To a horror fan, “Halloween vs. Covid-19” sounds almost as promising as “Godzilla vs. Kong.” But in the end it’s been no real contest — not in my neighborhood, anyway, where health officials are reminding people that parties are a bad idea this year and recommending that children forgo the usual trick-or-treating. That’s ironic, maybe, for a holiday meant to show that we’re not afraid of death. But there you have it. We’re afraid of death.
If you want to celebrate anyway, maybe read a spooky book? We have a full complement on offer this week, from John Banville’s novel “Snow,” about the murder of a priest in Ireland, to Chloe Hooper’s “The Arsonist,” about a wildfire that ravaged Australia in 2009. There’s Alice Hoffman’s new novel, “Magic Lessons,” which revisits the family of witches she introduced in “Practical Magic,” and P. Djèlí Clark’s “Ring Shout,” which imagines the Ku Klux Klan as a kind of demonic force summoned from another dimension, and Hiroko Oyamada’s “The Hole,” about a woman who drops into a surreal dreamscape. And much else besides — including Reeves Wiedeman’s “Billion Dollar Loser,” a journalistic narrative that frames the collapse of the start-up darling WeWork as a symbol of heedless capitalist bluster and excess. Now that’s scary.
Senior Editor, Books
WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST: A Biography of Richard Avedon, by Philip Gefter. (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, $35.) Richard Avedon’s first fashion photograph appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in 1944, when he was 21, and he was still shooting for The New Yorker at the time of his death 60 years later. “He knew everyone and photographed everyone, and part of the pleasure of this biography lies in watching life’s rich pageant pass by,” our critic Dwight Garner writes, calling the book “wise and ebullient.” Gefter lingers over photo sessions with subjects like Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and James Baldwin, and makes the case for Avedon as one of the 20th century’s most consequential artists.
INSIDE STORY, by Martin Amis. (Knopf, $28.95.) In this “novelized autobiography” — an unstable and charismatic compound of fact and fiction — Martin Amis writes about three writers beloved to him: Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow and Christopher Hitchens. The book revisits stories he told in his memoir “Experience,” and some passages are familiar from his essays and speeches. But in his writing about Hitchens, Amis “moves into a fresh register,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes, and “accesses a depth of feeling and a plainness of language entirely new to his work.”
BILLION DOLLAR LOSER: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork, by Reeves Wiedeman. (Little, Brown, $28.) Emerging in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, WeWork repurposed office space for freelancers worldwide, rebranding precarity into community. In a spectacular fall in 2019, it postponed its initial public offering and co-founder Adam Neumann left the company. “‘Billion Dollar Loser’ would be absorbing enough were it just about one man’s grandiosity, but Wiedeman has a larger argument to make about what Neumann represents,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes. “Wiedeman depicts the giant sums of money churning through WeWork as the embodiment of a confidence game that flourished in the last decade.”
EARTHLINGS, by Sayaka Murata. Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. (Grove, $26.) In the Japanese author’s second novel, two cousins agree that they’re aliens, abandoned at birth among humans. After the traumas of childhood, in adulthood they seek to abandon society — a.k.a. “the Baby Factory” — altogether, in favor of a moral vacuum. “In ‘Earthlings,’ being an alien is a simple proxy for being alienated,” Lydia Millet writes in her review. “Their mission becomes the achievement of a more perfect detachment: They wish to divest themselves of all learned norms and strictures.”
SNOW, by John Banville. (Hanover Square, $27.99.) This rich thriller set in 1950s Ireland begins with the murder of a priest and unfolds in the manner of a classic crime novel by Banville’s alter ego, Benjamin Black. A detective sets out to find the culprit among members of an Anglo-Irish family, and unearths a snake pit of secrets in the process. “Time and again, Banville sets up and then deftly demolishes the Agatha Christie format he seems to be aping,” William Boyd writes in his review. “Everything that seems creakingly familiar about the country-house murder turns out to be darker and darker still.” Banville, Boyd adds, “is one of the great stylists of fiction in English and ‘Snow’ allows the limpid cadences of his prose free rein.”
