Character & History: Literary Fiction Previews, Apr. 2019, Pt. 3 | Prepub Alert

A physicist whose sense of science is challenged, a Sixties child recalling his father, a young man mediating the conflict between Ottoman Palestine and British rule, and an interracial American couple in late 1800s France—these are some of the characters you will meet in this month’s top literary fiction.

Besson, Philippe. Lie with Me. Scribner. Apr. 2019. 208p. tr. from French by Molly Ringwald. ISBN 9781501197871. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501197895. LITERARY

In 1984, nerdy Phillip and more conventional class-favorite Thomas, a farmer’s son, ignore each other at school while conducting a passionate affair outside of class. Thomas breaks it off, but Philippe recalls all the details 25 years later when he encounters a lad who looks just like Thomas. An award winner since the 2001 publication of his first novel, In the Absence of Men, Besson is here translated by actress Ringwald, known for Eighties films about young desire.

Freudenberger, Nell. Lost and Wanted. Knopf. Apr. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9780385352680. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352697. lrg. prnt. Downloadable. LITERARY

Famed for her work on black holes, rigorously scientific MIT professor Helen Clapp see the laws of the universe tumble when she receives a call from a friend who has just died. Since Charlie has drifted away, having opted out of a potentially glittering career in academia owing to a harassing professor, then found herself stereotyped as a black woman writing for TV, Helen tries to understand what is happening. From the author of the well-regarded and nationally best-selling The Newlyweds.

Furst, Joshua. Revolutionaries. Knopf. Apr. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9780307271143. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525655343. LITERARY

Only child of Sixties countercultural leader Lenny Snyder, Fred (initially named Freedom) recalls a difficult upbringing filled with marches and pranks, wild Lenny devotees, and a father who preaches love but practices instinctive meanness with his family. From Furst, a Michener fellow and Nelson Algren Award winner, author of the acclaimed story collection Short People and the multi-best-booked debut novel The Sabotage Cafe.

Goldberg, Myla. Feast Your Eyes. Scribner. Apr. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781501197840. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781501197864. LITERARY

In 1955, when Lillian Preston exhibits partially nude photos of herself and daughter Samantha, she’s considered America’s worst or bravest mother and worst or best photographer, depending on one’s perspective. Samantha narrates, recalling life with her mother while blending in interviews with friends and lovers of Lillian and excerpts from Lillian’s diaries. After almost ten years, a new novel from PEN/Hemingway and NYPL Young Lions finalist Goldberg (Bee Season).

Hammad, Isabella. The Parisian. Grove. Apr. 2019. 576p. ISBN 9780802129437. $27. LITERARY

In a debut novel from Plimpton Prize winner Hammad, set in the early 1900s but clarifying today’s tumult in the Middle East, dreamy, idealistic Midhat Kamal travels from Ottoman Palestine to Paris to study medicine. When he returns home, Palestine is under British rule, the entire region rings with nationalism, and Midhat’s struggle to resolve conflicting ideas and loyalties parallels the struggle for independence.

Kerangal, Maylis de. The Cook. Farrar. Apr. 2019. 112p. tr. from French by Sam Taylor. ISBN 9780374120900. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780374716196. LITERARY

A multi-award-winning French novelist whose recently translated The Heart was a Wall Street Journal best book, Kerangel offers a documentary-like coming-of-age novel about self-taught chef Mauro, as told by a female friend and disciple who clearly regards him longingly. Mauro starts baking cakes in childhood and rustling up meals for friends in adolescence, then moves on to various jobs, business ventures, a nervous breakdown, and a return to his passion for cooking in a narrative that moves from Paris to Berlin, Thailand, Burma, and more.

Knight, Michael. At Briarwood School for Girls. Atlantic Monthly. Apr. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9780802128423. $26. LITERARY

In 1994, even as students and faculty at Briarwood School for Girls fret about how the American history theme park Disney plans to build nearby will impact both their school and the surrounding Prince William County, VA, pregnant junior Lenore Littlefield must decide to whom she should confide: the history teacher or basketball coach, disaffected for different reasons; a playwright burdened by her Briarwood past; or the resident teenage ghost, who chats by phone or Ouija board. From Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winner Knight (Eveningland).

 O’Nan, Stewart. Henry, Himself. Viking. Apr. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780735223042. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780735223066. Downloadable. LITERARY

A Granta Best of Young American Novelists, O’Nan (Last Night at the Lobster, City of Secrets) presents Henry Maxwell, retired at 75 after having worked as an engineer and a committed husband, father, and churchgoer who has always espoused hard work and sacrifice. But in a more self-involved world, with his memory wandering and his children at the borders of his life, he begins rethinking his life, wondering not so much whether he has done well but whether he has done good.

 Parini, Jay. The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul. Doubleday. Apr. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780385522786. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538404. LITERARY

Author of the internationally best-selling The Last Station, fiction about Tolstoy’s final days that served as the basis of an Academy Award–nominated film, poet, novelist, and biographer Parini stays in historical fiction mode with this study of Paul of Tarsus, a Jewish scholar violently opposed to the new followers of Jesus of Nazareth. An illuminating moment on the road to Damascus turns him into the apostle Paul, and his perceptions here alternate with those of gospel writer Luke, his travel companion and putative ghostwriter.

 Schwartz, John Burnham. The Red Daughter. Random. Apr. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781400068463. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781984853875. Downloadable. LITERARY

When she defected, Joseph Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Allilyueva, was escorted by a young lawyer named Paul Horvath whom the CIA had furnished. She stumbled through the unfamiliar thickets of American life, married badly, then turned to Paul for support, with the CIA surveilling their growing intimacy. Schwartz’s father was in fact that lawyer, and Schwartz (Reservation Road) combines his own research with his father’s reminiscences to craft a fictional account of Allilyueva’s struggle to become American.

Tilghman, Christopher. Thomas and Beal in the Midi. Farrar. Apr. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780374276522. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374719135. LITERARY

Having triumphed in 1996 with Mason’s Retreat and followed up six years ago with The Right-Hand Shore, Whiting Award winner Tilghman continues the story of the Mason family with young interracial couple Thomas and Beal, who respond to family disapproval from both sides by fleeing Maryland in 1894 for France. They find freedom and acceptance in Paris’s Latin Quarter but eventually become winemakers in the rough-and-ready Languedoc, though Beal isn’t entirely happy returning to the farm life she thought she left behind in America.

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