Critical Mass

Jane Ciabattari, What Are You Looking Forward to Reading This Spring?

By Jane Ciabattari

In addition to the aforementioned Don DeLillo 9/11 novel,here are my most anticipated five (in alphabetical order):

1) Away, the new novel from award-winning short story author, NBCC fiction finalist (and announcer of 2006 fiction finalists) Amy Bloom, set in 1920s New York, but ranging back to Russia, then forward into the Yukon, from Random House. I'm eager to see Bloom's other-worldly insightfulness applied at novel length.

2) The Art of Political Murder: Who Didn't Kill the Bishop? from Francisco Goldman, the novelist who splits his time between Brooklyn and Guatemala. This book is not coming until fall, from Grove Press, but I'm reading a galley now, enthralled with a fiction writer's skill brought to bear on the horrific tale of the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi in April 1998, two days after he took part in the release of Guatemala: Never Again, the 1400-page report on the investigation into the massacres, “disappearances,” torture and murder of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan citizens by the military dictatorship from the 1960s on.

3) Love & War in California, from Oakley Hall (The Downhill Racers, Warlock, reissued in 2005, which Thomas Pynchon in a review called “one of our best American novels…”), mentor to Michael Chabon, Richard Ford and others, co-founder of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and former director of the UC Irvine writing program. Hall, who has written oodles of seamless and acclaimed historic novels, turns back to the present in his new novel, which covers 60 years of California history, beginning in 1941, through the eyes of Payton Daltrey, with cameo appearance by Erroll Flynn, among others. Thomas Dunne Books.

4) Bluebird: or The Invention of Happiness, seventh novel from South African-born Sheila Kohler, whose portrait of the vicious hypocrisy of Vichy France in her novel The Children of Pithiviers parallels her other novelistic depictions of the brutal social complexicites and outrages of apartheid South Africa. Bluebird follows the life of a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette who escapes the Reign of Terror and ends up as a dairy farmer in the countryside near Albany, New York, from The Other Press.

5) Divisadero, from Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient, Anil's Ghost, and the lesser known but exquisite Coming Through Slaughter, about New Orleans musician Buddy Bolden), a multigenerational novel set in 1970s California (Glen Ellen, Nicasio, Petaluma, Rio Vista, Sacramento, San Francisco, Tahoe, okay, I admit it, I'm homesick for Northern California after this latest Nor'easter) and in France earlier in the century, when a solitary writer goes in search of security. And love. And home. And truth. From Knopf.
–Jane Ciabattari, NBCC Board Member