Home, Marilynne Robinson‘s follow-up to her 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead, tells the story of Jack Boughton, the miscreant prodigal son of Reverend Boughton (narrator of Gilead). Jack returns home after twenty years of petty theft and carousing to find his father dying and his sanctimonious sister Glory coping with a broken heart. Robinson handles the pain and secrets of the Boughton family in prose that is both spare and beautiful; there’s a simplicity here that belies the extraordinary spiritual puzzles into which Robinson’s characters delve. The result is that odd rarity: a literary novel of complexity and depth that’s also an ease and pleasure to digest, even in all its bitterness. Home is available in trade paperback from Picador September 8th, 2009.
Also new in trade paperback from Picador on September 8th is Per Petterson’s novel To Siberia. Translated by Anne Born, To Siberia is the story of a Danish girl who lives in the isolated northernmost Jutland peninsula. Wishing to escape her neglectful parents and suicidal grandfather, she dreams of exotic Siberia. Set during the WWII Nazi occupation, To Siberia rhetorically mirrors the grim, cold reality of that era. Petterson delivers his tale in a crisp, almost brittle manner. There’s a translucence to the prose, a Nordic frankness that makes Petterson’s presentation of the girl’s infatuation with her older brother Jesper doubly strange. Her love and desire for him veers toward almost mythical incest, yet Petterson’s restraint reins in even the barest hints of hyperbole, leaving the reader to her own inferences. Like the grim story of Hans and Gretel, or the story of the tin soldier and his beloved ballerina, To Siberia is painful in its bleakness, but also beautiful in its imaginative underpinnings.
Michelle Maisto’s memoir The Gastronomy of Marriage, a Random House trade paperback original available September 8th, 2009, tells the story of Michelle’s courtship and marriage with her husband Rich, using the dining table as a lens to examine romantic relationships. Like many recent books about food, Gastronomy is interspersed with recipes, some of which sound pretty good (like the one for artichoke pie). Maisto’s is a memoir about planning for a wedding, told from a female perspective, and it might not have the widest appeal for many male readers, but it is well-written, if light, fare.
Far heavier is Michael Greenberg’s memoir Hurry Down Sunshine. Released in hardback last year to high critical acclaim, Greenberg’s memoir relates the true story of his daughter’s manic breakdown and subsequent committal to a mental hospital. Written in a spare, even terse style, with present-tense immediacy, Greenberg telegraphs his despair and frustration about his daughter’s condition with harrowing results. Greenberg even waxes a little on James Joyce’s own troubles with his daughter Lucia, as well as the poet Robert Lowell‘s bouts of manic depression.Literary angles aside, the book is not so much about his daughter’s mental condition, in the end, as it is about his own challenges as the parent of an ill child. Hurry Down Sunshine is available in trade paperback from Vintage books, September 8th, 2009.