Yes, I know it's not beach season anymore, but I am in end-of-summer denial, so humor me. Here are quick rundowns of five new summer reads: Gone Girl, Broken Harbor, Gold, Little Century, and Heading Out to Wonderful.
Gone Girl: Yeah, it's as spellbinding as the hype says it will be. My friend Nancy loaned me this in July when I had a billion and one things to do, but somehow I managed to make the time to read it. Most of that involved staying up much too late several nights running. If you enjoy psychological thrillers along the lines of Ruth Rendell, you will appreciate this. Amidst the page-turning plot is a carefully observed character study of two individuals whose marriage is imploding. I am trying very hard not to give too much away here, but suffice it to say that this book redefines the device of the unreliable narrator.... (Crown, June 5)
Broken Harbor: This is my favorite novel of the season and I'm not even quite finished with it yet. I discovered this author two years ago when I was about to get on a long flight and needed a totally absorbing story to help me pass the time. I quickly texted my friend Lauren for guidance while standing in the airport bookstore, and she texted back saying, "Tana French." She did not steer me wrong. French's first novel, In the Woods, snagged just about every award a mystery novel can win these days (Edgar, Macavity, etc.), and those accolades were well-deserved. Her prose is richly textured and her characters unforgettable. I know that many people find her endings unsatisfying--they tend to break the unwritten genre contract that says all must be discovered and explained--but that's precisely why she is the perfect novelist for our postmodern age. (Viking, July 24)
Gold: Got Olympic withdrawal? If so, check out this novel by the author of the acclaimed bestseller Little Bee. Chris Cleave blends some heartrending situations with solid humor in that way that only Brits seem able to fully manage. The novel centers on the intersecting lives of two Olympic cyclists in northern England, both of whom need to win gold but for very different reasons. I liked the first half better than the second, but it's a solid and entertaining read that will doubtless make the book club rounds. (Warning to such clubs: sex scenes and liberal use of the F word.) I listened to this on audio, read by British actress Emilia Fox. You might remember her as Darcy's little sister in the BBC's One True Version of Pride & Prejudice in 1995. Fox does an outstanding job with the various characters. (Simon & Schuster, July 3)
Little Century: For me, this turn-of-the-century Western coming of age story was the least compelling book in this bunch. It starts out so slowly that I did not connect well with the main characters until halfway through the story. It does get much better from there, the language and descriptions are gorgeous, and the ending is a classic . . . but I think this novel is overhyped. Just know what to expect: The jacket copy lauds the novel as being "in the tradition of such classics as My Ántonia and There Will Be Blood," but this is not quite Willa Cather quality. (There is, however, blood.) (FSG, June 5)
Heading Out to Wonderful: There are few tropes in fiction more overmined than this one about the small town that saves a drifter, teaches life lessons, helps someone heal from a troubled past, etc. So it's not like this novel by Robert Goolrick (A Reliable Wife) is terribly surprising, but I was quite taken with it. Set in rural Virginia shortly after WWII, it features a young butcher who is close-lipped about the past and seeks refuge in the rhythms of a small town. LJ called it “A lyrical meditation on the magnified elements of small-town life: friendship, trust, land, lust, and sin . . . Goolrick creates a timeless town where memory of an affair and crime can haunt forever. A lyrical yet suspenseful novel for general fiction readers.” (Algonquin, June 12)