THE HOLE, by Hiroko Oyamada. Translated by David Boyd. (New Directions, paper, $12.95.) The narrator of this mesmerizing Japanese novel moves with her husband to the countryside and finds herself in a landscape rich with life and mystery. When she falls into a hole one day, the story breaks open and reality gives way to dreamlike complexities. Hilary Leichter, reviewing it, calls the book a “sparse and frightening novel” with a delightfully surreal sense of instability. “No one is where she is supposed to be; characters are introduced and then seldom appear again. … Others might not even exist, reality collapsing and dimpling like the landscape,” Leichter writes. “Oyamada has great fun playing with the idea of elision, building a propulsive narrative of omission and isolation.”
THE ABSTAINER, by Ian McGuire. (Random House, $27.) McGuire keeps his 19th-century cat-and-mouse tale of a police constable and an Irish rebel at an electric pace, whisking readers from Manchester, England, to rural Pennsylvania. Crisp prose and crackling dialogue evoke a bustling world full of violence, ideology and, in apt doses, dark humor. It put our reviewer, Roddy Doyle, in mind of Charles Dickens: “I was thinking of ‘Hard Times’ as I read, and ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ other great yarns dropped into the middle of big history,” Doyle writes. “There was very little I didn’t like and admire about ‘The Abstainer.’ The conclusion seems inevitable, somehow even more so when it turned out not to be the one I’d been anticipating.”
RING SHOUT, by P. Djèlí Clark. (Tordotcom, $19.99.) Clark’s novella about dark forces unleashed by the early-20th-century release of D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” is the kind of reimagining of history that puts the act of storytelling, and the art of the horror genre, at the forefront of literary and political life. “The book’s cover art says it all,” Danielle Trussoni writes in her latest horror column: “A white hood, its eyeholes ringed with teeth, stands blood-spattered as two Black hands rise in a movement that frames and threatens to unmask what is lurking beneath. … Clark’s combination of historical and political reimagining is cathartic, exhilarating and fresh.”
THE BOOK OF LAMPS AND BANNERS, by Elizabeth Hand. (Mulholland, $27.) A murdered book dealer and a missing manuscript draw photographer-turned-detective Cass Neary to the crime. Neary is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who can see what ordinary people cannot — only where Holmes brings clues to light, Neary is content to linger in the dark. “Cass Neary is a remarkable heroine,” Danielle Trussoni writes in her horror column. “Her eye catches the liminal spaces between clarity and shadow so well I found myself rereading passages for the beauty of her way of seeing. … The question isn’t ever if Cass will solve the crime, but if she can overcome her own demons.”
THE ARSONIST: A Mind on Fire, by Chloe Hooper. (Seven Stories, paper, $18.95.) A lethal 2009 bushfire in Australia and the story of the man subsequently convicted of igniting it form the arc of Hooper’s new book, a gripping meditation on a tragedy whose ultimate causes implicate an entire society. “Hooper takes us into the belly of the beast,” Beejay Silcox writes in her review. “Birds falling from the sky with their wings burning; beehives combusting from the radiant heat; farewell texts escaping from fire-ravaged homes (‘Dad im dead I love u’). The elemental terror of Black Saturday requires little embellishment, only the quiet dignity of witness. It’s this restraint — as intelligent as it is compassionate — that elevates ‘The Arsonist’ from slick true-crime procedural to cultural time capsule.”
MAGIC LESSONS, by Alice Hoffman. (Simon & Schuster, $27.99.) In this prequel to “Practical Magic,” Hoffman puts readers in the company of the Owens family, whose bloodlines vibrate with witchy power. This dark and delightful tale goes back to the 17th century, reminding us that magic comes at a price — especially for women. “A lot happens, yet the plot doesn’t feel overstuffed,” Edan Lepucki writes in her review. “Storytelling is in Hoffman’s bones, and the skill with which she dispenses information and compresses time, so that a year passes in a sentence, so that a tragedy witnessed becomes the propeller for a hundred-page subplot, is (forgive me) bewitching.”
STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH, by Meryem Alaoui. Translated by Emma Ramadan. (Other Press, paper, $16.99.) Alaoui’s debut novel follows a Moroccan sex worker whose blunt street-smarts will captivate readers. When a filmmaker seeks her out for a project, her life changes in surprising ways. “Her story, in Alaoui’s devastating novel, is at times painful to read,” Andrew Ervin writes, reviewing the book alongside two other debut novels, “and yet it’s written with such grace and power that it’s impossible to look away.”
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