Contemporary Fiction | Books for Summer Reading 2003

Books for Summer Reading

Selected Fiction and Poetry from The New York Times Book Review

June 1, 2003

Visit the New York Times Book Review web site and read the reviews. Free registration required for first-time readers.

Alison, Jane. The Marriage of the Sea. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
An intricate, elegant novel that ponders the connections among love, illusion and fidelity in the permutations of eight central characters behaving in two romantic and romanticized cities, New Orleans and Venice.
Regenstein Stacks PS3551.L366M37 2003

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2003.
Atwood returns to a dystopian future in this bleak novel about a man who may be the last human remaining on postapocalyptic earth.
Regenstein, Stacks PR9199.3.A8O7 2003
Also available in Harper and Law

Baker, Nicholson. A Box of Matches. New York: Random House, 2003.
Baker employs his specialty as a novelist, the exhibition of life where no life seems to be, to explore the consciousness of a man who rises early, lights a fire and sits around in a mindful state every morning till his matches are all spent.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3552.A4325 B69 2003

Banville, John. Shroud. New York: Knopf, 2003.
The protagonist of ''Shroud,'' based on Paul de Man, the posthumously disgraced star of deconstructive criticism, dreads his exposure in his own lifetime as the author of Nazi-era anti-Semitic journalism; the worst of it is that he didn't really write that stuff, though he is living under the name of the man who did.
Regenstein Stack
PR6052.A57 S57 2003

Boyd, William. Any Human Heart. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2002.
A novel whose hero, a minor British writer and art dealer (and secret agent), becomes a sort of stoic Everyman for the 20th century, meeting almost everyone (Ian Fleming, Picasso, Hemingway, the Duke of Windsor, Virginia Woolf) and traveling to almost everywhere; he has many successes in life, each one closely attended by yet another fall.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PR6052.O9192A59 2002

Brookner, Anita. Making Things Better. New York: Random House, 2002.
Brookner's protagonist, Julius Herz, has been left stranded by the deaths in his family; now he can think of nothing to do in his life or with it. He courts a woman he knows to be selfish and unable to love, and on Brookner's austere scale of passivity this may be counted as a kind of victory; but she is far too honest to say.
Regenstein Stacks
PR6052.R5816 M35 2002

Busch, Frederick. A Memory of War. New York: Norton, 2003.
Ambitious to deal with large themes, Busch has written a novel whose characters are plagued by World War II's aftershocks 40 years later; the chief victim is a Manhattan psychologist whose new patient, a scholar specializing in Holocaust denial, claims to be his half brother.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3552.U814 M4 2003

Byatt, A.S. A Whistling Woman. New York: Knopf, 2002.
The bookish Frederica Potter, protagonist of this fourth novel in a series that began 25 years ago, lives by interviewing many and various savants on television, allowing the entry of much arcane information into the novel and unleashing the author's satirical powers in all directions.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PR6052.Y2 W48 2002

Cantor, Jay. Great Neck. New York: Knopf, 2003.
Cantor's ambition in his immense (703 pages), teeming new novel is to capture the American scene of the late 1960's and bring it to life through six characters, all privileged Long Island teenagers, who are bound together by a Klan murder in Mississippi and by the antiwar movement.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3553.A5475 G74 2003

Carson, Tom. Gilligan's Wake. New York: Picador, 2003.
A loopy, exuberant novel-type prose event that sees 20th-century America through the lives of the castaways on ''Gilligan's Island.'' The originals are augmented by culturally significant characters, from Amelia Earhart and Holden Caulfield to Richard Nixon and Maggie the Cat. < BR>Regenstein Stacks
PS3603.A775 G45 2003

Clark, Nancy. The Hills at Home. New York: Pantheon, 2003.
Clark's funny, intelligent first novel reveals a special and particular kind of life, that of an extended old New England family in their 200-year-old clapboard homestead, where they survive miracles of inconvenience, eat tuna wiggle or fish sticks and express invincible opinions about everything.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3603.L368 H55 2003

Cole, Henri. Middle Earth. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
Self-portrait poems in this collection survey the shape of a life from a great, forgiving distance; closer up, the poems reflect on their own voices and ambiguities of gender. At book's end, the Christian ideal of self-abnegation is fused with the inner-life urgencies of sexuality.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3553.O4725 M53 2003

