New paperbacks for reading groups
By T.C. Boyle
Boyle’s latest is an innovative piece of historical fiction with a passionate genius at its center. A memoriam of sorts to architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the novel presents a mosaic of the man by looking at four of his lovers—a quartet of wildly different women, each of whom has a singular experience with the temperamental artist. Narrated by a fictional Japanese-American character named Tadeshi Soto, who serves as Wright’s apprentice and offers an inside view of his private life, the book steps back in time to revisit the scenes of the great architect’s various affairs. Olgivanna is an iron-willed dancer from Montenegro, while Miriam, a high-strung Southerner, has a taste for drugs. The adoring Kitty becomes Wright’s first wife, but his intellectual equal is Mamah, with whom he shares a deep connection. Tadeshi also acknowledges the importance of Wright’s magical home in Wisconsin—the house called Taliesin. The events that occur within its walls—the conflicts, the fires, the emotional turmoil—reveal the torment that fueled Wright’s creative genius. There’s a wonderful authenticity to Boyle’s personification of each woman, and his grasp of history—of the ways in which facts get twisted over time—gives this richly detailed book an extra layer of complexity. Expertly constructed and emotionally probing, this is another first-class piece of fiction from Boyle. A reading group guide is available at penguin.com.
A reading group guide is available at penguin.com.
Lark and Termite
By Jayne Anne Phillips
A finalist for the National Book Award, Phillips’ poignant, well-crafted novel is set in the 1950s and focuses on a struggling Southern family. The novel follows two main narrative lines—that of Robert Leavitt, an Army corporal fighting for his life in Korea, and that of his mute, physically handicapped son, Termite, who lives in West Virginia. In Robert’s absence, Termite is cared for by his 17-year-old half-sister, Lark, and their aunt, Nonie, who puts in grueling days at the local diner in order to make ends meet for the family. Lark, who never knew her parents, devotes all of her energy to Termite, fearful that he might be taken away by state authorities because of his disabilities. Lark is training to be a secretary, but the reality of limited opportunities in West Virginia makes her efforts seem futile. When a kind-hearted social worker arrives, the precarious balance the family has established is upset. Unexpected revelations about Lark’s past soon follow, altering the course of the future. Phillips moves skillfully between the two plots, creating wonderful juxtapositions between Robert’s story and the teenagers’ narrative. Told from the perspectives of three very different protagonists, this lovely, melancholy novel can only bolster Phillips’ reputation as a major novelist.
By Adriana Trigiani
Set in modern-day Manhattan, this old-fashioned tale of love and family is the first book in a new trilogy from Trigiani, whose earlier Big Stone Gap series was a book club favorite. Thirty-three-year-old Valentine Roncalli comes from a respected clan of Italian cobblers whose store, the Angelini Shoe Company, is one of the few remaining locally owned establishments in Greenwich Village. Crafters of breathtaking wedding shoes, the company has been in business since 1903 but is now struggling financially. The task of reviving the enterprise lies in the hands of Valentine, whose skill and pluck are put to the test as she tries to update an institution that’s rooted in bygone traditions. In the company of her grandmother, a talented craftswoman, Valentine travels to Italy to learn the rudiments of the trade and find special materials for a new shoe design—one that will hopefully outclass the family’s competitors. In the meantime, Valentine struggles to put a sour relationship behind her. She also enjoys the attentions of handsome, urbane Roman Falconi, the proprietor of a fine restaurant, who seems like the perfect match. But an unexpected business trip to Tuscany opens new doors for Valentine, and she finds herself falling in love—with Italy itself. Mixing the energy of contemporary New York with the old-world charm of Europe, Trigiani has produced a heartwarming love story—a briskly paced book filled with lavish details and romance aplenty.