6 Fall Books to Devour

Our picks for the season's hottest reads

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The Lowland

by Jhumpa Lahiri; Knopf


The painful partitioning of a great country is echoed in the life of one family in Lahiri’s gorgeous novel of love’s tragic missteps and the sustained devastation of personal independence. The Lowland’s beating heart is the relationship between two devoted Bengali brothers born 15 months apart before the tumultuous 1947 birth of an independent India, which also resulted in the creation of Pakistan. The younger, Udayan, becomes a Communist revolutionary while Subhash, alienated from his radical brother, pursues an academic career in America. “He felt their loyalty to one another, their affection, stretched halfway across the world, stretched perhaps to the breaking point by all that now stood between them, but at the same time refusing to break,” Lahiri writes. After Udayan is assassinated, Subhash must revisit Calcutta, where he faces his brokenhearted parents and marries Udayan’s widow, the brilliant but stifled Gauri. Lahiri’s beautifully wrought characters make decisions that isolate them further inside their haunted thoughts. Gauri, for instance, agrees to marry a man for whom she feels nothing as a way to hold on to the spirit of her dead husband. “But  . . . she knew that it was useless, just as it was useless to save a single earring when the other half of the pair was lost.” —Susanna Sonnenberg

Sister Mother Husband Dog Etc.

by Delia Ephron; Blue Rider Press


Of her famous sister, Nora, Delia Ephron writes that ruthless honesty was “the talent and terror of her.” Takes one to know one. In this unsparing, emotionally charged collection of 15 essays about grace, fame, family and growing up, Ephron rattles, then comforts, the soul. She also makes you laugh: “When the conversation turns to dogs, you know the party is five minutes from being over.” Whether grieving the loss of Nora or describing how she came into her own as a writer, Delia discovers and re-affirms that the best way to live is to “shake ourselves up. Grow.” —Kristy Davis


by Alice McDermott; FSG


In this stunning hymn to the ordinary, a woman recalls her life—her accumulated experiences as daughter, sister, wife and mother in an Irish-immigrant, World War II–era Brooklyn neighborhood. That’s the extent of the plot. But the sentences shimmer, engaging all the senses: the feel of her father’s hand in hers, the consoling voice of her brother, even the smell of the funeral home where she works. The narrator’s scattered memories flicker from light to shadow, in the way that perception alternates between clarity and bewilderment. Like every other particular someone, she is cherished and misused, heartbroken and beloved; her life is exceptional not because it represents some unusual equation of hope and grief but simply because it is hers. The reader is left with bittersweet impressions: of safety twinned with suffering, of love twinned with loss and of the narrator’s sense that nothing will ever change—even alongside the certainty that everything must. —Catherine Newman

Knocking on Heaven's Door

by Katy Butler; Simon & Schuster


This braid of a book—memoir, exposé, spiritual guide—forensically examines the battle between death and the imperatives of modern medicine. After Katy Butler’s father had a stroke in 2001, a cardiologist put in a pacemaker, which kept his heart thumping after his mind and body failed. Her 84-year-old mother was crushed by six years of constant caretaking—joining some 66 million Americans, mostly women, in the same situation. Impeccably reported, Knocking on Heaven’s Door grapples with how we need to protect our loved ones, and ourselves, now that our technology has outpaced our humanity. —Kristy Davis

The Asylum

by Simon Doonan; Blue Rider Press


For those of us who adore the word fabulosity and the men who use it—and really, who doesn’t?—Barneys’ legendary creative light, Simon Doonan, has put together what he calls “a collage of couture reminiscences.” Fashion, he writes, “has always given a hearty willkommen bienvenue welcome to all the misfits, kooks and original thinkers of the world.” These people make good copy. In vignettes as witty and outré as any Barneys window, Doonan brings us dictatorial doyennes with their goofy why-don’t-yous, persnickety designers, wildly superstitious models, bizarre cleansing beverages, catwalk catastrophes (falling ceilings! rampant goats!) and gritty roots (he keeps a running tally of how many fashion stars are escapees from the “bleak naffness” of “crap towns”). Along the way, he doles out his own brand of advice. For the plus-size: leopard prints “and a damn good pedicure.” On choosing a career: “When you are young, you simply need to throw a bunch of fabulosity against the wall and see what sticks.” —Amanda Lovell


by Paul Harding; Random House


In the New England town of Enon, Charlie Crosby’s 13-year-old daughter is killed in a bike accident, and his wife leaves him soon after. This happens on page 1. The remainder of the novel is a yearlong meditation on grief—on “the shifting light of the constellations of my sorrow”—that manages to be as eloquent as it is relentless. Charlie descends into bottomless, drug-addicted misery—what he describes as “a monotonous personal apocalypse”—and his nostalgia for the simple pleasures of family life and the natural world unravels into surreal, nightmarish fantasy. Part history, part ghost story, part love story, it’s a book that offers redemption in the fact that there exists the possibility for a kind of “brokenhearted joy,” even as the calculus of grief remains utterly unfathomable. —Catherine Newman


Next: 19 Books You Won't Put Down


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First Published Mon, 2013-10-07 15:02

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