Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (Plume, $16) resembles the classic tale of the wandering postgraduate. But in this case, the twenty-somethings are highly trained magicians, educated at a secret magical college in upstate New York. Upon graduation, the young magicians move to midtown Manhattan, wondering if magic still has a place in the 21st century. It’s a clever spin on the plight of today’s liberal-arts graduates: “too many magicians, not enough monsters,” one character frets. Grossman’s universe (which is far more troubled and brooding than Narnia or Hogwarts) stretches from Brooklyn and Manhattan to a gloriously imagined sequence in Antarctica. Grossman proves there’s magic in adulthood too.
Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press, $14.95), by Paul Harding, tells the story of George Washington Crosby, an old man on his deathbed, observing the present, remembering the past, and reconstructing in his imagination the life of his father who left his family when Crosby was a boy. Howard Crosby had been a tinker, traveling over the Maine countryside, selling odds and ends and fixing household items. An enthusiastic naturalist, he fashioned art out of flowers and grass and reveled in the changes of the natural world. He was also epileptic, which made him an oddball in his small community. Winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Tinkers is lyrical, image-rich, and strikingly original.
When Matt’s wife, expecting their first child, asks him to find the cradle she used as a baby, he’s not sure how to respond. Taken by her mother when she abandoned her family, it could be anywhere. But Matt gamely sets out. His search takes him around the Midwest, and Patrick Somerville’s novel develops in the classical quest-tale tradition, with Matt encountering odd characters who help him after he fulfills the tasks they set. Finding The Cradle (Back Bay Books, $13.99), however, is only the first step. Matt, given away by his biological mother and growing up in a series of foster homes, isn’t looking for a symbol of family, but for the real thing. This warm, affecting novel explores the many ways connections can be strained, repressed, twisted, misunderstood---yet still not be entirely broken.