Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (Knopf))
Josie’s life is spiraling downward. Fearful of losing her children to an ex-husband, and fleeing a failing dental practice, she loads her brood into a dilapidated RV and sets out for Alaska. Her journey to a new life has a Grapes of Wrath quality, but Eggers tempers his Steinbeckian compassion with a modern eye for the quirky and comedic. Egger’s Alaska has not only natural beauty, but tacky tourist shops filled with overpriced trinkets. In past novels like The Circle, set in the tech world, and Zeitoun, in post-Katrina New Orleans, Eggers displayed his talent for social observation. Heroes of the Frontier reminds us of something he displayed in his wonderful debut novel, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: his deep insight into the ways of children and families.
2. American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin (Doubleday)
Toobin, a New Yorker writer and CNN analyst who soared to prominence with his coverage of the O. J. Simpson case, digs deeply into another legal drama with broad social reverberations: the 1974 kidnapping of Patricia Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a rag-tag revolutionary group. Hearst, a granddaughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, claimed allegiance to the cause, was photographed with a machine gun — and was sent to prison. She later claimed she was a victim of the SLA, threatened and brainwashed into supporting an ideology that Toobin describes as possessing “anarchic intensity drawn from the chaos of” the rage-filled, revolutionary Bay Area of the 1970s. In this engrossing book, Toobin brilliantly fuses Hearst’s story with America’s, finding close parallels between a complicated woman and a nation on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
3. The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close (Knopf)
Take the sharp insights into our nation’s capital of Nora Ephron in Heartburn. Add a healthy dose of Barack Obama’s optimism in The Audacity of Hope. Garnish with a dash of the wit, warmth, and charm of a J. Courtney Sullivan novel. That’s the refreshing literary cocktail that Close mixes in The Hopefuls. At the center is a young married couple new to Washington: an Obama staffer and his wife, working for DCLOVE, an online “potpourri of information,” who deftly navigate marriage, friendships, rivalries, and his overbearing family, and its concern with his “legacy.”
4. The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston (Melville House)
Legendary journalist Johnston, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his exposure of inequities and loopholes in the U.S. tax code, is a leading authority on how the affluent manipulate power to their own advantage. For nearly three decades, he has been reporting on Donald Trump, and this well-timed new book digs deep into how Trump created his empire, how he really does business — and what he might do if he is able to put the Trump name on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
5. Miss Jane: A Novel by Brad Watson (W.W. Norton & Company)
The inspiration for Watson’s tender and affecting novel was his somewhat mysterious great-aunt, who was born with a rare birth defect that precluded her from sex, and forced her to wear diaper-like garments. As a child, she gradually grasped the meaning of her disability, and over time grew to understand how it would circumscribe her life. Watson writes eloquently of Jane’s life in early 20th century Mississippi – the same fictional territory he covered in The Heaven of Mercury, his novel that was a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award.