The Parthenon Enigma, by Joan Breton Connelly. (Vintage) Since the Enlightenment, the Parthenon – that glorious Athenian temple built between 447 and 432 B.C. – has been venerated as the definitive symbol of Western democratic values. Deftly challenging conventional wisdom, Connelly reaches back across millenniums to reinterpret the building’s 525-foot-long sculptured frieze, seeing in the “elaborate narrative tableau” not a snapshot of a civic festival but rather a mythical tale of human sacrifice.
Nine Inches: Stories, by Tom Perrotta. (St. Martin’s Griffin) Stepping inside the lives of upstanding citizens – teachers chaperoning a middle-school dance, an unhinged dad at a Little League game – Perrotta’s stories explore moments of turmoil and rupture in suburbia. “A recurring element in the stories is the one wrong move a character makes,” Alix Ohlin wrote in the New York Times, “that turns an Edenic life into a postlapsarian hell.”
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi. Illustrated by Molly Crabapple. (Spiegel & Grau) Economic inequality has created separate systems of justice for the rich and poor, argues Taibbi, who provides scathing accounts of high-stakes capers from the 2008 financial crisis and describes life among the lowest socioeconomic classes, where immigration laws and police initiatives are sources of persecution and anxiety.
Dept. Of Speculation, by Jenny Offill. (Vintage Contemporaries) Reminiscent, at times, of Renata Adler’s 1970s classic “Speedboat,” Offill’s cannily paced novel builds its story from fragments, observations, meditations and different points of view as it charts the course of a marriage in distress.
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Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation, by Robert Wilson. (Bloomsbury) Wilson’s biography of the portraitist and Civil War photographer (1823-’96) illuminates both his images – Brady’s attention to detail, flair for composition and technical mastery helped establish the photograph as a thing of value – and the battles he chronicled. New York Times reviewer Caleb Crain, called this book “patient and painstaking.”
Fallen Land, by Patrick Flanery. (Riverhead) Flanery’s first novel, “Absolution” (2012), was a multilayered tale of post-apartheid South Africa in which the country’s violent past shadowed its present. His haunting second novel, set in an unnamed Midwestern city, grafts similar themes of rage and remembrance onto a dystopian America where a giant multinational corporation manages everyone’s life. “Flanery is a talented writer with a dynamic and frightening vision,” David Vann said in the New York Times.
The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen with Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann. (Picador) Among the most penetrating writers in Europe a hundred years ago, the Viennese journalist and satirist Karl Kraus (1874-1936) has been long forgotten. But his work resonated with Franzen, who annotates these essays with intensely personal reflections on today’s cultural and technological landscape.
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