Book of the Week: Perfect Little World – Kevin Wilson

Let me preface this review by saying readers love Kevin Wilson. Over the last five years a season has rarely gone by that a bookseller hasn’t asked when the author of the The Family Fang has a new book coming. That novel was the story of a brother and sister who grew up as participants in their parents’ performance art. Both hilarious and wise, Entertainment Weekly compared that book to George Saunders and Wes Anderson. If you haven’t yet read it, treat yourself to The Family Fang after you read this new one.

Both books successfully and movingly explore the idea of family. Perfect Little World has, in some ways, an even more outlandish set up than Wilson’s last book. The setting is a utopian experiment in collective child-rearing involving 19 parents and 10 children. Tara Bagnola at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor explains the resulting combination of charm and gravitas that Wilson is able to conjure:

Until finishing this book I hadn’t realized how odd it felt to read a story with a happy ending and actually feel gratified. However, Wilson does more than tell a wonderful story with a happy ending. He captures, with an expert kind of grace, the paradoxical, heart-breaking, life-saving power of family — the ones we are born into and the ones we create for ourselves.”

With this book I think I can now say Wilson’s got a signature style: sweet, funny, wise–emotionally generous and completely disarming.

Perfect Little World arrives with an Indie Next Pick, two starred advance reviews and major review coverage scheduled in the NYTBR, People, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair.

“Persistently compassionate….Wilson’s best moments are funny and earnest…. [His] crisp language and smart plotting make Perfect Little World immensely likable and absolutely enjoyable.”
GQ

“[A] sweet and thoroughly satisfying second novel. When bright high school senior Izzy Poole, whose mother has died and whose alcoholic father ignores her, discovers that she is pregnant…[she joins] nine other couples, all pregnant at the same time, who will raise their kids in common in the Infinite Family Project for 10 years, to see if that situation aids the children’s emotional and intellectual development. The children thrive; the adults, not so much. Wilson keeps his eye on the grown-ups…as rifts begin to form in the carefully planned and maintained structure. Wilson grounds his premise in credible human motivations and behavior, resulting in a memorable cast of characters. He uses his intriguing premise to explore the meaning of family and the limits of rational decision making.”
Publishers Weekly

Stellar….Compelling. …Realer and wiser and sadder and eventually reassuring about human nature than dozens of other novels.”
   — Booklist (starred review)

“Bittersweet….Wilson delves into the drama and tensions inherent in this strange aquarium….A moving and sincere reflection on what it truly means to be a family.”
   — Kirkus (starred review)

“There’s nothing like watching a cast of characters grow up in front of your eyes, each passing year making each person both more and less knowable, until you are as attuned to their individual changes as to the waxing and waning of your own understanding, delight, and frustration with them. With Kevin Wilson’s latest, Perfect Little World, such character growth is nearly steroidal as we are presented with not only a cast of ten babies, but also ten pairs of parents, all living together in pursuit of a revolutionary child psychology experiment created by Dr. Preston Grind. Under such extreme circumstances, impossible to imagine yet, under Wilson’s meticulous hand, compellingly and magically easy to believe, we follow Isabelle Poole, the only single mother involved in the Infinite Family project, as she tries to stitch together a family out of total strangers. Wilson, as author, is the true parent of this brood of squalling characters, and he treats them each like a good parent might, with watchful love, never blind to their flaws but always, eventually, forgiving of them. I wished that I could live in the imperfect, larger-than-life world that is Wilson’s novel forever. I’ll settle for knowing that I can visit anytime I like.”
Lillian Li, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

“Wow, I loved this book! Wilson’s first novel, The Family Fang, showcased his prodigious talent for striking a balance between big, outrageous ideas, quirky humor, and heartfelt human drama. The same strengths have been honed even further for this amazing novel, in which a brilliant-but-academically-disinterested pregnant teen joins a project organized by an idealistic child psychologist and funded by an elderly billionaire, in which a group of ten children are raised together from birth without knowing who their parents are. Wilson’s greatest strength is his portrayal of the complexity of his characters’ feelings, particularly when faced with the unexpected. Warm, funny, satisfying, and thought-provoking, Perfect Little World is exactly what it says on the cover–perfect.”
Carol Schneck Varner. Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

Perfect Little World (9780062450326) by Kevin Wilson. $26.99 hardcover. 1/24/17 on sale.

 

Suspense Fiction Short Take: Her Every Fear – Peter Swanson

Swanson is a house favorite. He writes elegant, old fashioned commercial suspense that draws from the Hitchcock and Highsmith playbook. Marked by surprising twists and turns, this new one starts as an updated take on Rear Window but adds Swanson’s signature 21st century style that Booklist says has “[h]igh tension, lightning-fast pacing and psychological drama in spades.”

Two starred reviews, Indie Next and Library Reads picks, and raves already landing in the national press.

