Finding something good to read this fall will be easy. Debut novelists arrive on the scene with humor and heart, and award-winning writers return with compelling stories. Even self-described “freelance writer” Stephen King has penned something that might keep you reading into the night.
“Fairy Tale,” by Stephen King (Scribner, Sept. 6): Wanting to write something that would make him happy during the early days of the pandemic, King concocted an escapist, enchanting tale of a place that’s familiar but feels entirely new. Princes and princesses, Goldilocks, Rumpelstiltskin and other foundational fairy-tale figures are suffering under the leadership of the “Fair One,” who has laid waste to the realm and aims to expand his dominion. An unlikely hero, teenager Charlie Reade, inherits the task of keeping the evil ruler from conquering the human world, with Radar, the gray-muzzled German shepherd at his side.
“The Red Widow: The Scandal that Shook Paris and the Woman Behind it All,” by Sarah Horowitz (Sourcebooks, Sept. 6): More than a century before Anna Delvey conned her first socialite, Marguerite “Meg” Steinheil orchestrated her rise into French society’s upper echelons. As she charmed her way into the parlors and bedrooms of powerful men, including a French president, she used secrets as weapons to protect herself from allegations of the double murder of her husband and mother. Horowitz deepens the allure of this true-crime page-turner by contextualizing how sexuality was used by and against women in belle epoque Paris, and how far police went to protect elites.
“Sugar Street,” by Jonathan Dee (Grove, Sept. 13):
A man with $168,548 hidden in an envelope under the seat of his car is on the road and off the grid. The money is all he has from a former life he is determined to abandon. As he avoids modern surveillance, his life is stripped down to the basics: a roof over his head with a landlord who won’t ask questions and food from a camera-less mom-and-pop market. Pulitzer Prize finalist Dee’s edgy literary thriller considers what a privileged White man seeking a guilt-free life might do when he is on the run from himself.
“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water,” by Angie Cruz (Flatiron, Sept. 13): Twelve sessions with a job counselor provide the framework for Cruz’s endearing portrait of a fierce, funny woman whose 26-year career at “the factory of little lamps” has abruptly ended. To keep receiving checks from “El Obama,” she must look for work, but her résumé is thin despite extensive life experience. At each session, she shares more of her life story, her loves and marriage, how she’s affected by gentrification in Washington Heights, her crushing medical debt and the reason she fell out with her son.
“A Girlhood: Letter to My Transgender Daughter,” by Carolyn Hays (Blair, Sept. 13): Recent news stories have documented how parents of transgender children are being falsely accused of wrongdoing; Hays has already experienced “the knock,” the day an investigator from the Department of Children and Families arrived at her doorstep with anonymous allegations of child abuse. Framed as a missive to her teenage daughter, she discusses the terrifying incident, and their lives before and after that day. Through it all, the author and her husband learn how to love their youngest child exactly as she sees herself.
“The Old Place,” by Bobby Finger (Putnam, Sept. 20): If you’ve been missing Molly Ivins, the irascible Texan humorist who pulled no punches, look no further than the fictional Mary Alice Roth, a forcibly retired schoolteacher who refuses to be forgotten. Her remaining position of power in Billington is assigning dishes for the annual town picnic, handed out based on skill and her own personal vendettas. When shocking news arrives, Mary Alice reconsiders her carefully constructed life. Reading Finger’s playful portrait of the denizens of a small Southern town embracing and forgiving their many flaws feels like laughing with your best friend while sipping sweet tea on the back porch.
“Three Muses,” by Martha Anne Toll (Regal House, Sept. 20): In Toll’s exquisite, post-World War II-set novel, dance serves as the catalyst to an attraction that endures through decades. After witnessing prima ballerina Katya Symanova perform, Dr. John Curtin is so enchanted that he waits with white roses at the stage door. Over the years, their paths will diverge and recross as each struggles with the lingering effects of trauma. Yet their gravitational pull toward each other offers glimpses of a possible life filled with peace and happiness.
“The Last Dreamwalker,” by Rita Woods (Forge, Sept. 20): Layla has just inherited an island off the coast of South Carolina when she discovers she has the power to enter and affect other people’s dreams, a power that has been passed through her family for generations. The property, along with the nightmares that have always plagued her, are the keys to understanding long-buried family secrets, and her link to a Gullah ancestor who had nightmares of her own. Woods, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award-winning author, offers sympathetic insight into how suffering and secrets can burden families for generations.
“Best of Friends,” by Kamila Shamsie (Riverhead, Sept. 27): Although their families are from different social classes and have different values, Pakistani high-schoolers Maryam and Zahra had been loyal friends. After a dangerous encounter left them shaken, they took different paths to adulthood. Eventually relocating separately to London, they reconnect decades later when a threat from the past emerges, and they find their present-day identities have roots in their shared history. Shamsie, whose previous novel, “Home Fire,” won the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction, delivers a captivating portrayal of two women trying to learn whether a once-treasured friendship can overcome differences.
“Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm,” by Laura Warrell (Pantheon, Sept. 27): Circus Palmer, a 40-year-old jazz trumpet player, has spent a lifetime fleeing from romantic entanglements. Left in his wake are all the former wives, single mothers and other women he has avoided, including his teenage daughter, Koko. Warrell’s engaging debut novel spotlights their stories, weaving together the lives of indelibly created characters as they struggle to forge and maintain intimate connections.
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