Jennifer Egan is best known for her 2006 novel The Keep, but her works also include a short story collection and two previous novels. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Egan is recognizable for her genre-bending style that lays a fresh backdrop to vivid realism. Her 2010 novel A Visit from the Goon Squad has been critically lauded and beloved by her many fans, with highlights that include a section of narrative made up brilliantly of Powerpoint slides and an anthropological take on a wealthy older man bringing his grad student girlfriend on an African safari with his two children. Creating a whole that is larger than a collection of linked stories, Goon Squad slides easily from the voices of San Francisco punks Bennie, Alice, Scotty and Jocelyn in the 1980s, to a twenty-something kleptomaniac, Sasha, with her therapist in New York, and then to Sasha’s daughter, many years later, growing up in an uncanny, terrifying and eerily believable imagined near-future.
The characters’ interlinked lives, spanning half a century, create a dizzying picture of cultural evolution and individual decay, in a postmodern epic well deserving of the buzz and critical acclaim Egan has enjoyed thus far.
– Kara Rota
(288 p. / Knopf / $25.95)
After reading Tana French’s gripping second novel, The Likeness, I should have expected that her new Dublin Murder Squad mystery would keep me equally in its grasp. Faithful Place, named after the Dublin neighborhood where detective Frank Mackey grew up in a tangle of fighting parents, drunken brawls and family secrets, does not disappoint. It holds at its core the gorgeous mystery of first love, full of infinite promise gone horribly wrong. Frank, who has stayed away from his family and childhood home for twenty-two years, is drawn back by a frantic phone call from the one sister he hasn’t shut out, Jackie, and news of evidence that might shed light on the disappearance of Rosie Daly, a spitfire nineteen-year-old, on the night she and Frank had planned to elope to England and start a new life together working for rock bands.
Caught between his identities as undercover cop and prodigal son, Frank is forced to confront the consequences of the possibility that, rather than standing him up on that night long ago, Rosie had been intercepted and their teenage dream violently put to an end. When Frank’s young daughter Holly begins to ask precocious questions that involve her in a mystery begun long before her birth, Frank is reminded that, as William Faulkner put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Tana French is the bestselling author of In the Woods, which won the Edgar, Barry, Macavity, and Anthony awards, and of The Likeness. She grew up in Ireland, Italy, Malawi, and the United States, and trained as an actor at Trinity College, Dublin. She lives in Dublin with her husband and daughter.
– Kara Rota
(416 p. / Viking / $25.95)
The Outside Boy, memoirist Jeanine Cummins’ successful first venture into fiction, explores life in Ireland in 1959 for Christy, a young Traveller boy. Cummins has crafted her eleven-year-old narrator into a vibrant and complicated figure. She creates a unique voice for him: one that borrows from the Pavee Gypsy vernacular but is still accessible to readers and fitting for Christy’s startlingly astute observations. Cummins also does a fine job of vividly describing life on the road and blending precocious humor with the more serious aspects of Christy’s story. In one instance, he amends a “No Tinkers” sign meant to ward off his family so that it reads “No Thinkers.”
Christy is, in fact, a very deep thinker with a lot to figure out as hairline cracks start to form in the story of what he knows to be his life. As he makes brave steps to discover his past, the book fluctuates rapidly between moments of triumph and moments of grief, between the mundanely beautiful events of the end of childhood and the more extraordinary accomplishments of a small hero. Is Christy’s story the most realistic? No. But The Outside Boy is engrossing, full of wonder, and will be best enjoyed if readers can, as Cummins requests in her Author’s Note, suspend their disbelief for a little while.
– Sheila Langan
(384 p. / New American Library / $15.00)
Rosemary Herbert’s thriller Front Page Teaser, released October 1, follows the worlds of forensic investigation and tabloid newspapers as the investigative minds of these worlds collide in a rush to solve the case of missing Ellen Johansson. Front Page Teaser moves through the Boston Celtic music scene with Dr. Cormac Kinnaird, the forensic expert in the case and love interest for protagonist Liz Higgins.
The story begins with the usual thriller punch as Liz Higgins, a columnist for a gossip paper in Boston, finds herself with a young girl she had once worked with in a blood-spattered kitchen, the girl’s mother missing before police promptly escort the journalist away from the crime scene. The story then unfolds as the search for a body, a clue or any indication of the woman’s whereabouts leads Higgins out of Boston on a wild chase to fulfill her promise to the little girl to find her mother.
– Tara Dougherty
(253 p. / Down East Books /$14.95)
Maurice Fitzpatrick’s book The Boys of St. Columb’s offers a unique look into the history of St. Columb’s College, a Catholic grammar school in Derry, Northern Ireland, and the significance of the 1947 Education Act, which allowed access to free secondary education to all in Northern Ireland.
Fitzpatrick begins with a short biography of those past pupils interviewed, from Nobel Prize winners (St. Columb’s is one of the few schools that can claim two Nobel Laureates amongst its alumni – John Hume and Seamus Heaney), to musicians and social activists. While each of those interviewed has St. Columb’s in common, the interviews themselves take remarkable turns to different subjects. Author Seamus Deane details the state of Derry at the time of his education and his childhood there, while political activist Eamonn McCann carries the interview from subject to subject ranging from his earliest guerilla activity in Derry to his distaste for the way he was educated at St. Columb’s. Still others, such as poet Seamus Heaney, fondly remember certain teachers who led their paths into various successes.
The remarkable stories and careers of the men profiled, all rooted in the same school in the same period of time, are intertwined in unexpected and fascinating ways. Their school experiences, much like the Northern Irish world they lived in at the time, are filled with plurality and conflict. Fitzpatrick presents a compelling look into their world, their memories and history as his eight subjects remember it. Available for purchase at http://www.theliffeypress.com/
– Tara Dougherty
(228 p. / The Liffey Press / $25.00)
William P. Sexton’s Escape From Barbados chronicles the dramatic journey of Sean Tierney, a Limerick swordsman who is captured from his home by Cromwell’s army one night in 1662. Delving into a somewhat neglected area of Irish history, Sexton’s narrative follows Sean as he is taken aboard a slave ship and transported to a plantation in Barbados, just as thousands of Irish were forcibly taken and enslaved during those years. Determined to go home, Sean sets out on a thirty-five-year quest to return to Ireland, encountering many new places and people, which are strange to him. Though he winds up in some dire situations, his “fighting Irish spirit,” as Sexton calls it, always sees him through. His adventure is a fast-paced, easy read.
– Sheila Langan
(105 p. / O’Séasnain / $12.99)
With a plethora of titles such as An Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Bloody Irish: Great Irish Vampire Stories under his belt, few authors seem more fitting to address the spread of Celtic mythology across North America than Bob Curran. Curran provides a series of Celtic legends and their American counterparts in his new book, Mysterious Celtic Mythology in American Folklore. Told with whimsy and allure, conveyed akin to campfire tales, the book covers all manner of hauntings and forgotten lands, shape shifters and witches, leaving intace their extravagances. Familiar ground is not laboriously tread, keeping the book’s pace fluent and intriguing. Their great variety illustrates Curran’s extensive knowledge.
Essentially, if you’re craving a fascinating tour through the enigmatic and far-reaching influence of Celtic mythology, this addition to Curran’s bibliography will satisfy, and perhaps deliver a few chills along the way.
– James Lovett
(296 p. / Pelican / $25.00)
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore