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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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Great House

by Nicole Krauss |



Unfolding like an ethereal mystery, Krauss’ third novel features four narrators whose lives are intricately connected, across continents and decades, by one 19-drawer wooden desk. A Manhattan writer in 1999-loaned the desk by a Chilean poet who disappeared under Pinochet’s brutal regime-regards it as “the single meaningful object” she possesses. A retired academic in 1949 London feels “inexplicable jealousy” when his future wife, a Holocaust survivor, works at the “grotesque, threatening monster.” And a Jerusalem antique dealer, whose father’s Budapest study was plundered by the Nazis, combs the world for the desk, trying to re-create the refuge of his youth. As Krauss spins her web, the desk emerges as a repository of memories-of lost worlds, broken families and long-held secrets. Some plot strands strain credulity, and the pacing is meditative. But for readers who love beautiful language and complex characters, Great House will be hard to put down.

The feted author of The History of Love explores the burdens of inheritance.


by Antonya Nelson |



From its captivating first chapter-told partly from the perspective of a dog who’s just survived her owner’s fatal car crash-this deft tale of messy, modern family life crackles with truth and originality. In Wichita, Kans., childless Catherine Desplaines is at a turning point in her marriage to the much older Oliver, who after two previous “incorrect” wives is now cheating again. Out of the blue, Catherine learns she has been named guardian of an orphaned teenage girl, the daughter of a long-lost friend. The girl’s arrival sends Catherine careening through memories of her own turbulent youth-and prompts her to reevaluate her life choices. Nelson (Nothing Right) has a gift for sharply etched characters and dazzling lyrical prose that more than makes up for a minimal plot.

By Nightfall

by Michael Cunningham



When the unexciting lives of Manhattanites Peter and Rebecca Harris are upset by a visit from Rebecca’s aimless brother, gallery owner Peter begins to question his motivations-artistic, romantic and otherwise. Cunningham (The Hours) tosses out cultural references like candy, and the story meanders. But his vigorous explorations of art and its meaning-along with a thick veil of eroticism-keep the pages turning.

You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know

by Heather Sellers |



Never forget a face? What if you couldn’t remember any? Sellers suffers from face blindness, a rare neurological disorder that keeps her from recognizing her own husband and heightens her fear that she’s inherited mental illness. Raised by a schizophrenic mother and a father who wore dresses and drank, Sellers had a surreal upbringing. She finally finds insights into her condition at Harvard. There’s no cure, but she learns to appreciate the upside: Being blind to faces makes it easier to see herself and those she loves as they really are.