by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf, $28)
Jhumpa Lahiri’s new novel is a poor showcase for her “copious talents,” said Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. Though the book is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, its “ungainly” story about an Indian immigrant who marries his brother’s widow feels far too schematic before it finally settles into a more intimate drama about a father and daughter. Working that smaller canvas, Lahiri gets back to what she does best: “mapping moods and inchoate emotions with pointillist precision.”
by Jenni Fagan (Hogarth, $22)
The “rousing voice” of a 15-year-old Scottish delinquent carries this novel even when the plot disappoints, said Ron Charles in The Washington Post. Jenni Fagan’s heroine is an orphan who’s just been locked up in an ominous, century-old prison, and this “witty, crude, and often tender girl” becomes our guide to a system that chews up kids like her every day. The book’s a bit preachy, considering that it won Fagan a spot on Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists list, but it’s potent in its small moments.
The Internal Enemy
by Alan Taylor (Norton, $35)
During the War of 1812, at least one group of Americans saw the British as liberators, said Mark M. Smith in The Wall Street Journal. In this “beautifully crafted” work, historian Alan Taylor focuses on the 2,000-plus Virginia slaves who escaped bondage amid the fighting and often proved themselves invaluable to the British cause. This National Book Award nominee makes certain Founding Fathers look “appallingly self-absorbed,” but it’s about time a historian shed light on post-1776 slavery conditions.
by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25)
“Ordinary life is made extraordinary” in Alice McDermott’s “quiet tour de force,” said Elaina Smith in The Kansas City Star. Marie, the narrator of this National Book Award–nominated novel, is a Brooklyn-born Irish-American who’s looking back on the vicissitudes of her 20th-century life. Despite her subdued tone, “heartache, joy, and beauty” all simmer beneath the language’s surface. Marie and her loved ones seem “so true to life that their struggles hurt like they’re your own.”