This month’s selections, recommended by Mitch Kaplan of Books & Books, include an engrossing Big Tech satire, a historical cross-country road trip, and a shattering microcosm for an unequal America.
The sacred and the profane intertwine and ripple through the 250 pages of Lauren Groff’s Matrix, a title that shares little in common with the sci-fi franchise its name evokes. On the contrary, the renowned Florida author’s first novel in six years is an arcane period piece—a work of historical fiction set in 12th century France in which a coarse 17-year-old troublemaker, Marie de France, is banished from the royal court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and forced to run a diseased, backwater abbey. But this unlikely heroine possesses visions, and works to transform the impoverished place of worship into a proto-feminist utopia. Esquire’s rave review called Matrix a “radiant work of imagination and accomplishment.”
A cross-country joyride shorn from tragedy, esteemed novelist Towles’ fourth book follows 10 eventful days in the life of Emmett Watson, an 18-year-old Nebraskan who is being deposited back home after serving 15 months in a juvenile work farm for involuntary manslaughter. “Home” is a tenuous descriptor, though: His mother is gone, his father is dead, and the bank has foreclosed on his family farm. His plan is to travel to California to start a new life with his 8-year-old brother, but two scheming friends from his work farm have different plans for Emmett on the other coast of America, New York City. Towles’ last best-seller, A Gentleman in Moscow, captured late 19th century Russia; his latest endeavors to channel 1950s America with a similar sense of richness and detail, no matter where Emmett’s journey takes him. FYI: Towles will open the 2021 Miami Book Fair with a presentation at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at Miami-Dade College.
The latest novel from this celebrated author, memoirist and satirist is a sequel to his prescient 2013 cautionary tale The Circle, set once again amid the soft totalitarianism of Big Tech. In The Every, the Circle—a search-engine and social media behemoth—has merged with the world’s dominant e-commerce site to create the titular monopoly: a single corporation effectively owning the internet and increasing its universal surveillance footprint. It’s up to Delaney Wells, a former forest ranger and stealth tech skeptic newly hired by The Every in an entry-level position, to take down the company from the inside. In imagining a day when Google, Facebook and Amazon become one, The Every sounds as much like prophecy as entertainment. The physical book itself is an instant collector’s item, as it has been released exclusively in independent bookstores, like Books & Books, with a “dizzying array of cover variations.”
This revelatory debut from the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times is an extension of her five-part series from the Times focusing on the remarkable trajectory of Dasani, a preternaturally bright girl born to an impoverished Black family in New York City in 2001. Elliott, with an unflinching eye, recounts the everyday horrors of Auburn Family Residence, the prison-like, crime-filled homeless shelter where Dasani was raised and eventually escapes—to a Pennsylvania boarding school that separates her from her tight-knit family while offering her an opportunity to rise above her station. Balancing the heartbreaking with the inspiring, Elliott finds in Dasani a microcosm for the millions left behind in an unequal America, often as a direct result of government policies; Mayor Bloomberg comes off as particularly responsible for Brooklyn’s crushing gentrification. But Dasani is its constantly beating heart, a ray of light piercing the darkness.