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muel Taylor Coleridge poem about losing his sister; Elf and Yoli often discuss favorite poets.) This book certainly does that too. Early on, Elf tells Yoli how to play the piano. You must first establish tenderness, she says. Then the excitement will build, as you put ''the violence and agony of life into every note'' until you must make an important decision: Either return to tenderness or ''continue on with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy, to the very end.'' It's an apt description of how Toews has constructed this novel, too, with one exception: In the end, she chooses tragedy. But the tenderness was there all along. A

Memorable Line:
''...the day before my father killed himself he took my hand in his and said Yoli, it feels to me as though the lights are going out.''

]]> ALL MY PUNY SORROWS Miriam Toews]]> EW.com-20874132 <![CDATA[The Unspeakable]]> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST Sometimes our feelings — and our reactions to the things that happen to us — go rogue. Emotions are the messy, unpredictable part of being human. It's those murky corners of the heart that are hardest to acknowledge, let alone talk about. That's the unnamed place where Meghan Daum's sharp collection of essays lives. This book, as she writes in her introduction, ''is about the ways that some of life's most burning issues are considered inappropriate for public or even private discussion. It's about the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor — that we might not love our parents enough, that life's pleasures sometimes feel more like chores — but can only talk about in coded terms if at all. It's about the unspeakable acts that teach no easy lesson and therefore are elbowed out of sight.''

Daum, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tackles personal topics large and small with a staunch gaze. ''This book also recounts some pretty unflattering behavior on my part, not to mention a few disclosures about my interior life that some readers will probably find depressing or even alarming,'' she warns early on before going there while examining her feelings on marriage, her ambivalence about having children, and her mother's death.

But there are lighter moments: She writes about dating inappropriate men (think Burning Man and astrology), what it was like meeting her lifelong hero Joni Mitchell, and the period in her life when everyone assumed she was a lesbian. If you've been missing Nora Ephron — and who hasn't? — Daum's tale about playing charades at Ephron's house is so well observed and funny it could have been written by the great lady herself.

Look, life is difficult — and so is dealing with all the unpleasantness that comes along with it. Thank goodness The Unspeakable exists to keep you company. A

]]>
Sometimes our feelings — and our reactions to the things that happen to us — go rogue. Emotions are the messy, unpredictable part of being human. It's those murky corners of the heart that are hardest to acknowledge, let alone talk about. That's the unnamed place where Meghan Daum's sharp collection of essays lives. This book, as she writes in her introduction, ''is about the ways that some of life's most burning issues are considered inappropriate for public or even private discussion. It's about the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor — that we might not love our parents enough, that life's pleasures sometimes feel more like chores — but can only talk about in coded terms if at all. It's about the unspeakable acts that teach no easy lesson and therefore are elbowed out of sight.''

Daum, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tackles personal topics large and small with a staunch gaze. ''This book also recounts some pretty unflattering behavior on my part, not to mention a few disclosures about my interior life that some readers will probably find depressing or even alarming,'' she warns early on before going there while examining her feelings on marriage, her ambivalence about having children, and her mother's death.

But there are lighter moments: She writes about dating inappropriate men (think Burning Man and astrology), what it was like meeting her lifelong hero Joni Mitchell, and the period in her life when everyone assumed she was a lesbian. If you've been missing Nora Ephron — and who hasn't? — Daum's tale about playing charades at Ephron's house is so well observed and funny it could have been written by the great lady herself.

Look, life is difficult — and so is dealing with all the unpleasantness that comes along with it. Thank goodness The Unspeakable exists to keep you company. A

]]>
THE UNSPEAKABLE Meghan Daum]]>
EW.com-20869522 <![CDATA[Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story]]> Wed, 5 Nov 2014 00:00:00 EST A concert announcer once introduced Jerry Lee Lewis as ''a man who's so unreal it's hard to believe he's really here.'' Readers of this authoritative book about the much-married, booze-friendly, ex-pill-popping singer and piano player may well agree by the time they've finished Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. It is certainly difficult to understand how the 79-year-old Lewis can still be alive and in possession of his unrepentant, biographer-assisting faculties—as well as what author Rick Bragg describes in the introduction as ''a loaded, long-barreled pistol behind a pillow, a small arsenal in a dresser drawer, and a compact black automatic on a bedside table.''

