Five books people are talking about this week — or should be:
1. The Girls by Emma Cline (Random House)
This compelling debut novel may not yet have hit the bookshelves, but The Girls seems poised to be a big summer hit. It tells the story of a Manson-type cult in late 1960s California, but Cline focuses not on the manipulative and magnetic leader but on the dynamics of the girls in his thrall. Cline is particularly effective in giving us the view from the perspective of Evie, a richly drawn, disaffected young teenager, now older and looking back on a time when she was a lonely adolescent, desperately hungry for friendship and approval from the other girls.
2. RATF**KED How the Democrats Won the Presidency but Lost America by David Daley (Liveright/W.W. Norton)
From Salon editor-in-chief Daley, a fascinating account of how Republican strategists raised millions of dollars and launched REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project) to flip state houses from Democratic to Republican control and reshape the futureof the American electoral map. In this important and adroitly argued book, Daley details how Karl Rove and cohorts took advantage of the dark money flowing after the Citizens United decision to flood state races with conservative money — producing the effect vividly invoked in the book’s title.
3. The Second Girl by David Swinson (Mullholland Books/Little, Brown and Company)
At the center of this this engrossing novel is Frank Marr, a D.C. cop-turned-private investigator with a conscience, an eye for irony, and a cocaine problem. Swinson, a former D.C. police detective, avoids the clichés of the hard-boiled crime story. Instead, he has written a character-driven novel of suspense featuring an anti-hero for whom life in the nation’s capital is a no-win situation. For those tired of cops, bad guys and the traditional urban crime novel, The Second Girl offers up a clever labyrinth — pulling the reader in to see just where Frank Marr is headed next.
4. The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right by Michael Graetz and Linda Greenhouse (Simon and Schuster)
While the Burger Court is often viewed as a backwater in Supreme Court history, the authors argue that it was more than a transitional moment between the aggressively liberal Warren and aggressively conservative Rehnquist and Roberts eras. Columbia Law School Professor Graetz and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Greenhouse, who covered the Supreme Court for The New York Times, teamed up to produce this engaging and authoritative look at a Court that produced highly influential rulings on race, civil liberties, and much more.
5. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (Graywolf Press)
A short, singular, and entirely alluring book that defies convention, and definition, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers works like a form of literary magic. The title comes from one of Emily Dickinson’s best-known poems, but the book features a mysterious figure known as “Crow,” so it is also a wink to Ted Hughes’s poem by that name. An amalgam of poetry, essay, and shards of memory, the book centers on the emotional and psychic lives of a husband (a Hughes scholar) and two sons, who mourn a wife and mother who has died in a tragic accident. Porter, who won the prestigious (and lucrative) Dylan Thomas Prize -- $43,000 for a book of fiction by a writer 39 or younger — works wonders on the page.