Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Here's your Emily St. John Mandel Primer

Let me share a little indie bookseller secret with you: Her name is Emily St. John Mandel and she is a genius. She's written three previous novels with the wonderful, literary, indie publisher Unbridled Books. Each book was an IndieNext pick, meaning a bunch of indie booksellers read it, loved it, and here's the really amazing part, loved it ENOUGH to remember to write up a short review and email it in 2 months before the book comes out (as an avid reader and an avid IndieNext-nomination-forgetter-to-write, this is the most impressive thing of all). Best news ever: she has a new novel coming out in September from Knopf-- a big, wonderful, epic, sprawling, frightening, hopeful novel called Station Eleven. She is a writer's writer-- her plotting is simply exquisite and her prose is sublime. Station Eleven is set during and after the collapse of civilization from a pandemic called the Georgia Flu. It's a plague novel, sure, but it's so much more. There's a traveling Shakespeare company, an aging Hollywood actor, his three ex-wives and best friend, and all throughout, the idea that some things do transcend, some things do last forever. Station Eleven coming to a bookstore near you September 9th.

And in the meantime, a little ESTM primer:

The Lola Quartet

Here’s the thing: you’re looking at a book written by a master. Mandel is an absolute pro at weaving stories together, pulling at seemingly disparate people and places and drawing their stories in concentric circles that eventually overlap, becoming one. It’s quite remarkable. Add to that top notch writing, and you’ve got an under-the-radar gem.

This story starts with Gavin, a journalist in New York City who finds himself doing the one thing a journalist should never do: make stuff up. From there the story leads to Florida, Virginia, Arizona, and back again to Florida. Backward and forward in time, circling the truth. The stakes are always high in a Mandel novel. Just like in life.

The Singer's Gun
In this impressive sophomore effort, Mandel tells the story of Anton, a man whose life, his marriage, job and possibly his sanity, is slowly falling apart, a man in a family of crooks who is trying to go straight.

Mandel’s prose is haunting and dreamlike, and the drama of the story is outrageous enough to make you wonder if things like this really happen, while keeping you turning the pages. (It kept me reading late into the night…) 

The story is perfectly told—the truth is sifted out bit by bit, and by the end you realize that what you thought at the beginning couldn’t be more wrong. The characters change completely before your eyes in an impressive sleight of hand. 

Last Night in Montreal
This novel is spooky good. It's the story of Lilia, a woman with a mysterious past and an unconventional childhood. After she leaves Eli, the man she met and lived with in NYC, without a word Eli becomes desperate to find her, going to shocking lengths to bring her back to him. We learn about Lilia in flashbacks that are filled with deep secrets, misremembering, and a life of journeying that she can't seem to quit. 

Mandel writes beautiful, evocative prose that is dream-like and yearning, yet perfectly succinct and satisfying. This is a wonderfully unique, unforgettable debut.