AMERICAN TALIBAN by Pearl Abraham (Random House)
Abraham’s riveting fourth novel shows how the unthinkable can happen when a young American dreamer becomes a fanatic. In the months leading up to 9/11, college-bound John Jude Parish—lover of Dylan and the Tao Te Ching—becomes smitten with the rigor and doctrinal purity of radical Islam. He ends up thirsting for self-abnegation in the forbidding mountains of Pakistan. This nuanced portrait of a homegrown terrorist goes far beyond the headline evoked by its title to explore the imperatives of love, the lure of exotic adventure and the rocky terrain of faith.
THE WOMAN WHO SHOT MUSSOLINI by Frances Stonor Saunders (Metropolitan Books)
Violet Gibson was an Irish aristocrat and an oddball—that much is certain. But the question behind this heady mix of biography and cultural history is whether insanity or outrage led her to shoot Italy’s charismatic leader Benito Mussolini in 1926. Her bullet grazed his nose and crazed his nation, yet, strangely, Gibson has been all but forgotten by historians. Anecdotes about twentieth-century feminists, Fascists and self-serving diplomats make Saunders’s book a tantalizing read.
WHAT BECOMES by A. L. Kennedy (Alfred A. Knopf)
Wary, love-starved men and women populate this Scottish writer’s searing new collection of stories. Among the standouts: the darkly funny “Another,” in which the widow of a beloved children’s entertainer (a “total bastard” to his wife) auditions his professional, and domestic, replacement, and “Sympathy,” a kind of verbal strip search in which two people rapaciously yet tenderly lay bare each other’s loneliness during a one-night stand. These
are tales of quiet crisis, told with empathy and raw nerve.