Whether considered an episodic narrative or a series of linked stories, Simon Van Booy’s bittersweet second novel highlights the degrees of separation between people and, in the same breath, collapses them. Set in various years from 1937 to 2011 and ranging among France, Britain, and the East and West coasts of the U.S., The Illusion of Separateness (Harper Perennial, $14.99) really takes place where memory and imagination overlap; one character recounts his experiences and another picks up the threads, inventing plausible scenarios to fill the gaps in the stories she grew up with. Most of these stories center on John Bray, an American World War II pilot, his family, friends, and the strangers their lives touch, often in profound and surprising ways. Van Booy is unfailingly compassionate to his characters and they return the favor to each other, finding ways to redeem a painful and destructive world.
Kristopher Jansma’s original and unusual novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (Penguin, $16), is akin to a journey through a hall of mirrors. On the surface, it’s the dazzling life-story of an aspiring writer. Entranced by his best friends—perpetually successful, witty, beautiful, and creatively modernist—the unnamed narrator turns their exploits into the foundations of his own stories. But does he unfairly idealize these unwitting muses? Is he plagiarizing not their work, but their lives? And if so, does this make his work fraudulent? From chapter to chapter, names and relationships change, until the reader can no longer discern what is “real” from what is imagined—which leaves only the truth that appropriation is ultimately disastrous.
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.