"Why would I worry?" Mother said brightly.

Jo resurfaces at The Hawthorne School, on a scholarship, boarding. She doesn't really fit, begins to wonder if she'll ever fit anywhere again.

 

Then she comes under the tutelage of Master Aikens, who brings some meaning to her educational life. Master Aikens is 34. Jo Hadley is 15. World-wise as she seems, Jo is still innocent. For all her innocence she has principles. Collision is inevitable.

 

What starts as a confessional novel by a precociously cynical teen becomes a taut and compelling litany of thwarted promise and betrayal. All indignities are absorbed. That this absorption is to be expected comes as a jarring and uncomfortable truth.

 

His Favorites is a beautiful and wise novel. It is elegant and understated, and assembled with admirable craft. You'll love and admire Jo Hadley, and if you don't already know Kate Walbert you'll be in for an even bigger treat.

Happiness Book Cover Happiness
Aminatta Forna
Novel
Grove Atlantic
In store now!

Attila Ansare is an eminent psychiatrist, an authority on traumatic stress. He is in London for a conference, at which he is to deliver the keynote speech. While he is in London he will try to discover why his niece, who lives in an apartment with her son,  has not called home for a while.

Jean Turane is an American, in England after a broken marriage, working in London conducting a study of urban wildlife, specifically foxes, and starting a business creating rooftop gardens. Pursuing a fox as it crossed the crowded Waterloo Bridge one evening, Jean bumps into a large man and is knocked to the ground. By the time she has righted herself and dusted herself off the fox has disappeared.

You won’t be surprised to hear that Jean and Attila will meet again, and that their lives will become connected in ways that neither of them could expect.

You will be surprised, and pleasantly so, by how much wisdom Aminatta Forna has managed to pack into this immensely satisfying and expansive novel.

Attila will miss most of the conference he is in London to attend. Jean’s irregular army of fox-spotters will be given a new challenge, and she herself will be thrust unexpectedly into a public role.  Obstacles abound.

This is a book about care, and about caring in all its manifestations, with all its ramifications.

These are two unforgettable characters, and they are supported by a large and varied cast of secondary personalities, all immaculately rendered.  All of these characters care; it’s impossible not to care about them. This is a book about care, and about caring in all its manifestations, with all its ramifications. Caring brings responsibility. There are no short cuts in this book and no sugar-coating.

         Happiness is, nonetheless, a triumphant, exhilarating book, one of those rare novels that celebrates the human spirit and stays with the reader long after the last page has been turned.

The Fact of a Body Book Cover The Fact of a Body
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Flatiron Books
In Store Now!

In June of 2003 a first-year law student travelled to New Orleans to volunteer her services at a firm that excelled at fighting death sentences. From childhood she had an aversion to capital punishment, (both her parents were lawyers,) so this, for her, was more than just an internship to polish the resume.

That day she watched the videotaped confession of a man convicted of killing a young boy and it turned her life upside down. After she graduated from law school she “left the law,” but the effects of watching that video tape embedded.  There were aspects of the case that bothered her, and the more she investigated them the more they troubled her, and the more she found eerie echoes from her own life.

More than ten years later she produced this stunning, unforgettable book. After you have read it you will not be the same person you were when you opened it up.

Masterfully combining the story of convicted pedophile killer Ricky Langley with her own experiences of growing up in the privileged confines of the North-East, Alexandria Marzano-Leznevich’s book will shake you up.

You could not, as they say, make this stuff up.

Excursions into the American legal system often have an Alice in Wonderland aspect, but this is much more than a tale of justice denied, or swept away. You could not, as they say, make this stuff up. There are times when you just have to put it down and stare off into space; there are times, days after finishing it, that you ask yourself if you really read that part of it.

This is a book about silence, and about contrived deafness; it is a book about the profound effects of resource deficits in American institutions; it is, ultimately, about the elusive nature of justice.

Ricky Langley committed an unspeakable crime. Marzano-Leznevich has created a brilliant genre-busting book. This is their story.

Stranger in the Woods Book Cover Stranger in the Woods
Michael Finkel
Biography
March 7, 2017

Before he was apprehended Christopher Knight had lived by himself for more than a quarter of a century.

Finally undone by a combination of top-secret technological advances and the tenacity of a Maine game warden, Knight was caught in the act of stealing food from one of his favourite spots, unceremoniously cuffed, and searched.

Eventually he was questioned, and that’s when things began to get bizarre.  One mystery had finally been resolved, but another one was just about to surface.

