THE WONDER SPOT by Melissa Bank
If Holden Caulfield had been a middle-class Jewish girl, he might have sounded something like young Sophie Applebaim, the protagonist of Melissa Bank’s hilarious and clever first novel, The Wonder Spot. About a parental tic, Sophie observes: “My mother told the same stories over and over — maybe twenty-five minutes in all; if you added them all up, there were only about two hours of her life that she wanted me to know about.” The Catcher in the Rye comparison ends, however, with the first chapter. Thereafter Bank favors Sophie — and us — with what J.D. Salinger denied Holden: adulthood.
A Chevelle Comes to Paradise
Wondeerful Women by the Sea (New Press, $25), a first novel by the Finnish short-story writer Monica fagerholm, is itself wonderful. Written in an impressionistic style and subtly translated from the original Swedish by Joan Tate, the story follows the summer escapades of two families during the early 1960’s.
A FLEETING SORROW by Francois Sagan
When it comes to concentrating the mind on the meaning of life, nothing works like a death sentence. Paul Cazavel, the 39-year-old protagonist of this brief novel by the author of, “Bonjour Tristesse,” is told that he has lung cancer and has six months to live.
BITTERSWEET JOURNEY by Enid Futterman
When Charlotte was a little girl, her father would often hide a Hershey bar in his pocket for her to find. Later, as Charlotte nears 40, she discovers that her taste for chocolate is the only thing that turns her on.
ESAU AND JACOB by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
Rushing to meet the steamship carrying their beloved Flora, the twins Pedro and Paola Santos are so eager to reach her that while boarding the ship they nearly fall into the sea. “Perhaps that would have been the best ending for this book,” muses a diplomat named Aires, who is both the exquisitely unreliable narrator and peripheral character in the penultimate novel by the renownded Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908).
FUNERAL AT NOON by Yeshayahu Koren
In limpid, elegant prose, Yeshayahu Koren’s first novel unfolds in a small Israeli village in the 1950’s. Hagar, a young housewife whose husband often works late, restlessly fills her days by wandering in an abandoned Arab village that us used as a training ground by the Israeli Army.
MATTANZA by Theresa Maggio
Depicted in 4,000 year old cave paintings, their image stamped on Phoenician coins, written about by Aristotle and prized by modern-day Japanese gourmets (who will pay more than $100 a pound for it), the giant bluefin tuna is a fish with a mystical aura.
MONKEY’S UNCLE by Jenny Diski
If Freud, Marx and Darwin were set adrift together in a boat, what would they talk about? Food, according to Charlotte Fitzroy, the protagonist of Jenny Diski’s overwrought sixth novel. Charlotte, 49 years old and unlikable, has gone mad.
Not Your Average Beach
There is nothing unusual about the guests staying at the Almayer Inn, a seaside hotel “perched on the last narrow edge of the world” and the main setting for Alessandro Baricco’s euphoric new novel, Ocean Sea (Knopf $23), splendidly translated by Alastair McEwen. In Room 3 resides Professor Bartleboom, who is compiling an encyclopedia of limits, including an entry for where the sea ends.
In “The Brew,” a powerful story from Karen Joy Fowler’s new collection, Black Glass (Marian Wood/Hold, $23), a women stands in a hotel lobby staring at an aquarium. “Sometimes,” she tells herself, “we can find a smaller world where we can live, inside the bigger world where we cannot.”
OUT OF THE DARK by Patrick Modiano
The unnamed narrator of the French Novelist patrick Modiano’s latest book is so successful at escaping his past that he barely remembers he has one. Only Jacqueline, a fellow drifter whom he met on the Left Bank in Paris when they were both very young, remains vivid in his memory.