“California” by Edan Lepucki, “Agostino” by Alberto Moravia and more
By Edan Lepucki
393 pages. Little, Brown and company. $ 26.
Post-apocalyptic novels remain stubbornly in fashion, and Edan Lepucki’s “California” hits all the familiar notes. Cal and Frida are a couple living in the wilderness after fleeing a ruined Los Angeles. We are vaguely told of severe weather, the period “before the earthquakes” and “before the Internet became a privilege for a very few”. The likely culprits of the collapse of society are global warming, economic disparities – perhaps hydraulic fracturing. It’s left to our imagination. Cal and Frida eventually find Micah, the radicalized brother of Frida, who tyrannically runs a walled town that has banned children. One character, searching for another’s crucial story, pleads, “Hurry up and tell me now.” The answer: “You can’t make me rush a story like that.” Rushing history is the opposite of Ms. Lepucki’s problem. A tattered world should raise the stakes, but as it slowly distributes details about a small group of desperate family and friends, “California” is more like a storm in a teapot.
HIGH LIKE HORSE BRIDGES
By Scott Cheshire
304 pages. Henry Holt and company. $ 26.
This novel, Scott Cheshire’s first, begins in Queens in 1980, when Josiah Laudermilk, a 12-year-old with a devout religious father, is moved to address a congregation and foretells the end of the world and the return of Jesus at the turn of the millennium. It ends with a jarring but deeply imagined scene about a tent revival in Kentucky in 1801. Between those mighty bookends is a more conventional story about Josiah, who had lost his faith and moved to California, but returns. in Queens in 2005 to care for her ailing father. “I shied away from his insistence that I was special,” Josiah says, “from his compelling, overwhelming urge to believe. In scenes like a conversation between a skeptical Josiah and two young Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mr. Cheshire skillfully writes about the burdens and benefits offered by faith and other inheritances.
MOTOR CITY FIRE
By Bill Morris
321 pages. Pegasus Books. $ 24.95.
Bill Morris’s new detective story is set in the spring of 1968, just after the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and nearly a year after a riot swept through Detroit. Willie Bledsoe is a former civil rights activist, disillusioned with the cause (“He abandoned King years ago”) and struggling to write memoirs about his time on the front lines. He is also rightly concerned about his vague role in a murder during the turmoil of the previous summer. The other main character in the book, a cop named Frank Doyle, gets closer to the answers. The Tigers’ pursuit of a World Series title and Motown songs set the mood. Some of the character’s epiphanies on race and justice are too easy, but switching between the perspectives of Bledsoe and Doyle allows for a breakneck pace, and Mr. Morris clearly enjoys the nooks and crannies of his hometown like George Pelecanos loves Washington.
By Mark Chiusano
197 pages. Penguin Books. $ 15.
The stories in Mark Chiusano’s first collection all have connections to Marine Park, a part of southern Brooklyn far removed from the gentrification hordes. A few characters reappear throughout these tales: shoveling snow, learning to drive and teenage love. Stories these days go back to the middle of the last century, when locals “spoke of the Dodgers, always the Dodgers, like they were going through Heaven through them.” Many firmly rooted in the quiet routines of the community feel competent but lean. Those who take it further, whether thematically or geographically – including one about a retiree who has trouble doing a dodgy run and another in Los Alamos, NM, during the Manhattan Project – showcase the most talented talents. most formidable of Mr. Chiusano. It will be worth watching what he does when he leaves the neighborhood.