Slate has asked a number of its contributors to recommend some recent books of note. Below is a list of their responses. Pack them up for the beach or sit down next to the air conditioning, and enjoy.
A Day at the Beach, by Helen Schulman (Houghton Mifflin). This intense, disconcerting novel chronicles a single day in the life of a Manhattan couple: Gerhard Falktopf, a once-sensational choreographer past his prime, and Suzannah, his former prima ballerina and now wife and mother to their son, Nikolai. That day happens to be Sept. 11, and after Suzannah and Nikolai watch from their window as the first plane crashes into the World Trade Center, the Falktopfs pack up and head for the Hamptons. At one point Gerhard expresses admiration for the "hyperrealism" of Chuck Close's portraits, a term that aptly characterizes Schulman's technique: Every detail of that torturous day is magnified for her scrutiny, from the duck eggs Suzannah serves Gerhard for breakfast to the clothing on people falling from the towers. This privileged pair have little in common with the average New Yorker, but Schulman acknowledges their very real troubles even as she satirizes their excesses. Her steely vision of human relationships makes this book a standout in the increasingly crowded field of 9/11 novels.— Ruth Franklin
The Nature of Monsters, by Clare Clark (Harcourt). Clare Clark's The Nature of Monsters is a flat-out fun read. Set in 1718, the story blends influences from Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Hitchcock, Michel Foucault (the potentially monstrous nature of scientific knowledge), and Daniel Defoe. Imagine a veiled apothecary who appears to practice black magic, holds captive a woman who is virtually mentally retarded, and has strange dealings with a free-thinking bookseller. Should you, as a pregnant woman without a husband, stay in his house or flee? The tone of the book is serious, and the style is borrowed from the 18th century. Things are most dangerous precisely when they appear most safe.— Tyler Cowen
Magnetic North, by Linda Gregerson (Houghton Mifflin). Linda Gregerson's style works the way intense curiosity works: By sorting and sifting, Gregerson's poems move only in one direction, forward, and at one speed, fast. Her sentences hurdle across lines and stanzas, self-correcting instantaneously as new bits of information enter the field. If this style sounds forensic or drafty, read Gregerson's poem "Bicameral", which is in part about a child born with a cleft palate; of all the terrific American poets working today, Gregerson is best at complex, disabused acts of empathy. Probably no poet so smart (Gregerson is also a leading scholar of the English Renaissance) dares to take people and sadness so seriously. As the title of Gregerson's "Bicameral" would indicate, this is a book about America, but obliquely so, by means of possums and falcons, roundworms and Marlowe. I will read these beautiful poems aloud to my children when they are old enough to wonder how it is anybody can still care deeply about our country.— Dan Chiasson
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