“Chapter by chapter, the text peels back layers to reveal a pathological relationship between Kate’s cousin and a long-ago acquaintance that’s reminiscent of a folie à deux out of Patricia Highsmith… By then, readers, privy to much Kate doesn’t know, may be experiencing their own anxiety.”
Wall Street Journal

 “Most readers won’t anticipate the Hitchcockian twists and turns in this standout suspense tale.”
  — Washington Post

Swanson established a reputation for complex psychological thrillers with his previous novels…, but here he introduces a delicious monster-under-the-bed creepiness to the expected top-notch characterization and steadily mounting anxiety.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Psychological thriller devotees should block time to read Swanson’s novel in one sitting, preferably in the daylight. Readers can expect the hairs on their necks to stand straight up as they are consumed with a full-blown case of heebie-jeebies.”
Library Journal (starred review)

Her Every Fear (9780062427021) by Peter Swanson. $26.99 hardcover. 1/10/17 on sale.

 

Suspense Fiction Short Take: The House of Fame – Oliver Harris

This popular British crime novelist has yet to break out in the U.S. But given British reviews it seems like he deserves to. Keep him in your back pocket for recommending to customers who are connoisseurs of atmospheric, well-written police procedurals with bad-boy protagonists.

“British author Harris’s stellar third crime novel featuring North London police detective Nick Belsey combines an intriguing and surprising plot with an uncompromisingly bleak….Belsey takes pity on Maureen, whose 41-year-old son, Mark, has disappeared. He accompanies her to her flat, where he finds disturbing indications of Mark’s obsession with mega pop star Amber Knight, whose upcoming wedding has sparked a media frenzy. In his search for Mark, Belsey emerges as a memorably flawed protagonist.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A superb novel about the demonic detective who breaks all the rules.… Harris has a rare ability to combine storytelling that has a freewheeling, improvisatory feel with a plot that has been long hours in the concocting. Belsey…is fast becoming the best anti-hero in British crime fiction.”
Telegraph

“Harris has a terrific sense of place, hurtling between the wealthiest and most-run-down areas of London. But the cleverest thing about his third Belsey novel is the way the plot unfolds in a chilling and totally unexpected direction.”
Sunday Times (London)

The House of Fame (9780062405159) by Oliver Harris. $15.99 trade paper original. 1/24/17 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: The Spider and the Fly – Claudia Rowe

This is an ambitious if not completely successful attempt to marry the exploration of a horrific and bizarre series of murders to an introspective examination of the author’s own obsession with the case. It rises above the usual true crime fare in its attempt to throw a light on our personal and cultural obsession with violent and aberrant behavior.

“What begins as an investigation into how a person can commit cold-blooded murder became Rowe’s albatross, ultimately leading her to examine her own life… [It is] when Rowe admits her bias, that her story begins to strike a chord.”
Publishers Weekly

“Rowe’s engaging prose means the pages practically turn themselves….”
Kirkus

Extraordinarily suspenseful and truly gut-wrenching, The Spider and the Fly is not just a superb true-crime story but an insightful investigation of the nature of evil, the fragility of good, and the crooked road that can turn human beings into monsters. A must-read.”
— Gillian Flynn

“I read through The Spider and the Fly in one rapt day. It’s unique unto itself, a mix of thoughtful memoir and true crime, as author and reporter Claudia Rowe becomes fascinated by the bizarre case of Kendall Francois, a little known serial killer from Poughkeepsie, NY. Living in Poughkeepsie herself, Claudia becomes enmeshed in the story herself when she reaches out to Kendall in prison, hoping to find some kernel of truth that would explain the hows and whys of such a horrific case. But instead of finding truths, she just finds more questions as her life becomes more and more consumed with the case, and with Kendall as a person. Gripping and incisive, The Spider and the Fly is literary true crime that is a must read for anyone who is fascinated by the psychology of crime, and by our fascination with it.”
— Whitney Spotts, Schuler Books & Music, Lansing, MI

“When Claudia Rowe first hears the story of Kendall Francois, she convinces herself that she is investigating the story merely as a journalist. Francois makes an interesting case, giving her just enough information to pull her further and further into his web. Soon Rowe is uncovering secrets, exploring shame, and writing about the darker side of human nature. However, she finds that it is often herself and her family that she is writing about and exploring, rather than the life of Kendall Francois. Her relationship with the killer forces her to look at her life in a different and more challenging way. What starts as a true crime tale of a New York serial killer who targeted prostitutes, turns into a rumination on broken families, and the broken people who emerge from them.”
— Becca Chavez, Tattered Cover, Denver, CO

The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder (9780062416124) by Claudia Rowe. $26.99 hardcover. 1/24/17 on sale.

Publicity: Audacity – Jonathan Chait

This will be on most bookstore front tables this week and offers an attractive alternative for customers looking for a way to avoid next weekend’s inauguration coverage.

