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December 31, 2020

Notable new releases

compiled by Sally Brewster

The Wife Upstairs, by Rachel Hawkins

A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, The Wife Upstairs pairs Southern charm with atmospheric domestic suspense, perfect for fans of Megan Miranda and Lisa Jewell. Jane is a new arrival to Alabama, a broke dog walker in Thornfield Estates — a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients, where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name. But her luck changes when she meets the recently widowed Eddie Rochester. As Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Eddie’s first wife, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story. With delicious suspense, incisive wit and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction and a wife who just won’t stay buried. 

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, by George Saunders

For the last 20 years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is a technical craft but also a way of training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiosity. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.

A Thousand Ships, by Natalie Haynes

The women of the Trojan War take center stage in this excellent take on the Greek classics. Haynes provides an enthralling reimagining of the lives of women from both Troy and Greek culture through nearly a dozen perspectives. There is Calliope, the muse who resents the poets demanding she supply them with inspiration; Andromache, who goes from princess to spoil of war when her husband, Hector, is killed by Achilles; and Penelope, who writes biting letters to Odysseus, asking him why it is that he doesn’t feel any urge to come home to her and their son. There are also the royal heroines, such as Clytemnestra, who seeks revenge against Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter; and Helen, who is weary of being constantly blamed for her role in beginning the war and for plots and prophecies she has no power to stop. You don’t need to be a fan of the classics to enjoy this riveting novel.

Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World, by Simon Winchester

This is the latest and I have to say very satisfying popular history from the British American author who writes about something most of us take for granted. Having bought 123 acres north of New York City, Winchester muses on what land ownership means. For most of history, human yearning for land outstripped that for money, and the author offers familiar, disheartening accounts of mass acquisitions and theft: Native America (and Australia, Canada and New Zealand) to whites, Arab Palestine to Jewish immigrants, Africa to European powers. America’s land billionaires are prospering, increasing their holdings by 50% since 2007. The chapters on the Stalin-ordered mass famine in Ukraine and the shameful World War II imprisonment of Japanese Americans (and confiscation of their property) make for painful reading but important historical reminders. Engaging revelations about land and property, often discouraging but never dull.  SP

Sally Brewster is the proprietor of Park Road Books, located at 4139 Park Road. parkroadbooks.com.

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