For years the residents, and especially the part-time residents, of that particular neck of the Maine woods had been bothered and/or unnerved by the disappearance of items from their homes, and by break-ins of a somewhat peculiar nature; things of considerable  value were left untouched while food,  batteries, and flashlights were never overlooked. Books went, too, and candy.

The arrest of Christopher Knight finally put flesh on the elusive bones of what had become known as the hermit. What remained was the question of how he had managed to survive 27 years in the forest without human contact, and perhaps even more puzzling, why had he done so?

Forthcoming he was not. Author Michael Finkel, fascinated by the story, arrived from Montana unannounced to visit him in prison, and displaying remarkable patience and persistence, extracted enough of his story to fashion this book.

The reader is left with a lot of inescapable and potentially uncomfortable questions...

The state had to decide what to do with him; the hermit had to  reconcile himself to living in this fractious and cacaphonic world of ours. Neither decision was easily reached, or universally satisfactory. In so many ways, this book will divide opinion as readily as opinion was divided in Maine after the capture and identification of the hermit.

The reader is left with a lot of inescapable and potentially uncomfortable questions, and this seemingly insignificant and very local story will resonate long after the final page has been turned.

Transit Book Cover Transit
Rachel Cusk
Fiction
HarperCollins Canada
in store now

The nameless and unemotional first-person narrator of Rachel Cusk’s acclaimed novel Outline, returns in her new book. Outline was a bloodless record of conversations the narrator had experienced, always less a participant than a reflecting and recording instrument.

Reading it was unsettling. The conversations were, on the surface, ordinary, but freighted with consequence. The narrator, ever attentive, remained elusive, visible only by how others addressed her, assessed her, or by what they expected of her.

It was a literary conjuring, brilliantly devised and executed, immaculately investing fiction with the accoutrements and feel of memoir, often leaving the reader suspended somewhere above solid ground.

I had no idea that the story would continue.

If Outline was an account of going away, then Transit is one of coming back, not always a comfortable proposition.

The format is the same, a series of conversations. Again important observations get the same weight as pleasantries; again significance is easy to miss.

Astonishing things happen to completely ordinary people. Life goes on.

Transit is as unsettling and jarring as its predecessor, and just as impossible to put down.

This time the matter of living with other people is at the heart of the narrative. This time, though, the narrator begins to take tangible shape. Amid the usual flat reportage, her own concerns arise. She has regrets. She has relationships.

She has a name!

Both of these impressive books are about how we talk to each other, and how we listen. You wonder, reading these books, if anyone really pays attention, if everyone only ever hears what they want to hear.

Transit is as unsettling and jarring as its predecessor, and just as impossible to put down. The development of the narrator, however, and the inescapable hope that there is more to come makes the wait for the next instalment  deliciously excruciating.

 

 

A Gentleman in Moscow Book Cover A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles
Fiction
Viking Penguin
In Store Now!

In June of 1922 Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov appeared before the Emergency Committee of The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs.

...if he ever sets foot outside the Hotel he will be shot.

The committee was less than sympathetic to the Count, disapproved of his lifestyle, and would have preferred that he be “taken from this chamber and put against the wall.” Instead, based on a long and influential poem of his that had appeared in 1905, in the wake of the failed revolt, the Count is ordered back to the Metropole Hotel in Moscow, where he has been living since his return from Paris in 1918, and informed that if he ever sets foot outside the Hotel he will be shot.

This wonderful novel spans the more than thirty years that Count Rostov spends in the hotel.  The world continues to turn outside the confines of the Metropole, and with subtle elegance the march of history is incorporated into the narrative.  The Count is sheltered, perhaps, but not immune.

I’ll leave to you the delight of discovering how Amor Towles has created such an enjoyable and memorable novel from these beginnings. The Count is a very special character, but his surprisingly large supporting cast is equally splendid, each one an inspired creation, each exquisitely developed.

As he did in his first book, The Rules of Civility, Amor Towles has created a novel that celebrates grace and goodwill. Count Rostov is a man of wit, sophistication, and sympathy, qualities generally in short supply in his own time (and sadly, in our own.) His indomitable resilience and amiable adaptability is an example for us all.

Rare is the novel that leaves you exhilarated at the end. A Gentleman in Moscow is satisfying and uplifting. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

144127Amor Towles was born and raised just outside Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. After working more than twenty years as an investment professional, Towles now writes full time. He is also the author of the novella Eve in Hollywood, available as an e-book. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.