With each succeeding chapter, as Jennifer Egan takes ever more formalistic, stylistic, and narrative tacks and risks, A Visit From The Goon Squad (Anchor, $14.95) builds like a good mix tape: each song very different, but adding meaning to what comes before. Egan’s meditation on “time and music” darts through the music biz, PR, and journalism from the 1970s to the near future, with both stand-alone riffs and exhilarating convergences throughout. Each of the thirteen chapters is different in tone, with a different protagonist; the highlight for me is the penultimate, “Great Rock and Roll Pauses,” written by a twelve-year-old character in PowerPoint charts—it’s unforgettable. The book just won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; it was on nearly everyone’s 2010 Top Ten list, and deservedly so.
In The Lovers (Ecco, $13.99) the recently widowed Yvonne flees her self-conscious grief and the doting of friends and neighbors for Datça, Turkey, where she spent her honeymoon with her husband, Peter, twenty-five years earlier. As Yvonne attempts to recapture the love she felt for Peter, she runs up against distressing memories that challenge her wish to dwell on only the happy moments of her relationship: the lack of physical intimacy in the later years of her marriage and the pair’s disagreement about how to handle their substance-abusing daughter, Aurelia. When Yvonne forms an odd friendship with a quiet, young boy selling seashells at a nearby beach, Vendela Vida’s subtle exploration of grief, love, and relationships offers both heartbreak and redemption.
The Surrendered begins forcefully, revealing the traumatic suffering inflicted on children attempting to flee the advancing war in Korea. Throughout the novel—over the course of the century— Chang-rae Lee explores the residual impact of the lingering loss and emotional damage for three principal characters: a young girl, a missionary, and a soldier. As it did with Franklin and Henry in A Gesture Life and Native Speaker, respectively, the past continues to restrict June, Sophie, and Hector, and prevents them from fully engaging with those to whom they long to relate. A grippingly powerful and tragically beautiful story, this is Lee’s most evocative and compelling book yet.