Bruce Machart’s The Wake Of Forgiveness (Mariner, $14.95) is a fantastic debut. An American Western with all the scope that implies, the novel follows the Skala family over thirty eventful, sometimes explosive, years. It is a novel about men, certainly; the Skala boys, led by their merciless father, toil in the fields and plot and scheme to acquire land and influence. It is also a novel about women, or the absence of them, and the impact this has on the men as they grow. Machart blends sparing dialogue with strong emotional undercurrents. Yes, there are horse races, shoot-outs, arson, and other staples of the Western, but there is also a family coming to terms with who they are, and learning to accept themselves and each other.
Marie and Wim are a childless Dutch couple living peacefully in their suburban home when World War II breaks out. Reluctantly, they accept Nico, a Jewish man in his mid-50s, into their home as a clandestine refugee. In lean, translucent prose, Hans Keilson explores the internal, quotidian world of Wim and Marie as they continue with life-as- usual under extraordinary circumstances. However, Keilson, who died earlier this summer at the age of 101, exerts himself as a master of the modern novel when he takes an average story of lives troubled and lost during the Holocaust and infuses it with dark humor and macabre irony. After Nico dies of natural causes while in hiding, the Dutch couple is left with a dilemma: how to dispose of the body? When circumstances force Marie and Wim to flee their own home, Comedy In A Minor Key (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $13) explodes into a subito piano.
(This book cannot be returned.)
A compilation of his Washington Post columns of the same name, Jonathan Yardley’s Second Reading (Europa Editions, $16) is a delightful summertime adventure in books. Yardley’s passion for reading is a neon sign blazing on every page as he revisits classics like Daphne du Maurier’s modern Gothic, Rebecca, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, on which the critic confers the title, “American masterwork.” He praises Roald Dahl’s adult short fiction collection, Someone Like You, for its genuine humor and precise character descriptions. John Cheever is lauded for his “clinical, yet sympathetic depiction of life in leafy suburbia” and Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir The Woman Warrior receives special notice as one of the first books to bring public attention to the causes of feminism and multiculturalism. In re-reading J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Yardley takes a rare caustic stance toward an American favorite, sighting Salinger’s “execrable prose and Caulfield’s jejune narcissism,” though he begrudgingly acknowledges the book’s place in the American literary canon. After finishing Second Reading, my resolve to re-read favorites was outpaced by the length of my to-read list, to which Yardley contributes mightily. Lacey Dunham