In his award-winning series, The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and Lay of the Land, Richard Ford evolved his wise but hapless protagonist, Frank Bascombe. Let Me Be Frank with You (Ecco, $27.99), four inter-connected novellas, finds Frank on the New Jersey shore in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Sixty-eight and a retired realtor, Frank has escaped the devastation suffered by so many because he sold his ocean front property, opting for a simpler life in the small town of Haddam. Viewing the ruins of the area’s once grand houses offers Frank the opportunity to comment on wealth, race, politics, commercialization, and the general decline of the quality of life in twenty-first century America. This might be depressing if Ford wasn’t so eloquent and if Frank wasn’t so clear-eyed and hilarious.
Marie, the narrator in Love Me Back (Doubleday, $23.95), Merritt Tierce’s powerful debut novel, is a server in a posh Dallas steakhouse where patrons run expensive tabs and the employees wind down from their shifts with copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. Her life thrown off course by an unexpected pregnancy when she’s sixteen, Marie takes refuge in her abilities as a professional restaurant worker, punishing herself with harmful relationships and ill-advised choices. This is a fascinating look at restaurant sub-culture as well as a memorable portrait of a young woman caught up in a complicated situation. Tierce, a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree, has a take-no-prisoners approach to character and story and each chapter reverberates with life and loss.