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Home » The Early Word: New and Notable Fiction for the Week of June 23, 2008

The Early Word: New and Notable Fiction for the Week of June 23, 2008

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This week's fiction has a few of the usual suspects (new murder mysteries and romance novels) along with some new literary fiction. As the summer reading season continues in full force, there are a couple of gems that stick out in the bestseller lists this week, some of which we may continue to hear about as the year goes on.

One of the most influential – and certainly most prolific – writers of the twentieth century is Joyce Carol Oates, and the big news this week in fiction is her latest novel My Sister, My Love. Known as one of the more influential writers of modern fiction, Oates has done it all, writing short stories, literary criticism, and plenty of novels.

Oates' latest novel, in her candid and often lurid style, follows the family of Bliss Rampike, a young ice skater who has been murdered in a sensationalist style that will remind readers of the JonBenet Ramsey tragedy. As the family tries to make sense of the odd circumstances surrounding this murder, Bliss' 9-year-old brother Skyler takes up the narrative, giving the reader as much information as he's willing. The whole novel gives only glimpses (filtered through the young boy's narration) of what the Rampike family faces, and it's full of tabloid rumors and family strife. At the same time, Skyler is dealing with his overbearing parents while trying to make sense of his sister's death, clouding the narrative even further.

My Sister, My Love is clearly a satire of our tabloid press and our fascination with sensational stories, but the satire is muddied by Skyler's very real observations of his family's new life. From most of the reviews out so far, Oates continues to shine as a fiction writer, creating an indictment of modern society that is both damning and heartwarming at the same time.

This is certainly a week for new fiction by well-established writers, and Ethan Canin's latest America America is shaping up to be one of those ambitious novels that tries to make sense of our still young democracy. Like Philip Roth or Raymond Carver, Canin's characters in America America are supposed to represent the very fabric of America itself, infused with metaphor and imagery meant to direct the reader to bigger concerns about our society. At the heart of most American fiction is this concept of society: to join the crowd or walk away from it all in that very Emersonian non-conformist way? America America speaks to this dilemma through Corey Sifter, a young man who tries to move away from his working-class upbringing into the American social elite. Of course, it all becomes much more complex than he ever intended it to be, and soon, America America turns into a novel about what true loyalty means.

As interesting as it sounds, The New York Times doesn't seem to think that Canin's effort is worth it, saying the novel is "an awkward and implausible denouement that sadly stands as a kind of metaphor for everything that’s wrong with this ambitious but poorly assembled novel." Could this denouement of a novel then stand for the denouement of American culture, since its attempts at connecting plot to higher themes of American society fail so badly? Who knows. I, for one, look forward to reading this book.

Rounding out the top of the bestseller lists this week is the new thriller Last Oracle by James Rollins and Tailspin (FBI Series #12) by Catherine Coulter. Danielle Steele also has a new novel out this week called Rogue, which promises to have all of the redeeming qualities of a romance novel turned moralist escapade.

Here are some more books out this week that are worth your perusing:

Brida by Paulo Coehlo
The Magician (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #2) by Michael Scott
Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva
The Coffin Club (Vampire Kisses #5) by Ellen Schreiber
Queen of Babble Gets Hitched (Queen of Babble Series #3) by Meg Cabot
The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu
Undead and Unworthy by MaryJanice Davidson
Hit and Run by Lawrence Block
Havemercy by Danielle Bennett

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