The title of Michael Pitre’s Fives and Twenty-Fives (Bloomsbury, $27) refers to the perimeters Marines try to maintain around possible roadside bombs to keep themselves safe from explosives. At the heart of Pitre’s novel is Lieutenant Donovan, commander of a platoon of combat engineers tasked with fixing potholes and defusing bombs on Iraqi roads. The story alternates between the lives of Marines in the years immediately following their discharge and that of their time in combat, during which a tragic event overshadowed their war experiences. It haunts them still. Like so many stories born of recent wars, this one is deeply affecting. Pitre himself was a combat engineer in Iraq and the vividness of his novel’s details testifies to the depth of their meaning for him. The strengths and vulnerabilities displayed by young men and women in impossible situations are heartbreaking and unmistakably real.
In his award-winning series, The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and Lay of the Land, Richard Ford evolved his wise but hapless protagonist, Frank Bascombe. Let Me Be Frank with You (Ecco, $27.99), four inter-connected novellas, finds Frank on the New Jersey shore in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Sixty-eight and a retired realtor, Frank has escaped the devastation suffered by so many because he sold his ocean front property, opting for a simpler life in the small town of Haddam. Viewing the ruins of the area’s once grand houses offers Frank the opportunity to comment on wealth, race, politics, commercialization, and the general decline of the quality of life in twenty-first century America. This might be depressing if Ford wasn’t so eloquent and if Frank wasn’t so clear-eyed and hilarious.
Susan Coll, director of events and programs at Politics & Prose, is an accomplished novelist whose fifth book, The Stager (Sarah Crichton, $26), is set, like some of her earlier works, in a tony Washington area zip code (local readers may feel sure that The Stager’s characters closely resemble their own neighbors). But even if you live outside of Washington, you will appreciate (and be entertained by) Coll’s searing wit as she deftly deconstructs the excesses of upscale life in suburbia. The story revolves around a couple selling their house and hiring a stager to make the abode presentable to potential buyers, a topic that neatly lends itself to satire in Coll’s capable hands. One fun surprise: the best character in the book is not a person, but a rabbit. And a philosopher rabbit at that!