Paul Auster returns with another brilliant novel about personal, familial, and cultural identity. Man In The Dark (Picador, $14) focuses on August Brill, a man who fills his life with narrative—classic films, family secrets, and highly-inventive anti-bedtime stories. Brill creates an America that didn’t experience 9/11 and that has fallen into civil, rather than international, war. These new “facts” become the backdrop for Brill’s nocturnal brooding, even as they distract him from the nagging events of his night-long pondering. By day, Brill’s life revolves around his relationship with his granddaughter, and these sections include some of the most insightful writing about film I’ve ever encountered. Man in the Dark is all things Auster: quizzical, suspenseful, and, above all, incredibly enjoyable.
Imagine Michael Chabon sitting down to write Crime and Punishment and you’ll get an idea of the tone of this darkly comic, Russian adventure. City Of Thieves (Plume, $15) follows two young men as they struggle through besieged Leningrad trying to find a dozen eggs for a wedding cake. Lev is a brooding teenager based on author David Benioff’s grandfather, and Kolya is a freewheeling soldier who considers himself a writer. In a world where even the glue in book bindings might provide sustenance, our heroes set out on a fool’s errand, indeed, one that turns into an incredibly perilous crusade as the pair encounters starving butchers, beautiful partisans, and brutal Germans. You’ll want to read it all in one sitting.
There are few writers whose storytelling can be enchanting and lyrical regardless of genre. Tobias Wolff may be best known for his memoir, This Boy’s Life, but his ability to plumb human emotion and suss out the details of daily life make him a master of the short story. Our Story Begins (Vintage, $15.95) gathers ten new works together with a broad swath of his beloved classics. These tales operate with an internal logic that is at once precise and all encompassing. Wolff’s characters are the perfect summertime treat (no story is longer than twenty pages) to be savored and enjoyed in short bursts or over a long afternoon.