Wesley Stace’s ample new novel — half murder mystery, half music criticism — opens with a press report on the death of the talented young English composer Charles Jessold in 1923. He appears to have shot himself in his apartment after poisoning his wife and his wife’s lover and watching them die. The murder-suicide has not one but two ironic precedents. It reproduces the story of the Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, who similarly killed his wife with her lover. It is also the subject of an English folk-ballad, “Lord Barnard and Little Musgrave,” which Jessold had taken as the subject for his operatic magnum opus, due to premiere the following night.
In this terse and bold book of eight interconnected stories featuring Fort Hood army wives, breakout author Siobhan Fallon invites readers to peek through the hazy base-house curtains into largely uncharted territory. She offers an intimate glimpse of the spouses and children left behind to cope when the men in the fictional infantry battalion of 1-7 Cav are deployed to Iraq.
For the longest time, growing up in rural Virginia, Birdie Baker is convinced she is destined to follow the path set forth by her devout Christian parents. Like them, as a JehovahвЂ™s Witness, she will spread the word of the Lord, marry, settle down and wrap it up. But the sense of unease that plagues her even after she is married to a church-going man named Judah, is worsened when she runs into her high school drama teacher at the grocery store. вЂњWhat are you still doing here?вЂќ he asks, вЂњI figured the next time I saw you it would be in a movie.вЂќ Eventually, leave Virgina she does. Birdie pools all her savings toward a one-way bus ticket to Los Angeles.
ami Sands Brodoff opens with an epigraph from Rabbi Avi Weiss: “The Torah is written ‘black fire on white fire’ . . . black fire refers to the letters of the Torah . . . the white refers to the spaces between the letters . . . they are the story, the song, the silence.” Exploring the story, singing the song, reflecting on the silence, these are the promises of this intimate yet ambitious novel, and they are both moving and beautiful. To say that Brodoff does not quite realize them is not to diminish the value of her search. The book is a sincere and obviously personal attempt to illuminate mysteries that may ultimately remain unknowable.
RESCUE, by Anita Shreve, focuses on the ways in which parents and children deal with physical and emotional trauma. It is a poignant story about a good man who makes a mistake, but takes full responsibility for his actions.
Trevor is a young Irishman in New York City. A film-school dropout with a checkered past, he is also a born storyteller whose life, both past and present, plays out in short takes of absurdity, abandonment, and aggression, with brief moments of wonder and wisdom thrown in — not an atypical first-time reaction to Manhattan. Voices speak to him in the soundtrack tones of James Mason or Bob Hoskins as he picks up the outtakes of his life from the cutting-room floor. And in calling him a born storyteller, I should also mention that he is one of the most unreliable narrators one is likely to encounter; most of the book will be spent distinguishing the truth from the falsehoods. As he himself admits: “We lie to protect. We lie to inure. To keep on going we have to lie.”