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Book Clubs: A hair-raising epidemic
In The Blondes, Emily Schultz’s darkly fascinating, dystopian third novel, a virus akin to rabies is making the rounds. It’s a sickness with a specific target—blonde women—and it throws each of its victims into an uncontrollable, violent frenzy. The novel’s narrator, red-headed Hazel Hayes, a Canadian Ph.D. student in New York, follows the news of the spreading virus, as infected fair-haired females unleash terror around the world (you’re correct if you detect an element of the absurd here. Schultz is a skillful dispenser of black humor). Hazel, meanwhile, is contending with personal difficulties. Pregnant with the child of her married academic mentor, who’s back in Canada, she’s ambivalent about becoming a mother. As the threat of the virus mounts, Hazel makes a fateful decision to head back home. With impressive control, Schultz weaves the plot’s multiple threads into a story that’s at once sweeping and intimate, horrifying and deeply human. Convincing throughout, this timely book offers reading groups ample topics for discussion.
My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh’s fiction debut, is an unforgettable tale of the urban South. Set in Baton Rouge, this haunting, atmospheric novel tells the story of Lindy Simpson—a pretty, talented 15-year-old whose life changes forever when she’s raped one night after track practice. The novel’s narrator, an anonymous 14-year-old boy, is infatuated with Lindy, and his intense feelings make him a prime suspect in the investigation. When his sister dies unexpectedly, the narrator’s need for Lindy increases, as does his desire to find her rapist. The book moves back and forth in time, providing shifting perspectives on the tragic event that irrevocably alters the teens’ lives and affects their circle of family and friends. Walsh evokes the wistfulness of adolescence in a novel that’s at once uncompromisingly realistic and poetically tender. His insights into young adulthood, his compassionate portrayal of the narrator and his acute sense of the modern South—specifically Baton Rouge and its environs—make this an impressive debut.
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In her critically acclaimed memoir, H Is for Hawk, British writer Helen Macdonald copes with the death of her father with the aid of an unusual companion—a goshawk. Macdonald, a naturalist and seasoned falconer, takes on the training of the bird, embracing the solitary pursuit in the face of grief. That the creature is naturally irascible and perversely difficult to subdue—that it is, first and foremost, a bird of prey—makes her task an epic one, and she shares her story in prose that befits the majesty of her subject matter. Her beautifully crafted sentences make this uncommon story all the more memorable. Macdonald’s reflections on the history and tradition of falconry (largely a male endeavor) round out the narrative. A bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic and winner of the U.K.’s prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, this lovely book is a rare bird, indeed.