Saturday, September 28, 2013

PW Picks: The Best New Books for the Week of September 30, 2013

By Gabe Habash | PW Tips - Sept 27, 2013

This week: new Elizabeth Gilbert, new Jeanette Winterson, new Jeffrey Deaver. Plus: the sequel to one of PW's Best Books of 2009.

Personae by Sergio De La Pava (Univ. of Chicago) - De La Pava’s (A Naked Singularity) shape-shifting latest is, in part, an upbeat existentialist comedy. We meet Detective Helen Tame (in a chapter titled “Our Heroine and Her Work,” no less) as she investigates a crime scene, before diving into the writings Tame discovers at the victim’s house. Notebook scribblings include pronouncements against “filling [writing] with allusive arcana for dimwit professors.” A short story and a play follow. Game readers should have as much fun with this clever experiment as the author seems to have had inventing it.

The October List: A Novel in Reverse by Jeffrey Deaver (Grand Central) - Thriller Award–winner Deaver delivers a clever, demanding stand-alone that moves backward in time over the span of a three-day weekend, from Sunday evening to early Friday morning. In the first chapter, office manager Gabriela McKenzie, whose six-year-old daughter, Sarah, has been kidnapped, waits in her Manhattan apartment for news from fund manager Daniel Reardon, who’s attempting to deal with kidnapper Joseph Astor. Gabriela must not only pay a $500,000 ransom but also fork over the mysterious “October List,” which belongs to her former boss Charles Prescott, the head of Prescott Investments.

Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel (FSG) - From April 2007 to April 2008, Finkel, a MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, spent a total of eight months embedded in eastern Iraq with the young infantrymen of the 2-16 as their battalion fought desperately to survive and to make Bush’s troop surge a success. In 2009’s The Good Soldiers (one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year), he chronicled their harrowing day-to-day experiences—as their trust in the Iraqi people eroded, their nerves and comrades were shot, and IED after IED exploded. In this incredibly moving sequel, Finkel reconnects with some of the men of the 2-16—now home on American soil—and brings their struggles powerfully to life.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking) - The story begins with Henry Whittaker, at first poor on the fringes of England’s Kew Gardens, but in the end the richest man in Philadelphia. In more detail, the story follows Henry’s daughter, Alma. Born in 1800, Alma learns Latin and Greek, understands the natural world, and reads everything in sight. Despite her wealth and education, Alma is a woman, and a plain one at that, two facts that circumscribe her opportunities. Resigned to spinsterhood, ashamed and tormented by her erotic desires, Alma finds a late-in-life soul mate in Ambrose Pike, a talented botanical illustrator and spiritualist. Characters crisscross the world to make money, to learn, and, in Alma’s case, to understand not just science but herself and her complicated relationship with Ambrose.

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