In this month’s selections, chosen once again by Mitch Kaplan of Miami bookselling empire Books & Books, the King of genre fiction is back with one of his most acclaimed books in years, a rising star whose life was cut short debuts his posthumous collection, and a war correspondent charts how 9-11 is still changing our society and electorate.
Eschewing his horror bailiwick for a neo-noir character study, King has produced what critics are calling his best work in years. There’s a knowing familiarity to the premise: An exceptional killer-for-hire and former U.S. military sniper with an inflexible moral code—he will only accept jobs targeting evil dudes—readies his final hit before retirement, which leads him into small-town America and a rabbit hole of complications. Though it’s a work of fiction, Billy Summers has been called King’s best reflection of his own craft since On Writing, in part because his title character uses the book’s capacious structure to pen his own story. The book also benefits from an observant and sympathetic accounting of middle-American life, demographics and politics from the ‘90s to today.
Lauded for his command of biting humor as well as aching pathos, Anthony Veasna So is no longer alive to appreciate the shower of critical success that has met Afterparties, his debut work; he died tragically of an overdose last year, at 28. Thus, another layer of heft and poignancy greets this four-story collection set among California’s Cambodian-American community. Himself the child of Cambodian immigrants, So funnels contemporary issues through his unique cultural perspective—among them political correctness, racism, sexuality and mass shootings—but frequently with an eye toward the absurd.
Margaret Atwood is professed fan of this fellow Canadian author, who has won awards for both of her previous novels, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl and Bunny. Awad’s protagonist in All’s Well is Miranda Fitch, a theater professor with a traumatic history: As a young actor on the set of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, a back injury left her unable to continue the profession, led to the dissolution of her marriage, and fostered a dependence on painkillers. Now in academia, she strives to connect her past to the present by staging the same star-crossed Shakespeare play—but her stubborn students insist on producing Macbeth instead. She seems to have met an impasse, until three mysterious benefactors appear with an offer she can’t refuse, a story development perhaps as rooted in Faust as it is the Bard.
We’re approaching the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which to many of us who lived through it feel as vivid as yesterday and as distant as a yellowing history textbook. All the dark policies and Orwellian diction of the Bush years (the Patriot Act, “enhanced interrogation techniques”) can seem removed from the issues plaguing our fractious present. Or do they? Spencer Ackerman, a respected national-security correspondent who won a Pulitzer for his work on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, chronicles how the reaction to 9-11 split the country apart, first among the loudest fringes and then toward a polarized nativism that has made constructive compromise such a challenge. Of all of the Sept. 11 anniversary think pieces that will be published over the next month, this is arguably the deepest and most revelatory dive.