The media line-up is first-rate, starting with The Daily Show and NPR’s On Point, followed by George Stephanopoulos, Chris Hayes, Brian Lehrer, Chris Matthews and Bill Mahar.

New York magazine is currently running an article adapted from the book. Print media coverage includes the Washington Post, Weekly Standard, USA Today, NYTBR, Atlantic, New Republic and LA Times Book Review.

Perhaps the most entertaining piece of publicity is an article in the NYT Style Section on the marketing boost that Trump’s invective gives authors: “Overrated? Loser? Not if It’s Trump Who Calls You Out.” Here’s a comment on Chait from our Reviewer in Chief:

tweet

Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail (9780062426970) by Jonathan Chait. $27.99 hardcover. 1/17/17 on sale

 

 

Publicity: The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

Last week a store buyer and I were talking about the unexpected popularity of last year’s The Nordic Theory of Everything and concluded that it might have foreshadowed the popularity of the current wave of books on hygge. If fact we wondered if hygge might be the next “tidy.”

Not familiar? Dip into this NYT Style piece: “Move Over, Marie Kondo: Make Room for the Hygge Hordes.”  You want to get this book out on display…

Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah, like a football cheer in a Scandinavian accent) is the Danish word for cozy. It is also a national manifesto, nay, an obsession expressed in the constant pursuit of homespun pleasures involving candlelight, fires, fuzzy knitted socks, porridge, coffee, cake and other people….Hygge is already such a thing in Britain that the Collins Dictionary proclaimed it one of the top 10 words of 2016, along with Brexit and Trumpism.”

Illustration 5

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (9780062658807) by Meik Wiking. $19.99 hardcover. 1/17/17 on sale.

 

Book of the Week: The Midnight Cool – Lydia Peelle

Peele is the author of the much-admired story collection, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing. Her debut novel, The Midnight Cool, takes place in rural Tennessee in the early years of WWI before America’s entry into that war. It follows the fortunes of two itinerant horse traders who discover a way to make their fortune trading mules for the European war effort.

What begins as a kind of picaresque road story opens up into a tale of romance, family secrets, and a conflicted country on the brink of war. The war fever and isolationism of America 100 years ago at times seems unnervingly current. But Peele’s beautiful eye and ear for period detail and rural life that immerses you in an older America on the brink of becoming a citizen of the world. And her portrayal of animals is a revelation. The mules and the spectacular race horse of the title are fully realized characters you won’t soon forget.

While lighter in tone and distinctly American, The Midnight Cool in some ways reminded me of Atonement. Peele’s poignant handling of the human—and animal—costs of war won’t soon be forgotten.

Though the book arrives in stores next week, it was already reviewed in the NYT on New Year’s Day and will be reviewed in the NYTBR at the end of the month. The Nashville-based blog Bacon on the Bookshelf has an interview with Peele this week.

“America’s entry into World War I and Charles’s relationship with Catherine impel the young man to make a fateful decision that will have consequences for all concerned. Reading like a cross between Faulkner’s “Spotted Horses” and Fitzgerald’s “The Last of the Belles,” this novel is filled with nearly melodramatic situations that are rescued by the intelligence of the writing and the acuity of the characterizations, on the way to its bittersweet denouement.”
— Publishers Weekly

 Fully imagined…affecting…Billy’s longer and fuller life makes him the more vibrant of the two characters, but the mysteries of Charles’s fate propel the book…The Midnight Cool is undergirded by the considerable agility and charm of Peelle’s voice, and by her deeply attuned love of nature.”
   — New York Times

A richly textured first novel…The skillfully crafted characters are rendered with acute psychological insight into the moral dilemmas that shape one’s humanity and sense of right and wrong. The propulsive narrative, fueled by poetic prose, is made more powerful by the heart-wrenching, quietly heroic lives eked out in the margins of history. For fans of Mary Gaitskill and Ron Rash.”
   — Booklist

“I’ve been waiting for this novel ever since reading Lydia Peelle’s searingly beautiful story collection, Reasons for an Advantages of Breathing, in 2009. It was well worth the wait. The journey of middle-aged swindler Billy and his young, idealistic partner Charles is a journey into the history and heart of the oft-maligned American dream. As the nation considers whether it will join World War I, Billy and Charles must weigh the merits of freedom against patriotic obligation, their life on the road against the temptation of putting down roots, and their diverging desires against the love and loyalty they bear for each other. A life is made up of such decisions, and we only get one such life. As Billy says, ‘I reckon that’s the beauty and the shame of it, all at once.” Peelle’s exploration of this beauty and shame is exquisitely wrought, richly populated, and ultimately devastating: I finished the novel in tears.’
Mairead Small Staid, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

The Midnight Cool (9780062475466) by Lydia Peelle. $26.99 hardcover. 1/10/17 on sale.