With sunny days and warmer temperatures ahead, it’s the perfect time to find a few additions to your bookshelves. Thankfully, this spring, four American novelists have come up trumps with brand new books.
Falling somewhere between Jeffery Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and the southern gothic of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Amy Engel’s novel The Roanoke Girls (Hodder & Stoughton, out now) is not for the faint-hearted. Lane is one of the Roanoke women of the title, along with her cousin, mother and several aunts. But the family history is littered with tragedy; Roanoke girls die young, or they run far, far way, never to be heard from again. After discovering the horrifying truth about why that is when she is 16, Lane flees the family’s remote mansion and tries to leave her lineage behind. But when her cousin Allegra goes missing, she is forced to return and come to terms with the dark side of the Roanoke name. Although the major twist is revealed early on – no spoilers, but it’s a shocker – Engel creates enough suspense to keep you hooked until the end.
All Grown Up (Serpent’s Tail, 6th April) is rather less dramatic, but equally as compelling. Jami Attenberg’s sixth book, a follow-up to the wonderful Saint Mazie and the compelling family drama The Middlesteins (which you must read, if you haven’t already), it occasionally feels like an extended blog post or diary entry – but that’s no bad thing. Andrea Bern, an artist who has sold out to a corporate job, lives in Brooklyn, dates a series of suitable and unsuitable men (predominantly the latter), and struggles with a complicated family dynamic, including an activist mother, an addict father, and a niece with severe health problems. Approaching 40, she starts to look back on her adult life; the book is essentially a collection of these reminiscences. Andrea is a witty, sardonic heroine who has a very contemporary view of the world, and reading her insights is an absolute joy.
She might also have some wise words for Loo, the protagonist of Hannah Tinti’s new novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (Tinder Press, out now). Brought up – in perhaps the loosest sense – by her father Samuel, Loo is a tough as nails teenager in a working class fishing town. As she struggles to understand the world around her and embarks on her first romance, she starts to wonder what happened to her mother, why her grandmother won’t speak to them, and how her father acquired so many scars. Flitting between Loo’s life now and the episodes that coloured Samuel’s past, Tinti takes us on a journey that is part crime thriller and part emotional drama.
Another memorable heroine appears in The Patriots (Granta, out now), Sana Krasikov’s world and decade spanning doorstop of a debut. Early in Krasikov’s novel, a young woman from Brooklyn boards a steamer ship bound for Russia. It’s 1934 and Florence Fein is captivated by the ideology of the Soviet Union (not to mention in pursuit of her former lover). But the Soviet Union isn’t quite the utopian paradise she had expected; foreigners get a better deal and secrecy abounds. In time she finds herself caught up with a murky world of informants, propaganda and double standards, and less than two decades later, she is a prisoner in a Soviet gulag and her son is abandoned to a state orphanage. Krasikov takes us on Florence’s journey, but also on that of her son Julian and his son Lenny, exploring the Russian and American centuries as she does so. An exhaustively researched novel posing as many questions as it does answers; it’s a fascinating and challenging read.