Lewis was born poor in rural Louisiana. When he visited Memphis in 1956 to seek his musical fortune, he and his father regarded the running water in their hotel-room sink as if it were the eighth wonder of the world: ''First time we'd been in a place like that.'' Lewis claims he was ''born to be on a stage,'' and just a couple of years after discovering the delights of indoor plumbing he'd become a huge star thanks to the lubricious hits ''Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'' and ''Great Balls of Fire.'' It could be said that above all, Lewis was born to be, and to get into, trouble. From the midway point, His Own Story documents the performer's many ups and often self-inflicted downs—professional, personal, and sexual. (Lewis developed such a reputation in the latter department that, at shows, husbands took to leaving bullets on top of his piano as a warning to leave their wives alone.)

It is tempting to borrow one of Bragg's folksy phrases and characterize this book as ''more fun than a goat roping at a prison rodeo.'' But with an alarming number of Lewis family members dying young, there is far too much tragedy here for that. Regardless, the result is an enthralling look at the birth of rock & roll and the ensuing life of its arguably most colorful exponent. B+

]]>
A concert announcer once introduced Jerry Lee Lewis as ''a man who's so unreal it's hard to believe he's really here.'' Readers of this authoritative book about the much-married, booze-friendly, ex-pill-popping singer and piano player may well agree by the time they've finished Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. It is certainly difficult to understand how the 79-year-old Lewis can still be alive and in possession of his unrepentant, biographer-assisting faculties—as well as what author Rick Bragg describes in the introduction as ''a loaded, long-barreled pistol behind a pillow, a small arsenal in a dresser drawer, and a compact black automatic on a bedside table.''

Lewis was born poor in rural Louisiana. When he visited Memphis in 1956 to seek his musical fortune, he and his father regarded the running water in their hotel-room sink as if it were the eighth wonder of the world: ''First time we'd been in a place like that.'' Lewis claims he was ''born to be on a stage,'' and just a couple of years after discovering the delights of indoor plumbing he'd become a huge star thanks to the lubricious hits ''Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'' and ''Great Balls of Fire.'' It could be said that above all, Lewis was born to be, and to get into, trouble. From the midway point, His Own Story documents the performer's many ups and often self-inflicted downs—professional, personal, and sexual. (Lewis developed such a reputation in the latter department that, at shows, husbands took to leaving bullets on top of his piano as a warning to leave their wives alone.)

It is tempting to borrow one of Bragg's folksy phrases and characterize this book as ''more fun than a goat roping at a prison rodeo.'' But with an alarming number of Lewis family members dying young, there is far too much tragedy here for that. Regardless, the result is an enthralling look at the birth of rock & roll and the ensuing life of its arguably most colorful exponent. B+

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JERRY LEE LEWIS: HIS OWN STORY by Rick Bragg]]>
EW.com-20869543 <![CDATA[A Map Of Betrayal]]> Wed, 5 Nov 2014 00:00:00 EST International intrigue and familial secrets merge in A Map of Betrayal, a subtle page-turner by the National Book Award-winning author of Waiting. In the vein of John le Carré, Ha Jin delves into his profoundly ambivalent antihero Gary Shang, a high-ranking CIA translator who passed state secrets to operatives in Mao's China from 1949 until 1980, when he was finally outed as a mole.

The novel is narrated by Gary's American-born daughter, Lilian, a college professor who comes into possession of her father's secret journals after his death. Leafing through the pages, she not only learns details about his life as a Communist intelligence agent, but she also discovers that he had been married as a young man in China—and that he had left that first family behind when he emigrated. Soon Lilian, who's moved to Beijing for a semester after winning a Fulbright, ventures deep into the provinces of northeast China to search for her long-lost half sister. It's then, in a shocking twist, that the legacy of her father's decades-long deception comes back to haunt her.

The novel expertly chronicles the fraught relationship between the U.S. and modern China with plainspoken clarity while only occasionally straying into textbook territory. Gary's story unfurls with sometimes frustrating restraint until the novel's second half, when the dam breaks and you can fully appreciate how torn he was between loyalty to his home country and the new life he was forging in the U.S. A Map of Betrayal works on two levels — as a startling thriller about a double agent whose carefully regimented life falls apart as soon as his cover gets blown, and as a moving family saga, the story of a hardworking immigrant father whose reticence masks wells of deeply held secrets. B+

MEMORABLE LINES:
''When forsythia began to bloom in my backyard, she mailed me my father's diary, six morocco-bound volumes, each measuring eight inches by five. I hadn't known he kept a journal, and I had assumed that the FBI seized all the papers left by him, Gary Shang, the biggest Chinese spy ever caught in North America.''