Coraghessan Boyle, T.Drop City. New York: Viking, 2003.
This novel's late-blooming hippies in a Northern California commune, sensing that the end is near (or maybe even behind them), migrate to Alaska, where they encounter some tough real isolates who wonder aloud about the virtues of face paint and LSD.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PS3552.O932 D76 2003

Daum, Meghan. The Quality of Life Report. New York: Viking, 2003.
A fine comic first novel in which misguided fantasy betrays a young New York television journalist, first by sending her to the Midwest, where folks are simple and good, then by orders from New York to do a lifestyle series on the simple, good folk.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3604.A93Q25 2003

Deb, Siddartha. The Point of Return. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2003.
A first novel whose hero, an Indian veterinarian and public servant, a true believer in progress and public works, finds himself repeatedly on the wrong side of history in the intolerant, irrational and corrupt nation of real life.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9499.3.D433 P65 2003

DeLillo, Don. Cosmopolis. New York: Scribner, 2003.
An all-day (and book-length) chauffeured trip across midtown Manhattan exposes DeLillo's cool, New Economy protagonist to an assortment of characters in this critique of hypercapitalism.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3554.E4425 C67 2003

Erdrich, Louise. The Master Butchers Singing Club. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
Erdrich's latest novel revisits the fictional town of Argus, N.D., and the familiar themes of love, death and redemption, but shifts the focus from the town's Indians to its German, Polish and Scandinavian citizens.
Regenstein Library
Harper Library
PS3555.R42 M37 2003

Galloway, Janice. Clara. London: Jonathan Cape: 2002.
The virtuoso pianist Clara Schumann (wife of the composer Robert, mother of eight) left 47 volumes of diaries. Undaunted, Galloway imagines a way into Clara's life in this novel whose up-to-date concerns don't obstruct its heroine's passionate voice.
Regenstein Stacks
PR6057.A397C57 2002

García, Cristina. Monkey Hunting. New York: Knopf, 2003.
A withdrawn, melancholy novel set in Havana's Barrio Chino and concerned with how the biggest Chinatown in Latin America came to be and then to pass away with Castro's restrictions on private property; by a Cuban-American writer who is a natural student of families scattered around the earth.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3557.A66M66 2003

Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. New York: Putnam, 2003.
Gibson's elegant, entrancing seventh novel concerns a supersmart woman, a freelance marketing consultant who covers the globe looking for the next big salable fad, meanwhile trying to solve the disappearance of her father, a retired C.I.A. man, in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3557.I2264 P38 2003

Gordimer, Nadine. Loot: and Other Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
Death and the complicated burden of loss are the dominant themes of this structurally diverse collection, Gordimer's first since 1991, the year she won the Nobel Prize.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9369.3.G6 L66

Gowdy, Barbara. The Romantic. New York: Metropolitan/Holt, 2003.
Obsession knows no greater exponent than Louise, narrator and protagonist of this adroit novel that refuses to honor the claims of adulthood. Abandoned by her mother at 9, Louise soon falls madly in love with another family's mother, then with that mother's adopted son, and remains consciously faithful to her doomed love ever after.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9199.3.G658R66 2003

Grass, Günter. Crabwalk. Orlando: Harcourt, 2003.
Grass's lifelong analysis of Germany's past and present centers, in this new novel, on a refugee ship sunk by a Russian submarine with the loss of 9,000 lives; the story is told through three generations of a family, all marked, one way or another, by the ship's fate.
Regenstein Stacks
PT2613.R338I413 2002

Gunesekera, Romesh. Heaven's Edge. London: Bloomsbury, 2002.
A fictional reworking of the myth of Eden, its dignity enlarged by its awareness that there is no recovery; it takes place in a nameless tropical landscape that much resembles the author's native country, Sri Lanka.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9440.9.G86H43 2002

Gunn, Kirsty. Featherstone. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Exploring the effects of rural flight on those left behind, Gunn creates a small town that is eerily alive and full of old-fashioned people and old-fashioned epiphanies, though every small-town cliché applies, including a promiscuous barmaid and a village idiot.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3557.U4864 F43 2003

