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Also of interest ... in novels on contemporary life
<em>The Song Is You </em>by Arthur Phillip; <em>A Fortunate Age </em>by Joanna Smith Rakoff; <em>Secrets to Happiness </em>by Sarah Dunn; <em>Jeff in Venice, </em><em>Death in Varanasi </em
 

The Song Is You
by Arthur Phillips
(Random House, $25)
There’s still “a schoolboy showiness” in some of Arthur Phillips’ writing that distracts from his formidable gifts, said Marie Arana in The Washington Post. But in daringly telling a near-love story about a young club singer and a man who becomes her muse without ever meeting her, the author of Prague amazes more than he stumbles. “Filled with song,” Phillips’ fourth novel shows us how “richly human” our present is despite the cocoons we’ve built with our iPods.

A Fortunate Age
by Joanna Smith Rakoff
(Scribner, $26)
This debut novel about a group of hipster college graduates in 1990s Brooklyn, N.Y., “sometimes captures the uncertainties and anxieties” of young adulthood “with unsettling accuracy,” said Kate Lowenstein in Time Out New York. But in trying to update Mary McCarthy’s 1963 classic The Group, Joanna Smith Rakoff makes too many of her characters predictable types. If her writing conveyed more skepticism about “the shortsighted choices” her characters make, the conceit just might have worked.

Secrets to Happiness
by Sarah Dunn
(Little, Brown, $24)
Sarah Dunn’s “bitingly funny” second novel features a 35-year-old divorcée with “charmingly old-fashioned” values, said Anna Fricke in The New York Observer. While dispensing advice to friends who consistently exhibit hypocrisy or selfishness, Holly Frick braves re-entry into the city’s singles scene. But “a guy is not the answer” in this book. “Laced with sitcom-sharp dialogue,” Dunn’s “bittersweet” tale is more an ensemble spiritual journey than a simple romantic comedy.

Jeff in Venice,
Death in Varanasi

by Geoff Dyer
(Pantheon, $24)
Geoff Dyer’s bifurcated new novel tells the stories of two journalistic assignments, said Lionel Shriver in the Financial Times. In the first, a routinely uninspiring Venice Biennale is redeemed for a British critic named Jeff by a cocaine- and Bellini-fueled affair. In the second, an unnamed British reporter describes a ritual burning of dead bodies on the shores of the Ganges. A traditional novel it’s not. But “put enough great lines in any book and it’s worth reading, whatever you want to call it.”

 

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