Review by New York Times Review
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT LAKES, by Dan Egan. (Norton, $27.95.)Although climate change, population growth and invasive species are destabilizing the Great Lakes' wobbly ecosystem, Egan splices together history, science, reporting and personal experience into a taut and cautiously hopeful narrative. THE GIFT: (Or, Techniques of the Body), by Barbara Browning. (Coffee House/Emily Books, paper, $15.95.) This smart, funny, heartbreaking and often sexy novel concerns an artist and professor of performance studies (like the author) engaged in a continuing art project that bears an uncertain resemblance to her life. MISS BURMA, by Charmaine Craig. (Grove, $26.) A character based on Craig's Jewish grandfather marries a woman who belongs to a non-Burmese ethnic minority, the Karen, in a novel that reimagines their extraordinary lives. Their mixed-race daughter becomes the "Miss Burma" of the title. Themes of identity, longing and trust are addressed over nearly 40 years of Burmese history. THE ALLURE OF BATTLE: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost, by Cathal J. Nolan. (Oxford University, $34.95.) A historian argues that focusing on battles is the wrong way to understand wars, because attrition is what almost always wins. This thoughtprovoking book suggests a new approach to military history. ERNEST HEMINGWAY: A Biography, by Mary V. Dearborn. (Knopf, $35.) A perceptive and tough-minded biographer, Dearborn is immune to the Hemingway legend, and concentrates instead on what formed him as a man and a writer. She skillfully covers an enormous range of rich material. MUSIC OF THE GHOSTS, by Vaddey Ratner. (Touchstone, $26.) This tenaciously melodic novel explores art and war as an orphaned Cambodian refugee travels from her new home in Minneapolis to the Buddhist temple where her father was raised by monks, hoping against hope that he is still alive. The author discerns the poetic even in brutal landscapes and histories. WHERE THE LINE IS DRAWN: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel- Palestine, by Raja Shehadeh. (New Press, $25.95.) In deeply honest and intense essays, Shehadeh, a civil rights lawyer who now lives in Ramallah, describes his psychological and physical crossings into Israel. THE WITCHFINDER'S SISTER, by Beth Underdown. (Ballantine, $28.) An English witchhunter caused more than a hundred women to be hanged in the 1640s. In this ominous, claustrophobic novel, Underdown imagines his pregnant, widowed sister, who sees the malignant forces at work but is powerless to resist. FEN: Stories, by Daisy Johnson. (Graywolf, paper, $16.) The stories in Johnson's debut collection explore the shape-shifting world of the Fens, flat, once flooded lands in the east of England. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 16, 2018]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Centered in the depressed flatlands of eastern England, the stories in Johnson's debut collection straddle the drama of transformation in both the uncanny and the everyday. "A Bruise in the Shape of a Door Handle" describes a woman's house falling in love with her girlfriend. So affectionate is the house that it consumes her arm "to the elbow in something that once was wall and now was loose, flabby." In "Starver," a girl is transfigured into a fish. Ignoring her mother's protestations, her sister must set her free in the water once gills begin "shuttering on the side of her neck." These imaginative depictions of entrapment and escape pair well with more ordinary stories. In "The Scattering," a 15-year-old named Matilda falls in with her older brother's friends. "In a town where there was nothing to do," Johnson writes of the group, "they did well at nothing." Their gatherings around an impromptu skate park built into a "copse of thin trees," follow a familiar teenage arc, but Johnson manages to make these scenes as thrillingly direct as any of the supernatural fare that precedes them. "She thought there must be times you caught yourself learning," Johnson writes of Matilda, as she becomes accepted by the group: rather than going from girl to fish, she is conquering the equally daunting task of going from girl to woman. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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