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International intrigue and familial secrets merge in A Map of Betrayal, a subtle page-turner by the National Book Award-winning author of Waiting. In the vein of John le Carré, Ha Jin delves into his profoundly ambivalent antihero Gary Shang, a high-ranking CIA translator who passed state secrets to operatives in Mao's China from 1949 until 1980, when he was finally outed as a mole.

The novel is narrated by Gary's American-born daughter, Lilian, a college professor who comes into possession of her father's secret journals after his death. Leafing through the pages, she not only learns details about his life as a Communist intelligence agent, but she also discovers that he had been married as a young man in China—and that he had left that first family behind when he emigrated. Soon Lilian, who's moved to Beijing for a semester after winning a Fulbright, ventures deep into the provinces of northeast China to search for her long-lost half sister. It's then, in a shocking twist, that the legacy of her father's decades-long deception comes back to haunt her.

The novel expertly chronicles the fraught relationship between the U.S. and modern China with plainspoken clarity while only occasionally straying into textbook territory. Gary's story unfurls with sometimes frustrating restraint until the novel's second half, when the dam breaks and you can fully appreciate how torn he was between loyalty to his home country and the new life he was forging in the U.S. A Map of Betrayal works on two levels — as a startling thriller about a double agent whose carefully regimented life falls apart as soon as his cover gets blown, and as a moving family saga, the story of a hardworking immigrant father whose reticence masks wells of deeply held secrets. B+

MEMORABLE LINES:
''When forsythia began to bloom in my backyard, she mailed me my father's diary, six morocco-bound volumes, each measuring eight inches by five. I hadn't known he kept a journal, and I had assumed that the FBI seized all the papers left by him, Gary Shang, the biggest Chinese spy ever caught in North America.''

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A MAP OF BETRAYAL by Ha Jin]]>
EW.com-20868169 <![CDATA[The Book of Strange New Things]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:00:00 EDT Extraterrestrials in popular culture have coveted many things belonging to humankind: our natural resources, our bodies, our Reese's Pieces. But rarely do they want to worship our gods. In The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber's eerie, elegant novel, an ex-addict and petty criminal named Peter Leigh—now a happily married man of the cloth—is recruited by the mysterious multinational corporation USIC to minister to the natives of a largely barren planet called Oasis. Even as a true believer, Peter arrives with managed expectations, but he is surprised to find that these small robed creatures, with their sibilant voices and strange, brainlike ''faces,'' are already eager disciples of what they've dubbed the Book of Strange New Things. (They don't like to call it the Bible out loud: ''Power of the book forbid.'') Where does their devotion come from, though? And why is USIC so desperate to have Peter there? Strictly speaking, Strange New Things is science fiction; both Oasis and a collapsing near-future Earth are vividly drawn. But it hardly reads—or wraps up tidily—like a genre novel. (It's also a literal galaxy away from Faber's best-known book, 2002's Victorian-era potboiler The Crimson Petal and the White.) Instead, he's written a lovely, thought-provoking meditation on love and faith and the never-ending mysteries of the natural world. B+

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Extraterrestrials in popular culture have coveted many things belonging to humankind: our natural resources, our bodies, our Reese's Pieces. But rarely do they want to worship our gods. In The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber's eerie, elegant novel, an ex-addict and petty criminal named Peter Leigh—now a happily married man of the cloth—is recruited by the mysterious multinational corporation USIC to minister to the natives of a largely barren planet called Oasis. Even as a true believer, Peter arrives with managed expectations, but he is surprised to find that these small robed creatures, with their sibilant voices and strange, brainlike ''faces,'' are already eager disciples of what they've dubbed the Book of Strange New Things. (They don't like to call it the Bible out loud: ''Power of the book forbid.'') Where does their devotion come from, though? And why is USIC so desperate to have Peter there? Strictly speaking, Strange New Things is science fiction; both Oasis and a collapsing near-future Earth are vividly drawn. But it hardly reads—or wraps up tidily—like a genre novel. (It's also a literal galaxy away from Faber's best-known book, 2002's Victorian-era potboiler The Crimson Petal and the White.) Instead, he's written a lovely, thought-provoking meditation on love and faith and the never-ending mysteries of the natural world. B+

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THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS by Michel Faber]]>
EW.com-20868183 <![CDATA[The Boy Who Drew Monsters]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:00:00 EDT In The Boy Who Drew Monsters, this chilling Christmastime horror yarn concerns a couple, Tim and Holly Keenan, and their Asperger's-suffering son, Jack Peter, who experience a string of inexplicable phenomena. Are they the result of Jack Peter's obsessive monster-drawing habits? Are they connected to a shipwreck that happened near their home? Or is one or more of the principal characters losing their grasp on sanity? You'll have to read it to find out. Warning: Like a child's attention, the book may seem to wander in its final third before ultimately revealing itself to have been horribly on point all along. B+