Huebner, Andrew. We Pierce. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Rooted in the author's family history, a novel of the 1991 gulf war follows a young Army sergeant as he gradually perfects the emotional hollowness that allows him to live with all that he has seen and done in Iraq, as well as with the exquisite awareness of his own expendability.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3558.U3126W4 2003

Hustvedt, Siri. What I Loved. New York: Henry Holt, 2003.
A generous, engaged philosophical novel, set in the New York art world with its vanities and corruptions, and developing such propositions as the impress of one personality on another, the instability of sexual identity, the passage of the world through people's thoughts and lives.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3558.U813W48 2003

Iyer, Pico. Abandon: A Romance. New York: Knopf, 2003.
A graceful novel whose hero, an English graduate student of Sufi mystical poetry who hopes to uncover that within himself which passeth show, heads first for California and later for Iran, where he and the woman he is traveling with improve their understanding of mystical poetry and of themselves.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3559.Y47 A64 2003

Jong, Erica. Sappho's Leap. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.
A historical fantasy about the virtually prehistoric Greek erotic poet Sappho, a woman much mistrusted by ancient thinkers for her uppityness and her comprehension of sexual desire, but reimagined here as an updated compilation of the heroines of Jong's greatest hits.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3560.O56S27 2003

Kalfus. Ken. The Commissariat of Enlightenment. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2003.
Nobody listens to anyone else or looks anyone in the eye in this novel by an author interested in the force of ideas and the power of images over life; the first half of the book is full of people whose concern is taking some personal advantage from the impending death of Tolstoy.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3561.A416524 C66 2003

Karnezis, Panos. Little Infamies: Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
Love, loss and skulduggery not long after World War II in a kind of Greek Brigadoon, an impoverished village, full of gothic and mythical elements, that is bound to vanish when consumerism and modern media arrive.
Regenstein Stacks
PR611.A76 L58 2003

Kennelly, Thomas. Office of Innocence. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2003.
This fictional chronicle of the sentimental education of a priest mixes elements of melodrama, murder mystery and theological treatise, all of them swirling around an earnest young curate whose indiscretions bring scandal to the church and a killer to his confessional box.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9619.3.K46 O37 2003

King, Ross. Domino. New York: Walker, 2002.
This intricate novel is a meditation on appearance and reality in 18th-century Europe; everybody is dressed up as something else in a narrative that follows a murderer who wants to be a society portraitist and a Venetian castrato pursuing a career in England.
Regenstein Stacks
PR6061.I475 D66 2002

Le, Thi Diem Thuy. The Gangster We Are All Looking For. New York: Knopf, 2003.
The father of the anonymous narrator is the ''gangster'' of the title; he may have been a black-market operator long ago before escaping to America with his daughter. The story itself is a tale of persecution, tragedy and gritty determination, told with a poetic sensibility and a sharp eye for the matter of everyday life.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3612.E2G36 2003

Leonard, Elmore. When the Women Come out to Dance: Stories. New York: William Morrow, 2002.
All of Leonard's talents for hard-boiled fiction -- the sadism, the sex and especially the deadpan vernacular -- are on display in his second collection of short fiction.
Harper Library
PS3562.E55 W47 2002

Liss, David. The Coffee Trader. New York: Random House, 2003.
A historical novel and an economically detailed romance of capitalism, in which a young Jew in 17th- century Amsterdam seeks to evade censure from the Jewish authorities and to build a personal fortune by exploiting the rising popularity of coffee, which he intends to buy cheap and sell dear.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3562.I7814C64 2003

Lobo Antunes, António. The Inquisitors' Manual; translated by Richard Zenith. New York: Grove Press, 2003.
Portugal's long fascist regime haunts this novel as it anatomizes a society permeated by meanness and arrogance; the fall of the regime happens over and over from the viewpoints of many characters, each of them complementing or contradicting the rest.
Regenstein Stacks
PQ9263.N77M3613 2003

Martin, Valerie. Property. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2003.
In and around antebellum New Orleans, this novel turns on sexual rivalry and power struggle among a boorish planter, his enraged wife, who hates him, and an accomplished, beautiful slave woman who belongs to the wife but has borne a child to the husband.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3563.A7295 P76 2003

