A Children’s Bible By Lydia Millet
In Millet’s latest novel, a bevy of kids and their middle-aged parents convene for the summer at a country house in America’s Northeast. While the grown-ups indulge (pills, benders, bed-hopping), the kids, disaffected teenagers and their parentally neglected younger siblings, look on with mounting disgust. But what begins as generational comedy soon takes a darker turn, as climate collapse and societal breakdown encroach. The ensuing chaos is underscored by scenes and symbols repurposed from the Bible — a man on a blowup raft among the reeds, animals rescued from a deluge into the back of a van, a baby born in a manger. With an unfailingly light touch, Millet delivers a wry fable about climate change, imbuing foundational myths with new meaning and, finally, hope.
Deacon King Kong By James McBride
A mystery story, a crime novel, an urban farce, a sociological portrait of late-1960s Brooklyn: McBride’s novel contains multitudes. At its rollicking heart is Deacon Cuffy Lambkin, a.k.a. Sportcoat, veteran resident of the Causeway Housing Projects, widower, churchgoer, odd-jobber, home brew-tippler and, now, after inexplicably shooting an ear clean off a local drug dealer, a wanted man. The elastic plot expands to encompass rival drug crews, an Italian smuggler, buried treasure, church sisters and Sportcoat’s long-dead wife, still nagging from beyond the grave. McBride, the author of the National Book Award-winning novel “The Good Lord Bird” and the memoir “The Color of Water,” among other books, conducts his antic symphony with deep feeling, never losing sight of the suffering and inequity within the merriment.
Hamnet By Maggie O’Farrell
A bold feat of imagination and empathy, this novel gives flesh and feeling to a historical mystery: how the death of Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son, Hamnet, in 1596, may have shaped his play “Hamlet,” written a few years later. O’Farrell, an Irish-born novelist, conjures with sensual vividness the world of the playwright’s hometown: the tang of new leather in his cantankerous father’s glove shop; the scent of apples in the storage shed where he first kisses Agnes, the farmer’s daughter and gifted healer who becomes his wife; and, not least, the devastation that befalls her when she cannot save her son from the plague. The novel is a portrait of unspeakable grief wreathed in great beauty.
Homeland Elegies By Ayad Akhtar
At once personal and political, Akhtar’s second novel can read like a collection of pitch-perfect essays that give shape to a prismatic identity. We begin with Walt Whitman, with a soaring overture to America and a dream of national belonging — which the narrator methodically dismantles in the virtuosic chapters that follow. The lure and ruin of capital, the wounds of 9/11, the bitter pill of cultural rejection: Akhtar pulls no punches critiquing the country’s most dominant narratives. He returns frequently to the subject of his father, a Pakistani immigrant and onetime doctor to Donald Trump, seeking in his life the answer to a burning question: What, after all, does it take to be an American?
The Vanishing Half By Brit Bennett
Beneath the polished surface and enthralling plotlines of Bennett’s second novel, after her much admired “The Mothers,” lies a provocative meditation on the possibilities and limits of self-definition. Alternating sections recount the separate fates of Stella and Desiree, twin sisters from a Black Louisiana town during Jim Crow, whose residents pride themselves on their light skin. When Stella decides to pass for white, the sisters’ lives diverge, only to intersect unexpectedly, years later. Bennett has constructed her novel with great care, populating it with characters, including a trans man and an actress, who invite us to consider how identity is both chosen and imposed, and the degree to which “passing” may describe a phenomenon more common than we think.