Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28) introduces Purity Tyler, known to all as Pip, an under-employed young woman with a staggering student-loan burden living with roommates in a house in Oakland. When she meets a group of German peace activists, her world is touched by the mysterious Andreas Wolf and his “Sunlight Project,” which promises to expose national and corporate treachery by releasing leaked data. Pip, who grew up as the child of a single mother, sees in Wolf not just a glamorous opportunity to make a difference in the world but also a way to identify her unknown father. Franzen’s story is filled with twists and turns and unforgettable characters; as always the author of The Corrections and Freedom takes on big subjects—such as privacy and identity—in smart and entertaining ways.
In addition to her Cromwell novels, both of which focus on the same protagonist, Hilary Mantel’s work shows off a range of styles and a rich diversity of subjects. Consistent throughout, however, is a commitment to quality. Her new collection of short fiction, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Holt, $27), is as dazzling as her previous work. The opening story, “Sorry to Disturb,” is a complex sketch of an English woman living in Saudi Arabia. She is frustrated and bored by the strictures of Saudi customs and the complications that arise when simple courtesy encourages unwanted advances. The story “How Shall I Know You?” recounts the overnight adventure of an author who agrees to speak before a neighborhood literary society; Mantel describes how expectations crash into reality with very funny results. These fictions are rich in predicament and flawless in execution.
(This book cannot be returned.)
The title of Michael Pitre’s Fives and Twenty-Fives (Bloomsbury, $27) refers to the perimeters Marines try to maintain around possible roadside bombs to keep themselves safe from explosives. At the heart of Pitre’s novel is Lieutenant Donovan, commander of a platoon of combat engineers tasked with fixing potholes and defusing bombs on Iraqi roads. The story alternates between the lives of Marines in the years immediately following their discharge and that of their time in combat, during which a tragic event overshadowed their war experiences. It haunts them still. Like so many stories born of recent wars, this one is deeply affecting. Pitre himself was a combat engineer in Iraq and the vividness of his novel’s details testifies to the depth of their meaning for him. The strengths and vulnerabilities displayed by young men and women in impossible situations are heartbreaking and unmistakably real.