In Andre Dubus III’s novel, Gone So Long (W.W. Norton, $27.95), a man who spent most of his life in prison after an act of impulsive violence seeks out the daughter he was separated from forty years earlier. Dubus, who is excellent in exploring the psychological and moral dimensions of his characters, describes the two characters’ paths toward an inevitable and frightening mental/emotional collision.
Elliott Ackerman's new novel Waiting for Eden (Knopf, $22.95) is a breathtaking achievement. Within a short span and with stunning compassion Ackerman is able to tell the story of three intertwined lives as they are touched by war, betrayal, and loss. On Christmas day Marine Corporal Eden Malcolm stirs from his three-year coma. He is the only survivor of a bombing that killed all of his fellow Marines, including his best friend, and left him trapped within a shell of his former self, unable to communicate. Finding his consciousness suddenly awakened, Eden desperately tries to reach the outside world. Mary, his wife, has stayed by his side through the years despite little support or hope. Narrating from beyond the grave is Eden's nameless best friend. A piercingly heartfelt look at the toll of war on the home front and the frayed edges it leaves behind.
A fifteen-year-old-student, a thirty-four-year-old teacher known as Master: Kate Walbert’s taut and unsettling His Favorites (Scribner, $22) takes this classic plotline and parses it for what it says about power dynamics, conformity, self-image, truth, and more. How such a narrative is framed is crucial, and Walbert tells this one from the perspective of Jo Hadley, once that vulnerable fifteen-year-old, and now an adult acutely aware that she still might not be believed, if only because of the unreliability of memory. But what she remembers is Master’s manipulation, which Walbert shows with chilling precision, and the boarding school’s culture of silence and deference. “’Make big waves and you’ll swamp your own boat,’” Jo is reminded by the headmaster’s wife when she reports Master’s harassment. Walbert brilliantly dramatizes the force of images, from the quiet, apologetic girls no one hears to the wilder ones whose actions compromise their words (as is the case with Jo, who’s installed at the boarding school after her role in a drunken accident makes her a pariah at home), to the one an early death turns into the flawless “girl who should be mourned,” as if more complicated women don’t deserve to be grieved. Much of this will be familiar to women, who for too long have listened to “the language of boys, a language different from our own,” and “pretended to understand it…to go along.”