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In The Boy Who Drew Monsters, this chilling Christmastime horror yarn concerns a couple, Tim and Holly Keenan, and their Asperger's-suffering son, Jack Peter, who experience a string of inexplicable phenomena. Are they the result of Jack Peter's obsessive monster-drawing habits? Are they connected to a shipwreck that happened near their home? Or is one or more of the principal characters losing their grasp on sanity? You'll have to read it to find out. Warning: Like a child's attention, the book may seem to wander in its final third before ultimately revealing itself to have been horribly on point all along. B+

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THE BOY WHO DREW MONSTERS by Keith Donohue]]>
EW.com-20868197 <![CDATA[Let Me Be Frank With You]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:00:00 EDT Like Rabbit Angstrom or Nathan Zuckerman, Ford's Frank Bascombe is an alter ego who ages at about the same rate as his creator, an Everyman for a specific set of educated white males. In his fourth book, Let Me Be Frank With You, Frank has reached his twilight years with his trademark wit and ruminative self-awareness intact, even if his body is starting to slide into geriatric betrayal. Structured as four interconnected novellas set on the hurricane-hit Jersey Shore, Ford's latest is once again slight on plot and heavy on internal monologue. There's no doubt that this is the same old Frank, just with more emphasis on ''old.'' B+

]]>
Like Rabbit Angstrom or Nathan Zuckerman, Ford's Frank Bascombe is an alter ego who ages at about the same rate as his creator, an Everyman for a specific set of educated white males. In his fourth book, Let Me Be Frank With You, Frank has reached his twilight years with his trademark wit and ruminative self-awareness intact, even if his body is starting to slide into geriatric betrayal. Structured as four interconnected novellas set on the hurricane-hit Jersey Shore, Ford's latest is once again slight on plot and heavy on internal monologue. There's no doubt that this is the same old Frank, just with more emphasis on ''old.'' B+

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LET ME BE FRANK WITH YOU by Richard Ford]]>
EW.com-20868195 <![CDATA[Mermaids in Paradise]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:00:00 EDT What looks like a novel about mermaids is actually a deft satire about another species: the ethical human. In Mermaids in Paradise, Deb and her husband, honeymooning in the Caribbean, discover ''mers'' in the reefs. The resort wants to turn them into theme-park attractions, but the couple try to save the mers, which puts them in danger. As Millet ramps up the suspense, she pokes fun at the human need to classify everything, from marine life to other people. If the ending seems over-the-top, well, the author—who has a degree in environmental policy—might say that our crimes against nature are just as absurd. B+

]]>
What looks like a novel about mermaids is actually a deft satire about another species: the ethical human. In Mermaids in Paradise, Deb and her husband, honeymooning in the Caribbean, discover ''mers'' in the reefs. The resort wants to turn them into theme-park attractions, but the couple try to save the mers, which puts them in danger. As Millet ramps up the suspense, she pokes fun at the human need to classify everything, from marine life to other people. If the ending seems over-the-top, well, the author—who has a degree in environmental policy—might say that our crimes against nature are just as absurd. B+

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MERMAIDS IN PARADISE by Lydia Millet]]>
EW.com-20868179 <![CDATA[The Peripheral]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:00:00 EDT It's probably not a good sign that the most accurate prognosticator in modern science fiction foresees bad things in the coming decades. Over the course of his career, William Gibson has correctly predicted a broad range of real-life technological advances—from the Web to virtual Japanese pop stars, like the one that just appeared on Letterman—and how human life would change to adapt to them.

Now, after a trilogy of present-day novels steeped in Bush-era paranoia, Gibson returns once again to the future, or more accurately a pair of futures. One is set an unspecified handful of decades from now, when modern civilization, just past its peak, has begun slipping ever faster into decline, with drastic climate change and a teetering global economy the new facts of life. In the other, which takes place the better part of a century later, society has finally collapsed catastrophically and its remnants are ruled by ruthless elites who are able to stay in their positions because they possess some miraculously powerful nanotechnology.

