Florence Gordon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25) is an irascible seventy-five-year old Manhattan feminist, activist, and intellectual with no patience for tedious, directionless mediocrity. Yet against her preferences, her world seems to include her ex-husband, Lev, a failed academic; her son, Daniel, a policeman (!); his wife, Janine, a fawning dilettante; and her granddaughter, Emily, so young, and, really what are the youth of today thinking about? Do they even read? Well, Florence is about to discover that they do. Thanks to Emily’s persistent willingness to push back and argue, and Brian Morton’s richly evocative, patient story-telling style, over the course of a year, Florence rediscovers the meaning of family.
With her fourth novel, Emily St. John Mandel turns her craft to a post-plague future in which a wandering troupe of Shakespearean actors and musicians, the Traveling Symphony, preserves the cultural knowledge of civilization while scavenging for relics in abandoned towns and providing a link among disparate surviving communities. Station Eleven (Knopf, $24.95) portrays their daily effort to protect what is good and valuable in the midst of hostility, despotism, and insanity. The book asks how our origins determine our course and purpose in life and whether force, coercion, and fear—or art, imagination, and human decency—will save us. This is masterful and life-affirming fiction.