Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel Flight Behavior (HarperCollins, $28.99) opens with a young unhappy housewife finding her plans for romance interrupted by a miraculous event. The marvel of a fire in the forest changes lives and recasts the future, and raises many questions of science and faith, reason and wonder, along with homing in on the interactions between humans and nature. Set in Kingsolver’s native rural Appalachia, this story did what I want every work of fiction to do: It offered a glimpse into a way of life that was new to me by using characters that seem eerily familiar. Once again, Kingsolver proves a master of this genre.
Richard Ford’s Canada (Ecco, $27.99) is a rich and poignant story that intertwines the dissolution of a family with a boy’s journey toward adulthood. Bev Parsons is fourteen when his parents bungle a bank robbery and are arrested; his twin sister runs away, but Bev is transported by an acquaintance of his mother into western Canada. There he is exposed to a cold and barren landscape and the dark world of the hotel owner who becomes his employer. As we’ve come to expect from Richard Ford, the storytelling is compelling, the prose fluid and evocative.
A sleeper summer hit, Maria Semple’s second novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Little, Brown, $25.99), is a quirky sendup of crunchy, Microsoft-centric Seattle culture. This pastiche of an epistolary novel weaves the likes of school report cards, emergency room bills, and police reports to tell the story of a once-famous MacArthur genius award-winning architect unraveling in relative obscurity at midlife. Told largely from the point of view of Bee, an eighth-grader coming to grips with the possible dissolution of her family when her mother goes missing, the story is as tender as it is hilarious, a feat that perhaps only a former staff writer of the deliciously twisted television series Arrested Development could successfully pull off.