The immigrant story is at the center of Salvatore Scibona’s debut novel The End (Graywolf, $24), set in an Italian neighborhood in 1950s Cleveland. There’s Rocco, a baker, who has lost his family to prosperity elsewhere; Enzo, whose wife leaves him and his son Ciccio for no reason he can discern; Lina, that fleeing wife, the girl whose future the widow, Mrs. Marini, tried to assure; and Mrs. Marini, who left her village for America in 1915, an act she believes God has not forgiven her for. But Scibona’s novel—a National Book Award finalist—is less about leaving home than about what happens afterward. Each character harbors secrets and is forced to confront a changing America that, while willing to include them, is also reinforcing barriers as the civil rights movement looms. In The End, Scibona portrays the confluence of chance and circumstance and how those forces pull at the seams of communities.
The main character in the nine heart-stopping stories of Fine Just The Way It Is (Scribner, $25), is Wyoming. No one knows the region better than Annie Proulx, and she infuses her fiction with the geography, geology, flora, and fauna of the American West. Her characters are die-hards and schemers, hard-workers and losers. From early Native Americans living by catching buffalo, 19th-century settlers trying to survive on hope and cowboy songs, Depression-era homesteaders running out of hope, and on to contemporary youth with few options but joining the army and serving in Iraq, the region offers at best a hard and short life. If the harsh economic situation or the brutal weather doesn’t get you, your own poor judgment will. Yet Proulx is always sympathetic to her characters; these stories are rich and compelling, with much to offer in place of the romantic illusions of the unlimited frontier they leave trampled in the dust.
When Anne Enright visited last February, she enchanted the large audience with her sparkling Irish humor, which was in sharp contrast with the sorrowful occasion at the center of The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Booker Prize. If you’re one of the many readers who loved that novel, you’ll also love the 31 stories gathered in Yesterday’s Weather (Grove, $24). In her distinctive economical, yet evocative, prose, Enright offers a sharp account of the shifting ground of a marriage, when a wife, husband, and new baby visit the husband’s family, a visit in which the couple is subject to rapid shifts in love, hate, and desire. Enright’s microscopic eye for detail gives us hard-lined characters, complemented by a slightly blurred, yet ominous, background. Her women are smart but cynical, and no matter how dysfunctional her characters are, Enright treats them with sympathy, presenting them as brave to have so far survived the minefields of daily life.