Newly Released Books

A Fairly Good Time
By Mavis Gallant
This reissue features two short novels by the Canadian author Mavis Gallant, best known for her short stories. (Ms. Gallant, who died in 2014, never published a third novel.) Both involve expatriates and mothers who inflict untold damage upon their daughters. “To think that when you were on the way I believed you were a tumor!” writes Margaret in a bizarre letter to her daughter, Shirley, in 1970’s “A Fairly Good Time.” (She signs off, “Your affectionate Mother.”) Shirley is unsure whether her husband has abandoned her and gets no comfort from Margaret. “Green Water, Green Sky,” published in 1959, chronicles the mental collapse of a young woman, Florence, and its toll on her husband and her vain, domineering mother, Bonnie. Page after page, sentence after sentence, these novels remind us why Ms. Gallant stands as a master of 20th-century fiction.

Before We Visit the Goddess
By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Three generations of women, living in Bengal, India; Houston; and elsewhere are chronicled in this affecting novel. In failing health, a 67-year-old widow, Sabitri, writes a lengthy letter — a mix of autobiography, life advice and confession — to Tara, the granddaughter she has never met. As well as tracing Sabitri’s past, the novel reveals the private sorrows and regrets of her daughter, Bela, who abandoned her mother by eloping and running away to the United States from India; Bela’s own daughter, the wayward Tara, can’t hold down a job. Each woman is estranged from the others. Among the traumas they endure are infidelity, unrequited love and the loss of a child. “Pain makes us crazy,” Tara says, and in a revelatory scene, she reconciles with her weeping mother and embraces her: “It’s an odd sensation, like a torn ligament knitting itself back, lumpy and imperfect, usable as long as we know not to push it too hard.”

By Max Frisch, translated from the German by Geoffrey Skelton
An acclaimed Swiss author, Max Frisch — melancholy, twice divorced — travels to New York for a book tour. He has a fling with the publicist assigned to him, a woman half his age, and they spend a weekend on Long Island. For him, the casual, uncomplicated affair offers relief: “He does not even know yet in what area Lynn is vulnerable and what would lead to their first quarrel.” Toggling between first and third person, present and past, and expressing dialogue in capitalized letters, this inventive roman à clef (reissued for the first time since its original 1975 release) recalls the author’s own New York visit in 1974. Yet Max is hardly consumed by lust. In the presence of his lover, his mind wanders as he ruminates on his failed marriages, broken friendships, fear of death, and compulsive habit of exploiting experiences, even as they occur, for literary material.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
By Dominic Smith
For centuries, a landmark 17th-century painting, “At the Edge of a Wood,” has been in the family of Marty de Groot, an unhappily married Manhattan lawyer. Stolen from his triplex in 1957 and replaced with a fake, the painting is said to be the only surviving work by the (fictional) Dutch artist Sara de Vos. The mystery involves not a master forger but a young Australian art historian, Ellie Shipley, duped into the crime and obsessed by her project: “The puzzle of how to build and age a copy was a house with many hallways. Some passages were well lit and others impossibly dark.” Thanks to a private investigator hired by de Groot, the act will come back to haunt her decades later. This intriguing, suspenseful novel examines the technical aspects of art making and the anguish that drives it.

By Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump
On the first Tuesday of every month, a middle-aged Frenchwoman, Clarisse Rivière, boards a train to Bordeaux to visit her mother, Ladivine Sylla. The trips are a secret. Her husband, Richard, and her daughter, also called Ladivine, believe that Clarisse’s parents are dead. They know nothing of her former life. Her real name is Malinka, and she is the daughter of a West African single mother who worked as a cleaning woman. She ran away and reinvented herself as Clarisse, hiding her new identity from the mother she regards with pity and contempt. “She had deep, inexhaustible reserves of coldness inside her,” Clarisse says of herself. When Clarisse dies under violent circumstances, messy truths begin to unravel. In this disturbing, multilayered novel, with its cast of damaged characters, cruelty is rampant, and empathy is hard to come by. There’s not much solace for readers, either.

The Excellent Lombards
By Jane Hamilton
Jane Hamilton’s latest novel is set on a farm where, apart from the usual chores and routines, not much happens. But for the delightful young heroine, Frankie Lombard, there’s plenty going on. She grows up on her family’s 400-acre Wisconsin farm in the early 1990s, devoted to helping her father, Jim, tend their apple orchard, and following around the brother she idolizes, William. In this bucolic, almost mythic setting — a compound with sheep pastures, apple trees, woods and fields — the Lombard siblings feel protected, and proud to be “heirs to a historical property and a noble business.” But as they learn, their future may be threatened, either through interfamilial disputes or encroaching developers. Ms. Hamilton has written what’s known as a “quiet” novel, yet this beautiful coming-of-age story offers a more trenchant narrative on the sustainability of family farming.

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