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by Jennifer Egan
This year's National Book Critic's Circle Fiction award winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad, doesn't fit neatly into any genre. Jennifer Egan is playing with the idea of the novel; the result is a swirling time trip that is both fun and emotionally satisfying. The two characters who appear and disappear with the greatest frequency are Sasha, a young woman who has a compulsive urge to steal, and her boss, Bennie, a record company executive who was once a member of a punk rock band in San Francisco. The book travels back and forth in time with these characters and many of the people who have touched their lives. One of the most effective and affecting stories comes in the form of a PowerPoint presentation narrated by a 12-year-old girl. That feat in itself is a testament to Egan's powers as a writer. Each of the stories stands alone, with a distinct style and narrative voice — until the jumble of pieces comes together to create a vivid picture of a fully realized world.
by Anna Quindlen
How well can we protect our children from the cruelty of the world? That's a question bestselling author and former columnist Anna Quindlen explores in her sixth novel, Every Last One, which despite its dark themes and violent scenes, is buoyed by her winning voice. The first half of the novel gives us a vivid portrait of Mary Beth Latham's life, her cozy love for her ophthalmologist husband, her challenging relationships with her three teenage children, and her satisfying small-town landscape business. Quindlen orchestrates her chorus of voices, including extended family and neighbors, with exquisite balance. She places the shocking event that changes everything halfway through the novel, and lets Mary Beth's reaction take up the rest. It's a risky plotting ploy, but it works. Quindlen understands human actions and reactions, deceptions and denials. Her emotional sophistication, and her journalistic eye for authentic dialogue and detail, bring the ring of truth to every page of this timely novel.
Have A Little Faith
by Mitch Albom
Have a Little Faith is the story of the relationships that sports columnist and bestselling author Mitch Albom develops with two very different clergymen — one his family rabbi, the other the pastor of an inner-city church for the homeless and indigent. Each made Mr. Albom take a fresh look at faith, in God and goodness, and in giving meaning to the life. "At their cores, most true faiths are pretty similar," Albom tells NPR's Scott Simon. "Be good to one another, take care of those who are less fortunate, be cognizant of a force greater than you — pray. The notion of taking care of your community was the thing that I found to be most similar between these two men, one raised during the Depression and ultimately having a congregation out in the well-to-do New Jersey suburbs, and the other raised in Brooklyn, who went the bad route, then turned it around and worked with the poor in Detroit."
by Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett was one of the original queens of TV comedy. Her long-running variety show, with its outrageous costumes and its uproariously unpredictable sketches, offered a warm brand of wackiness that parents would let their kids stay up late to watch. Now, in a new memoir, Burnett tells stories about what went on behind the scenes of The Carol Burnett Show. "I loved putting on wigs, I loved blacking out my teeth," Burnett says. "I liked the physical humor. I'd do my own stunts and never know how — I'd jump out of windows, get dragged across the floor, all kinds of things." And in the end, it was that rolling-on-the-floor reaction that made it all worthwhile. "I always loved the belly laughs," says Burnett. And over the years, she's earned plenty of them.
by Marion Meade
Nathanael West was a man out of step with his time. When, in the Jazz Age, New Yorkers like Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway moved to Paris to socialize and work, West followed suit and couldn't meet a fellow writer to save his life. When many novelists fled to Hollywood to join the legions of screenwriters and amass fortunes publishing just couldn't provide, West got stuck at the smallest B-movie studio of them all. Even now, when you think of the great American writers of that time, West is not remotely the first name to spring to mind, despite his recognized classics Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust. In Marion Meade's new biography, Lonelyhearts, she tells West's story in a manner befitting her subject, with brevity and humor. She deftly deals with the controversies (like the quite true accusations of plagiarism) and lets his sometimes batty life story — West, who frequented prostitutes, met his wife just after his release from the hospital for complications from repeated gonorrhea infections — crack its own jokes.