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The Early Word: New Books for the Week of March 8, 2010

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Vampires, Sea Monsters, and Angels, oh no…

The Surrendered
by Chang-rae Lee

Despite considerations, whether incidental or intense, of the immigrant experience in America, Chang-rae Lee’s previous works — Native Speaker (1995), A Gesture Life (1999), and Aloft (2005) — essentially constitute contributions to the chronicling of upper-middle-class American dreamers in the midst of seeming complacency and ennui. In declaring that John Updike and John Cheever "were undoubtedly influences," Lee, born in South Korea but raised in the United States, has declared that "I read them as both a suburban kid trying to make sense of his world, and as a lover of literature." Noting how growing up in affluent New York "Cheever country" has shaped him, Lee draws from that experience and contends that "I don't think I'm re-imagining Westchester as any kind of literary landscape, but I do think in some ways I'm rediscovering the kind of people who live there."

In The Surrendered, a new kind and cast of characters who aren’t society wannabes mingling on manicured lawns, indicates that Chang-rae Lee has surrendered to change. For his fourth novel, his most complex and emotionally charged work yet, the author even signals an altered course of action with a decidedly un-suburban start as a train races and rollicks through the black, penetratingly icy night during the Korean War:

The night was unusually chilly, the wind sharpened by the speed of the train as it rolled southward through the darkened valley. The cotton blanket June had stolen was large enough to spread as a tarp and at the same time wrap around her younger brother and sister and herself, but it was threadbare and for brief stretches the train would accelerate and the wind would cut right through to them. It had not been a problem the night before but now they were riding on top of the boxcar, as there was no more room within any of them, even as the train was more than a dozen cars long. A massive phalanx of refugees had met the train at the last station, and in the time it took her siblings to relieve themselves by the side of the tracks they had lost their place and had had to climb the rusted ladder between the cars, June running alongside for fifty meters until her brother was high enough on the rungs so she herself could jump up and on.

June, an 11-year-old refugee fleeing south from North Korea, ultimately lost her parents, her older brother and sister and finally the younger brother and sister entrusted to her care. The resourcefulness and stoicism of June serve her well but they will have a far different effect on her later life when she is rescued by American G.I. Hector Brennan, an alcoholic, violent man, crippled by guilt, himself in flight from the memory of a painful loss. Hector brings June to Sylvie Tanner, a minister's wife who runs an orphanage and whose own demons stem from haunting misfortune — and who is also the object of the possessive love of June and Hector.

Thirty years later, June Singer and Hector are reunited when they find their pasts are close behind, and the shocking acts of love and violence are bound to put them in a bind. For Hector, an alcoholic janitor in New Jersey is, as implausible as it seems, the father of the baby of June, now an affluent woman in the process of closing up her Manhattan antiques shop. As for Nicholas, June’s son — Hector doesn't know the young man exists and hasn't seen or heard from June in decades. Nicholas has run off to Europe and disappeared, and June has resolved to barge back into Hector's life, insisting that he join the search. It’s a narrative thread we should all pick up as thematic life, tragedy, humanity ensues.

FICTION

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Backlash
by Aaron Allston

Never Look Away
by Linwood Barclay

The Silent Sea (Oregon Files Series #7)
by Clive Cussler, Jack Du Brul

Hell Gate (Alexandra Cooper Series #12)
by Linda Fairstein

Arcadia Falls
by Carol Goodman

 

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession
by David Grann

Hourglass (Evernight Series #3)
by Claudia Gray

Subterranean
by James Rollins

Bone Fire
by Mark Spragg

So Much for That
by Lionel Shriver

Angelology
by Danielle Trussoni

Deep Shadow
by Randy Wayne White


NONFICTION

Journal of the Plague Year: An Insider's Chronicle of Eliot Spitzer's Short and Tragic Reign
by Lloyd Constantine

How to Never Look Fat Again: Over 1000 Ways to Dress Thinner – Without Dieting
by Charla Krupp

The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change
by Annie Leonard

Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life
by Frances Mayes

The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong
by David Shenk

Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight
by Karl Rove

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