Mawer, Simon. The Fall. Boston: Little, Brown, 2003.
Mountaineering as a metaphor for life still clings to its perch in this fine novel that extends back through half a century and two families of climbers, souls ruled by passions for the mountains and for each other, producing a tangle of erotic connections and a great deal of physical precision in dangerous attitudes.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9120.9.M38 F35 2003

Millhauser, Steven. The King in the Tree: Three Novellas. New York: Knopf, 2003.
Stories whose characters are endangered by imagination as it fosters creative bitterness, illicit love, romantic triangles and jealousy in locations from a modern marriage to the legendary court of Cornwall, where Tristan and Ysolt destroy their lives and those of others.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3563.I422K46 2003

Mortimer, John. Rumpole Rests his Case. New York: Viking, 2003.
Horace Rumpole, Mortimer's curmudgeonly London barrister, may have breathed his last in this collection, in which Rumpole defends his usual assortment of eccentric clients.
D'Angelo Law Stacks
PR6025.O7552 R83 2002

Murray, John. A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies: Stories. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
Stories by a doctor whose understated authorial presence and gift for description are strong enough to sustain an occasionally underconstructed narrative.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9619.4.M87F48 2003

Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. New York: Viking, 2003.
A sophisticated novel in which dread and hope coexist and the end of nature is envisioned through the impact of genetically modified crops on a family and the many players who descend on their Idaho potato farm.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PS3565.Z45 A75 2003

Packer, ZZ. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. New York: Riverhead Books, 2003.
A first collection of short stories about characters who are apt to be struggling, under thick layers of stereotype, to make their presence felt in the world as black women, often engaged with old-time religion and hemmed in by passivity learned early in segregated daily life.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3565.Z45 A75 2003

Padilla Suarez, Ignacio. Shadow Without a Name. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
Four first-person narrators share the work in this somber, sometimes sinister novel of 1916 and its portents in Europe; three of them are chess players, lost in a maze of history and demonic invention; the fourth seems to be the devil.
Regenstein Stacks
PQ7298.26.A285 A4713 2003

Parks, Suzan-Lori. Getting Mother's Body. New York: Random House, 2003.
This first novel by the Pulitzer-winning African-American playwright takes a cheerful tack across deep Faulknerian waters, relating the fortunes of the survivors of a woman who was buried (as people think) in some very expensive jewelry.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3566.A736G4 2003

Powers, Richard. The Time of Our Singing. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.
This dazzling, difficult novel, Powers's eighth, follows the lives of a talented mixed (he Jewish, she black) couple in America from about 1939 on; their sufferings are reflected in musical and scientific developments.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PS3566.O92 T55 2003

Price, Richard. Samaritan. New York: Knopf, 2003.
A sprawling cast of cinematic characters, often little people who command feeling for a moment, then vanish, surrounds the two chief characters of this urban North Jersey novel, in which the beating of a television writer is investigated by an old neighborhood friend turned police detective.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PS3566.R544 S26 2003

Proulx. Annie. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner, 2002.
Proulx's new novel follows the destiny of Bob Dollar, abandoned at 8 on a Denver doorstep, through the high plains of Texas and Oklahoma, where he seeks locations for hog factories until he encounters the real folks who live there and is caught up in their yarns and legends.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PS3566.R697T48 2002

Pye, Michael. The Pieces from Berlin. New York: Knopf, 2003.
A tough, mature, difficult but brilliantly paced novel in which a woman in Nazi Berlin accepts Jews' valuable possessions to safeguard them, then appropriates them and slopes off to Switzerland. Nemesis arrives 60 years later when a woman spots and remembers a piece of family furniture.
Regenstein Stacks
PR6066.Y4 P94 2003

Ruff, Matt. Set this House in Order: A Romance of Souls. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
A heavily populated novel (its two principal characters, Andrew and Penny, suffer from multiple personality disorder). When Andrew's personalities begin to riot, he and they hit the dangerous road for his childhood home while Penny does her best to keep up.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3568.U3615 S48 2003

