Falling Out of Time (Knopf, $24.95) unfolds somewhere between folk tale, Greek tragedy, and a brilliant and innovative novel. Its structure, too, is multifaceted, with elements of prose, poetry, and drama combining for a narrative about strength and despair in the face of the loss of a child. The odd, eclectic characters that populate these pages—mothers, fathers, a net mender, a midwife, a chronicler, a centaur—also inhabit a liminal region somewhere between the present and the past. Though they must continue to live their daily lives, these characters cling to the past, the only place where the child still lives. David Grossman, author of To the End of the Land, movingly explores the territory of mourning and the complex passage through grief. His language (translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen) is by turns haunting, funny, and insightful; it intensifies, dissolves, and then resolves as the story progresses. Frequently, I found myself reading pages aloud; you’ll want to do the same.
Guiding you through this slim modern saga is Valdimar Haraldsson, the eccentric, pompous author of Fisk og Kultur, a seventeen-volume work on the link between fish consumption and the superiority of the Nordic race (set in 1949, the book is suggestive, but never explicitly moralistic). From Valdimar’s self-important and sometimes oblivious perspective, we follow a Danish merchant ship across the Black Sea. During the voyage, second mate Caeneus regales the passengers with tales from his time with Jason on the quest for the Golden Fleece. Caeneus weaves his increasingly fantastic stories into the daily life of the current expedition, blurring the boundary between myth and truth. The Whispering Muse (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $12), the third novel(la) by the Icelandic writer Sjon, succeeds at both the surface level of a quirky, satirical story and a deeper, darker exploration of cultures and peoples.
(This book cannot be returned.)
We live in a golden age of comics. Graphic memoirs, novels, histories, literary criticism, and good old-fashioned comic strips are thriving like never before, and this fascinating collection features examples of each. Running the gamut of notable cartoonists from Scott McCloud to Alison Bechdel to Chris Ware and many others, Outside the Box (Univ. of Chicago, $26) contains twelve interviews, three of them not previously published, between Hillary Chute and these innovative artists. The conversations let you in on the stories behind the stories; you earn about the artists’ different perspectives, glimpse the rich graphics community, and come to understand the past, present, and future of graphics. Each chapter features several examples of a cartoonist’s work or inspirations, adding up to seventy illustrations altogether. Tracking the ascent of comics from the 1940s to today, this anthology is great for comics buffs and novices alike.