he Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf, $16). Ishiguro is famous for his great novels Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. But neither is as great as The Unconsoled, a fever dream of a book about a famous pianist who arrives in a city he may or may not have visited before, populated by people he may or may not know, to give a performance that may or may not save the city. The book drove my mother absolutely insane, and I mean that as the highest praise.
Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow (Penguin, $15). We know Bellow as the author of the great first-generation-American novel (The Adventures of Augie March) and the great American-curmudgeon-genius novel (Herzog). But his greatest, most self-deprecating novel is his least typical: A rich American pig farmer decides to go find himself in Africa.
The Comforters by Muriel Spark (New Directions, $13). A novel about jewel smugglers, diabolism, bigamy, Catholicism, and a character to whom the novel is being narrated. Spark’s most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, is more polished. I love it. The Comforters is an inspired mess. That’s why I love it more.
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf, $15). Yes, I wept at the end of The Road, McCarthy’s Oprah-sanctioned masterpiece. But Suttree, set in Knoxville, Tenn., is McCarthy’s funniest novel. Plus, it has literature’s most memorable melon sex scene. True, it might be literature’s only melon sex scene. But it’s so great, we don’t need another.
Very Old Bones by William Kennedy (Penguin, $16). Kennedy’s Ironweed won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. Rightly so. Very few books more movingly and eloquently show how politics, religion, and family rule our lives, and our books. Very Old Bones is one of them.
Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy (Picador, $16). The Moviegoer was Percy’s first, and best-known, novel—a wry, pitch-perfect story of a young man finding his way in New Orleans. Love in the Ruins is nothing like The Moviegoer. It’s an irreverent, post-apocalyptic love story about gin, science, white suburbs, and black anger.
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