Shattuck, Jessica. The Hazards of Good Breeding. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.
An astute first novel whose blue-blooded inhabitants have occupied the same house in Concord, Mass., for 254 years (with one temporary exception). The appearance of social stasis that comforts them proves, however, to be an illusion.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3619.H357 H39 2003

Sherrill, Steven. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2000.
A tender first novel that spans two weeks in the life of the Minotaur, thousands of years after the Theseus caper, living in a North Carolina trailer park and cooking at a steakhouse, awkward with humans but no longer devouring virgins.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3569.H4349 M56 2000

Simic, Charles. The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late & New Poems. Orlando: Harcourt, 2003.
Tidy, blunt verses whose moral vision is rooted in an appreciation of the absurd; a surrealism of a sort that is always in position to raise existential questions about daily life.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3569.I4725 V6 2003

Smiley, Jane. Good Faith. New York: Knopf, 2003.
Joe Stratford, narrator and protagonist of this subtly polemical novel (it is against greed), rests reasonably content with his life as a real estate agent. It doesn't last; the prospect of big money opens before him, and a former I.R.S. agent, now some kind of wise guy, enmeshes him in unblessed doings.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PS3569.M39 G66 2003

Spencer, Scott. A Ship Made of Paper. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2003.
Spencer's eighth novel reprises the theme of consuming love, this time in the form of an affair between well-adjusted adults told from both perspectives, and asks whether that love isn't worth the suffering it causes to those around them.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3569.P455 S47 2003

Stone, Robert. Bay of Souls. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
A highly concentrated (for this author), wholly unnerving novel whose hero, an unhappy professor of English specializing in literary ''vitalism,'' becomes desperately involved with an exotically attractive woman who thinks she has lost her soul and hopes to retrieve it in a voodoo rite.
Regenstein Stacks
Harper Library
PS3569.T6418 B3 2003

Swan, Mary. The Deep: and Other Stories. New York: Random House, 2003.
The first book by a promising Canadian writer who devises and explores different forms with interesting results; the 68-page story at the heart of this volume probes World War I by seeing what it does to a 26-year-old pair of twin sisters who have volunteered to work in France.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9199.4.S93 D44 2003

Swift, Graham. The Light of Day. New York: Knopf, 2003.
Told in a police-blotter argot so spare it reads like a sort of gumshoe haiku, this moody novel about severed connections might be summarized thus: Woman kills husband. / Private eye falls hard for her: / Two lives held in check.
Regenstein Stacks
PR6069.W47L54 2003

Truong, Monique. The Book of Salt. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
A lush, fascinating, expansive first novel about exile, concerning a gay Vietnamese cook who works for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris; he Frenchifies their apple pie while observing with an aching heart how much better adapted to expatriation they are than he is.
Regenstein Stacks
PS3620.R86B66 2003

Unsworth, Barry. The Songs of the Kings. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2003.
A modern retelling of Euripides' ''Iphigenia in Aulis,'' in which seers struggle to see what god is holding up the invasion of Troy while Odysseus, a scheming political animal, works to unite the Greek army to preserve his chance of looting Troy and dying rich.
Regenstein Stacks
PR6071.N8 S66 2003

Upadhyay, Samrat. The Guru of Love. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
A terse, understated first novel, concerned with universal middle-class anxieties and set in Katmandu, Nepal, where its protagonist, Ramchandra, worries all the time about money and worries even more about his adulterous love affair, which his wife knows all about.
Regenstein Stacks
PR9570.N43G8 2003

Welsh, Louise. The Cutting Room. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2003.
This accomplished first novel's hard-bitten hero is a Glasgow auction house employee who must assess the belongings of a newly dead man, a task that leads him into the city's darkest corners of commercial sex and criminal glamour.
Regenstein Stacks
PR6123.E47C87 2003

Wolitzer, Meg. The Wife. New York: Scribner, 2003.
A light-footed, streamlined novel that rushes in to shed new heat on old themes like gender, writing and identity; Joan Castleman gives up her writing career to service toservice that of her husband, Joe, a jerk of many flavors, and Wolitzer deploys a calm, seamless humor over the agony.
Regenstein, Stacks
PS3573.O564W5 2003