Maureen Corrigan Recommends 4 Great Novels: NPR


A book on a table

Fatemeh Saberi/EyeEm/Getty Images

A book on a table

Fatemeh Saberi/EyeEm/Getty Images

My sense of time is more hazy thanks to the pandemic, so this could be a late spring or early summer roundup. The one thing I know for sure is that this mixed bag of terrific books is the one I want to carry with me at all times.

Tomorrow at this time

by Emma Straub


Tomorrow at this time

Straub’s new novel is a time travel fantasy steeped in his signature awareness of the endless ways we humans complicate life. The heroine here is a single woman named Alice who works at her old high school. Her father, a best-selling novelist who raised Alice alone, is dying in a New York hospital. This ordeal, combined with the approach of Alice’s 40th birthday, plunges her into discouragement: “Alice had always thought of her professional life in complete contrast to that of her father – he had been wildly successful, and she, no , clung to something stable like a seahorse with its tail wrapped around seagrass…”

On her birthday, Alice returns from a drinking binge and stumbles upon the gift of time travel, which allows her to explore the big question, “What if?” The biggest compliment I can give Tomorrow at this time that is to say, I have always considered Jack Finney’s 1970 novel, Repeatedlybe the New York time travel story; now Finney’s classic has company.

Research

by Michelle Hunven


Research, by Michelle Huneven
Research, by Michelle Huneven

Huneven’s comic novel is a delicious must-read for anyone who has ever served on a committee. The narrator, Dana Potowski, is a food writer living in California who has been asked to join the search committee for the new minister of her Unitarian Universalist church.

Huneven dramatizes how a strong personality – in this case a young woman puffed up with insolence – can control a committee. And his descriptions of conducting first-round interviews on Zoom are hilarious. Here is Dana describing an interview with a contestant that turned into a disaster:

Just before signing, she offered to sing us a song.

Removing a dulcimer from the wall, she … began on “Bridge over Troubled Water”. … With the chorus, she began to keep time as she slapped the dulcimer, and somehow each slap was a direct, high-pitched crack in our eardrums. … At the end, she looked up, smiled ecstatically, and waved.

One-Shot Harry

by Gary Phillips


One-Shot Harryby Gary Phillips

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One-Shot Harryby Gary Phillips

Random penguin house

Group decisions are not something Harry Ingram worries about. He stars in this hard-hitting new mystery from veteran writer Gary Phillips. One-Shot Harry iis set in Los Angeles in 1963, as racial tensions escalate ahead of Martin Luther King’s upcoming Freedom Rally at Wrigley Field. Harry, a black freelance press photographer who travels Los Angeles with his Speed ​​Graphic camera, is the best of all possible guides to this defining moment. Her job gives her access to neighborhoods and events that might otherwise be off limits to her because of her race. During the investigation into the suspicious death of a friend, Harry comes face to face with a group of white supremacists who want the speedometer of racial progress rolled back. Which makes One-Shot Harry the mid-century LA cityscape he conjures up is remarkable – its music, its chrome cars, its hateful slurs, its “invisible” racial boundaries and its cautious hopes.

Drop the hat

by Richard Stevenson


Knock Off The Hat: A Clifford Waterman Gay Philly Mysteryby Richard Stevenson

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Knock Off The Hat: A Clifford Waterman Gay Philly Mysteryby Richard Stevenson

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The circumstances of this last recommendation are unusual. Richard Lipez, who wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stevenson, was a groundbreaking author of gay mystery novels starring private detective Donald Strachey. Decades ago, I reviewed one of those Strachey books, and Dick and I became fast friends. He died in March, but one of the things he left behind was the first novel in what would have been a new series about a gay private detective in 1940s Philadelphia. Drop the hat May be the best novel Dick ever wrote. Its main character, Clifford Waterman, is a former police detective dishonourably discharged from the army during World War II for an “indecent act”. Cliff is brought in to help a man who was caught in a raid on a so-called “Degenerates” club.

Like with One-Shot Harry, the greatest delights here are the details that bring 1940s Philly to life: the Horn & Hardart automatic meals of meatloaf and coconut cream pie; Cliff’s network of hidden friends, working in town in the shoe department of Wanamaker or even in the police. I wish I could say there will be more Waterman novels to come, but the fact that Dick was in the early 80s when he wrote this novel – well, maybe that’s reason to believe the possibilities of spring, no matter the season.

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