Thanks to one of the most fantastical plot devices the author has ever used, the two eras come into direct contact with each other when a typically Gibsonian crew of scrappy working-class underdogs find themselves recruited into the kleptocratic power struggle. While the two sides engage in a dirty war run through with high technology and surreal temporal kinkiness, Gibson sketches a frightening near-future whose most disturbing aspect is how familiar it feels. A

]]>
It's probably not a good sign that the most accurate prognosticator in modern science fiction foresees bad things in the coming decades. Over the course of his career, William Gibson has correctly predicted a broad range of real-life technological advances—from the Web to virtual Japanese pop stars, like the one that just appeared on Letterman—and how human life would change to adapt to them.

Now, after a trilogy of present-day novels steeped in Bush-era paranoia, Gibson returns once again to the future, or more accurately a pair of futures. One is set an unspecified handful of decades from now, when modern civilization, just past its peak, has begun slipping ever faster into decline, with drastic climate change and a teetering global economy the new facts of life. In the other, which takes place the better part of a century later, society has finally collapsed catastrophically and its remnants are ruled by ruthless elites who are able to stay in their positions because they possess some miraculously powerful nanotechnology.

Thanks to one of the most fantastical plot devices the author has ever used, the two eras come into direct contact with each other when a typically Gibsonian crew of scrappy working-class underdogs find themselves recruited into the kleptocratic power struggle. While the two sides engage in a dirty war run through with high technology and surreal temporal kinkiness, Gibson sketches a frightening near-future whose most disturbing aspect is how familiar it feels. A

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THE PERIPHERAL by William Gibson]]>
EW.com-20868201 <![CDATA[Us]]> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:00:00 EDT Clark Griswold demonstrated the perils of family trips more than 30 years ago, but apparently Douglas Petersen never saw one of National Lampoon's Vacation movies.

The hapless 54-year-old Londoner at the center of David Nicholls' new novel thinks a European tour is the perfect strategy to win back his wife, Connie (''Douglas, I think our marriage has run its course. I think I want to leave you''), and his sullen, distant, college-bound son, Albie (''We're not friends. You're my father''). Problem is, Douglas has the emotional touch of an sledgehammer—his idea of father-son bonding is showing the boy the hotel room where he was conceived. Ick.

Us, which follows the family through art galleries, seedy inns, and sorry restaurants, is laced with flashbacks of Douglas and Connie's unlikely three-decade marriage. She is a free-spirited former artist; he's a biochemist. She is a human being; the jury is still out on him. As the clan lopes from France to the Low Countries to Germany, Nicholls captures the discomfort and claustrophobia of forced fun all too well. The results are laughable and disastrous.

Unlike Douglas, Nicholls is a master of nuanced relationships. He's also a pro at delivering a tight, clever structural narrative, as he proved in his terrific previous novel One Day, which was an Entertainment Weekly best book of 2010. (It was then adapted into an Anne Hathaway movie, which should have been on EW's worst-film list in 2011.)

A footnote: Us is one of two compelling new books with a pronoun for a title—the other, You, by Caroline Kepnes (a former EW staffer), is a more literal take on the pain people can cause each other. Great novels, the both of them—just don't read them with your loved ones. A-

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Clark Griswold demonstrated the perils of family trips more than 30 years ago, but apparently Douglas Petersen never saw one of National Lampoon's Vacation movies.

The hapless 54-year-old Londoner at the center of David Nicholls' new novel thinks a European tour is the perfect strategy to win back his wife, Connie (''Douglas, I think our marriage has run its course. I think I want to leave you''), and his sullen, distant, college-bound son, Albie (''We're not friends. You're my father''). Problem is, Douglas has the emotional touch of an sledgehammer—his idea of father-son bonding is showing the boy the hotel room where he was conceived. Ick.

Us, which follows the family through art galleries, seedy inns, and sorry restaurants, is laced with flashbacks of Douglas and Connie's unlikely three-decade marriage. She is a free-spirited former artist; he's a biochemist. She is a human being; the jury is still out on him. As the clan lopes from France to the Low Countries to Germany, Nicholls captures the discomfort and claustrophobia of forced fun all too well. The results are laughable and disastrous.

Unlike Douglas, Nicholls is a master of nuanced relationships. He's also a pro at delivering a tight, clever structural narrative, as he proved in his terrific previous novel One Day, which was an Entertainment Weekly best book of 2010. (It was then adapted into an Anne Hathaway movie, which should have been on EW's worst-film list in 2011.)

A footnote: Us is one of two compelling new books with a pronoun for a title—the other, You, by Caroline Kepnes (a former EW staffer), is a more literal take on the pain people can cause each other. Great novels, the both of them—just don't read them with your loved ones. A-

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US David Nicholls]]>