I Am Pilgrim
Mallory: Screenwriter Terry Hayes’s debut novel will doubtlessly make a fantastic film. His credits include Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, From Hell, and Payback, among others, and the movie rights to I Am Pilgrim were purchased by MGM just one month after the book’s publication. (We can only hope that Hayes gets his wish for Brad Pitt to get the role as Pilgrim.) A pedal-to-the-metal cat-and-mouse chase around the world, it’s one of the most cinematic books I’ve ever read. From a stomach-turning crime scene in a filthy hotel room in the worst corner of Manhattan to an Afghan warlord’s den to the Oval Office to the North Tower of the World Trade Center as it’s collapsing on 9/11 to Paris to Turkey to Berlin to Damascus to Moscow, this book covers a lot of territory. It’s not for the faint of heart: The thrill ride is punctuated by a few deaths too grisly to recount here (not surprising, given Hayes’s previous credits). That said, if you’re looking for a blockbuster thriller this weekend, I Am Pilgrim will have you reading for hours on end, perhaps with a bucket of popcorn in hand.
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932
Alex: I took it as a great omen that the epigraph of Francine Prose’s most recent novel is taken from one of my favorite essays about literature, in which Nabokov so perfectly captures literature’s relationship to the world: “Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between.”
What seems, at first blush, to be a straightforwardly plot-driven novel – even set in an all-too seductive demimonde Paris between the wars – does indeed romp within Nabokov’s shimmering go-between. The novel’s title is a reference to a photograph within the story, in which the work’s main subject – a lesbian whose many failed careers include race car driver and cabaret chanteuse, and who ultimately becomes a spy for the occupying Germans – is seen, cross-dressing, while snuggled against a petite woman. This photograph and these characters are thinly veiled fictionalizations of well-known personalities from this period: the photographer, clearly modeled after Brassi (who took a strikingly similar photo, “Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle”); a hedonistic American author, whom Prose has described as based off of Henry Miller; the protagonist Lou Villars, who’s modeled after that same woman in Brassi’s photograph, Violette Morris. But there are diegetic explorations of perception and truth, as well: Narrators flit in and out of the tale, each with a different story to tell; journalists openly admit to stretching the truth. Yet through it all, the novel remains compulsively, seductively readable. A chameleon, indeed.
A Book of Uncommon Prayer
Justin: Based on the Anglican Books of Common Prayer, here is a series of occasional invocations from dozens of our most gifted writers. It should be said right away that these are not (necessarily) religious prayers: They are frequently and wonderfully profane intercessions for the hungover, for the gluten intolerant, for those who can’t find their phones, for women buying Groupons for Brazilian waxes. That said, there’s more to these prayers than just wit (though there is certainly wit to spare). Sincerity and snark coexist and play off each other, often in the same poem, or even the same line.
The list of writers gathered here is simply remarkable: Rick Moody, Courtney Maum, Leslie Jamison, and J. Robert Lennon share space with dozens of emerging talents. One of my favorites parts of the book is that (as in the Anglican original), the names of authors don’t appear next to the prayers, creating a sense of anonymity that’s anything but.
The White Mountains
Ashley: After more than a year’s worth of prodding from my boyfriend, I’ve finally checked out the Tripods series, John Christopher’s classic sci-fi series about a bunch of mysterious alien robots who take over the world and the group of free humans who fight back. One of the ways the Tripods maintain control is by forcing all human teenagers to undergo a classically sci-fi process in which a metal band is permanently attached to their head so the Tripods can mind-control them and suppress all their creative impulses.
Our heroes are three boys on the brink of being “capped” who aren’t going to take the Tripods’ crap; they run away to the mountains, where they’ve heard there are still free people. It’s vintage children’s adventure fare, though in some ways, The White Mountains anticipates a lot of our contemporary dystopias, which trade in our anxieties about technology ruining human society. That said, Christopher takes a more nuanced view of technology than a lot of contemporary series. There’s a sense of innocence and wonder when Will, our teenaged protagonist, marvels fondly at the ingenuity of his father’s antique watch that’s made all the more poignant in the age of smart watches.
In the Dark
Joey: Comic Con International is in full swing, and tonight, the Eisners will honor the year’s best comics and graphic novels. Up for Best Anthology, In The Dark: A Horror Anthology collects 24 chilling tales from some of today’s top talents in creeping terror and macabre mystery. The stories run the gamut from taut suspense to gory violence: A scientist develops a psychotropic drug that breaks the barriers between worlds. A psychic-for-hire channels the dead in more ways than one. A man becomes addicted to the taste of cruelty in his food, until the food begins to fight back. A ghost of a lover gone mad decides to take a new beau to the grave with her. These stories are wildly creative and engrossing, offering many new takes on a genre deeply tied to the history of comics.