Author

John Freeman

Lynne Tillman’s unnamed narrator in American Genius is a geyser of talk. Stuck in a New Age colony for scholars, she holds forth on cats, skin rashes, and her fear of overflowing toilets. She’s a flotilla of neuroses à la Woody Allen, given to free association: ”It’s the wild stallion, the uncapturable horse, I cherish…” While such asides are initially irritating — where’s the plot, the dialogue? — Tillman’s prose builds to poetic brilliance. Here is a mind folding in on itself.

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Keneally never names the tyrant at the heart of his new novel, but readers will recognize Saddam Hussein in the eccentric details. The Great Uncle has visitors scrubbed and disinfected, then slathered in Tommy Hilfiger aftershave before meeting him – which hero Alan Sheriff learns when he’s tapped to ghostwrite the dictator’s autobiography. Sheriff describes how he raced against time and conscience to meet a deadline before fleeing the country in an oil barrel.

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If lad lit had half the pizzazz of Millington’s charming novel, it might be a viable genre. Spastically self-deprecating ghostwriter Tom Cartwright lands the gig of his life when he’s asked to pen the life of Georgina Nye, a raven-locked soap star with a wicked wit. Things turn tricky, though, as Tom begins to fall for Georgina despite his happy relationship of five years. It sounds like every boy’s dream, but Millington manages to make this story less about star shtupping than the anatomy of romance. What defines compatibility? Is it the food we eat or the humor we indulge in?

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Faith Fox

A 28-year-old woman dies in childbirth, leaving behind overworked husband Andrew, a gaggle of nosy friends, and the title character of Faith Fox, a brisk comedy of manners by British novelist Jane Gardam. What follows resembles a game of hot potato, with baby Faith Fox passing from friend to extended family in a mini-tour of England’s still-present class system.

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White (”The Farewell Symphony”) turns from his trademark autobiographical fiction to deliver his most fabulous novel yet, a mock memoir of real-life Scottish-born feminist Fanny Wright, as told by her friend, the likewise real-life author Frances Trollope. Wright first comes to America in 1818 and returns seven years later and creates Nashoba, a utopian community for freed slaves. Narrating late in life, Trollope describes her friend’s career as an agitator and shaper of early American life – while noting the high cost she paid living out her ideals.

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An undercurrent of fear hums through Norwegian author Linn Ullmann’s exquisite second novel, the tale of a beautiful nurse who plunges to her death from the rooftop of her Oslo apartment building. Her husband was present and may have pushed her – or so thinks a steely inspector who has an intuitive ability to finger killers. In the pages that follow, various characters reminisce about Stella, revealing their own sad stories. Most intriguing is Axel, a fastidious elderly man whom she treated and coaxed out of his cynical disengagement with life.

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A cast of misfits resides in Red Ant House, Cummins’ spectacular debut collection. Set largely in the sun-blasted deserts of the Southwest, where Indian reservations about uranium mines, Cummins’ tales read like the kind of fiction Flannery O’Connor would have written had she grown up in the region. ”I would marry my brother,” says one woman, ”though he’s sinister and disrespectful.” Family is about all Cummins’ characters have, but it often brings trouble.

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