A must-read book of the season, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, $27) opens on the Breton coast in the days just following D-Day. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who escaped from Paris with her father but is alone while Allied planes drop leaflets and German artillery batters the town of Saint-Malo. Werner, a young German radio operator, is trapped in the basement of a bombed-out building just blocks away. Doerr’s exquisitely plotted novel traces the paths of Marie-Laure and Werner from childhood to their inevitable meeting. Short chapters move the story at a brisk pace, and Doerr’s unerring eye for detail makes the book hard to put down and impossible to forget.
Jules Feiffer calls Kill My Mother (Liveright, $27.95) his “failed attempt” to emulate the adventure comics, madcap movies, and pulp novels he devoured as a kid growing up poor in New York. Whether meeting his own high standards or not, Feiffer has created one of the year’s most original graphic novels. Taking readers from Depression-era Bay City, making a short stop in Tinseltown, and coming to an explosive climax in the South Pacific, the novel tracks the travails of movie stars, fixers, private eyes, and producers who have questionable pasts and compromised presents. Feiffer’s eye for composition is strong, and his absorption of his influences makes for backgrounds that often fade into washed-out watercolors, and panels not so much drawn as painted like muted pools for his characters to dance upon. And boy, do they have the moves! Whether it’s a boxing match, a dance number, or even a job interview, Feiffer’s figures grow contorted and their faces expand and recede; be assured that these characters’ loyalties and morals are equally flexible. Personal vendettas may be the only constants here, but stay tuned: Kill My Mother is the first part of a trilogy.
Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26) joins Home and Gilead in Marilynne Robinson’s moving trilogy about the lives and faith of an Iowa town in the 1940s and ‘50s. This third novel is a prequel to the first. Lila is the young wife of the elderly Reverend John Ames, the woman whose look of “furious pride, very passionate and stern,” Ames sees in the face of the seven-year-old son he addresses in Gilead. Much lies behind that “look”; Lila’s fury stems from the mystery of her parentage and why she was abandoned as a child, her subsequent rescue/abduction by the itinerant Doll, and their impoverished years on the road. Lila’s pride makes her a self-sufficient survivor and a woman of high moral standards; she’s seen too much of low ones, and while she may be poorly educated, she has a passion for understanding “why things happen the way they do.” This quest for wisdom, along with compassion and loneliness, draw Lila and the old man together; both are thunderstruck at the good fortune of their unexpected marriage. Robinson is eloquent about this unlikely couple, showing how their mutual attraction was physical, emotional, and intellectual—an inevitable match or, as Ames believes, one made in heaven—a sure sign of grace.
(This book cannot be returned.)