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The Early Word: New Books for the Week of November 23, 2009

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All you'll want for Christmas — according to the publishers that be — are celebrity bios and police procedurals. You'll find a few more of those amply represented in the following list.  

by J.M. Coetzee

Nobel laureate and two-time Booker-winner J.M. Coetzee has been shortlisted for the third time for the inventive Summertime, a semisequel to the fictionalized memoirs Boyhood and Youth that takes the form of a young biographer's interviews with colleagues of the late author John Coetzee. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature to the South African novelist “who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider.” The Academy cited the remarkable wealth of variety in Coetzee’s stories, many of which are set against the backdrop of apartheid.

In the incisive, enticing, and often amusing Summertime Coetzee imagines his own life with an unflinching eye, revealing painful moral struggles and attempts to coming to terms with caring for another. A young English biographer is researching a book about the late South African writer John Coetzee, focusing on the struggling, ill at ease, and solitary thirties-so author as he was living in rundown conditions in the outskirts of Cape Town with his widowed father. The biographer interviews – often eliciting painful responses — five people who knew Coetzee well, including a married woman with whom he had an affair (he was “not fully human”), his cousin Margot (he is boring and misguided), and a Brazilian emigrant who met Coetzee when both were teachers in Cape Town (“He is nothing … an embarrassment”).

And to Sophie Denoël, an expert in African literature, Coetzee is an underwhelming writer with “no original insight into the human condition.” To which the Nobel and the Booker committees may or may not beg to differ.

by Dean Koontz

It was the best of tomes. “Perhaps the book with the most impact on my career,” Dean Koontz once declared in an interview, “was A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.” It was a work that instilled within him the game-plan resolve to link genres, and a determination to deliver a variety not only book to book, but also a mix of genres within each book.

I began to think about how modern publishing had compartmentalized fiction into so many narrow genres. A Tale of Two Cities, as a new piece of fiction, would be hard to place on a contemporary publisher's list. It's too much of an adventure story and too much of a love story to win the favor of most editors of "literary" fiction." It is a serious novel of politics and revolution but is also darkly comic in places. Dickens does not shrink from the depiction of evil, and some scenes are horrific, but he also tells a story of redemption and self-sacrifice and hope that some (never me!) would consider almost sentimental.

The depiction of evil, horrific scenes, a story of redemption and self-sacrifice and hope… The a stand-alone Breathless is hard to classify, but such disparate Two-City threads run through a novel of flesh and blood thrills and otherworldly chills, evoking such overlapping genres as mystery, horror, and adventure. While out for a walk around his Colorado Rockies home, reclusive craftsman Grady Adams and his wolfhound, Merlin, spot two white unknown-to-science animals “as large as midsize dogs” spying on Grady's isolated home, waiting to make their approach. The sudden arrival of these strange creatures appears to be linked to other inexplicable phenomena. Meanwhile, a sadist, Henry Rouvroy, tracks down his identical twin, James, and kills him and James's wife in order to assume his brother's identity — though Rouvroy is subsequently rattled by substantiation that the dead have not stayed dead. Down the road, local veterinarian Camillia Rivers gets another ball rolling by bringing all the forces of a government at risk to her door…

And the subplots ensue. Really, it appears that all of these loose ends of mystery and imagination could never be tied up. But, as should be clear by now, the prolific Koontz can take the most disparate of multiple storylines and resolve the Dickens out of them.


First Lord's Fury (Codex Alera Series #6)
by Jim Butcher

Pirate Latitudes
by Michael Crichton

Bryant & May on the Loose (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #7)
by Christopher Fowler

A Good Fall
by Ha Jin

Green Lantern Corps: Emerald Eclipse HC
by Paul Kupperberg

The Morning Show Murders
by Al Roker

Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman
by Lisa Scottoline

Hollywood Moon (Hollywood Station Series #3)
by Joseph Wambaugh


The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War
by James Bradley

Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me
by Howie Mandel

Phish: The Biography
by Parke Puterbaugh

The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965
by Sam Stephenson

The New Chinese Astrology
by Suzanne White

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch