The Best New Fiction of October 2017

If you’re in the mood for spooky witches this fall, Alice Hoffman’s Rules of Magic—a prequel to Practical Magic—delivers chills, thrills, and sibling strife. October also brings mystical retellings of the Nutcracker and Cinderella; two historicals set in North Carolina; and Jennifer Egan’s first novel since A Visit From the Goon Squad won the PulitzerRounding out the list are two short story collections. The first is by Jeffrey (Middlesex) Eugenides, and the second introduces us to a little-known, up-and-comer by the name of Tom Hanks.

Uncommon Type: Some Stories, by Tom Hanks
Whichever role you most associate with Hanks—boy who wishes himself Big; perpetually annoyed women’s softball coach; partner to Hooch—cast it aside and prepare for a new one: short story author. With 17 tales to choose from, one of which concerns showbiz life, and all of which involve typewriters (the actor’s a fan), this collection of character-driven and nostalgic stories will charm Hank’s acting fans and avid readers alike. Whet your appetite with Hanks’ 2014 piece from the New Yorker.

Fairytale, by Danielle Steel
If fairytale updates and mash-ups are your jam, add this to your stack, ASAP: a modern retelling of Cinderella, set in a Napa Valley winery called Chateau Joy. Tragic Parental Deaths? Check. Evil, mesmerizing stepparent (in this case a Parisian countess)? Check. Handsome prince and fairy godmother? Absolutely. Add a Harvest Ball, plenty of Steel’s trademark romance, and a dash of magic and you’ll never want to leave Chateau Joy behind. Within the story’s Cinderella roots, Steel brings her own unexpected twists to a classic story. 

Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker, by Gregory Maguire
The author of the bestselling book and Broadway smash Wicked invites you to take a fresh look at the Nutcracker in this “double origin” story of the famous wooden toy and its creator, Drosselmeier. Who is Klara’s mysterious godfather, born a German peasant and seemingly fated to provide her with the sensational trinket? And what dark enchantment did he experience in his youth? Combining myths and historical legends, and written in the style of a Brothers Grimm tale, Hiddensee promises to delight and intrigue.

Winter Solstice, by Elin Hilderbrand
The fourth in her heart-and-hearth-warming “Winter” series, which are always set in Nantucket at Christmas, Solstice treats us to a reunion with the eggnog-guzzling Quinn family (patriarch Kelley, who owns the Winter Street Inn, and his four grown children). Each of them need help with romantic, business, or military entanglements. This year, heavy issues rise to the surface, from PTSD to hospice care and late-in-life regret. But with patience, love, and the bonds of family, the Quinns will pull each other through the tough times in this touching story.

Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
After winning the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Good Squad (2010), Egan’s highly anticipated follow-up appears to be less experimental than her previous works, but just as moving. Set in New York City during the Depression and World War II, Manhattan Beach follows the struggles of Anna Kerrigan, first as an adolescent accompanying her father on a desperate job-seeking mission, and later at 19, after her father has disappeared and Anna is charged with supporting her sister and mother by working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as its sole female diver. A chance encounter with her father’s mobster boss begins to shed light on the truth about Anna’s dad. You may want to have tissues on hand for this detail-rich, feminist historical, which has already been long-listed for the National Book Award.

Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman
In this illuminating, entertaining prequel to Hoffman’s bestselling Practical Magic (also a 1998 film starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock), readers will learn what it was like for witchy sisters Franny and Bridget (Jet) Owens to grow up in 1950s/1960s New York City with a frustratingly strict mother (understandable, given the family curse: any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will meet a gruesome end). In Rules, we meet a charming younger brother, Vincent, who also grows up ignoring Mom’s warnings, with far-reaching consequences. Will any of the rules-averse siblings figure out a way to outwit their fates? If you loved the adolescent longings and heartaches of Hoffman’s poignant, private school-set River King, you’ll especially appreciate this coming-of-age tale.

Fresh Complaint: Stories, by Jeffrey Eugenides
The first short story collection from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex, Fresh Complaint depicts several relationships prior to implosion, including that of a young Indian-American woman who plans to ditch her arranged marriage; a poet-turned-criminal; and a friendship affected by dementia. Fans of The Marriage Plot will enjoy spending time with lovelorn Mitchell Grammaticus as he travels to Thailand in the story “Air Mail,” and there’s also a check-in with Dr. Luce of Middlesex fame, who throws himself into the study of intersex conditions after losing a patient to suicide. Written between the years of 1980-2017, this collection showcases Eugenides’ incredible ability to empathize with and write about people from atypical backgrounds.

The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash
Juggling a 70-hour, night-shift work week at a textile mill (for which she’s paid crushingly low wages), marital abandonment, and four children who need feeding, Ella May Wiggins finds herself in the middle of a union dispute in 1929 North Carolina. The idea of a living wage, equal pay for equal work, and a 5-day work week sounds like a fantasy to her and her friends. Rather than give a speech, Ella May composes a song during a rally, a way to give voice to herself and the other workers. She and her cohorts are branded communists, but their devotion to creating a world worth living in for their children is especially prescient today, and the fact that it’s based on a true story is inspiring.

The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain
Bestseller Chamberlain’s latest concerns an aspiring nurse trapped in a marriage-of-convenience in a small North Carolina town where she is disliked and mistrusted. It’s 1943, and Tess’s life just took a hard left: Impregnated by a man not her fiancée, she casts off her dream of a medical career alongside her true love and moves away with Henry, the baby’s father, who is uninterested in Tess’s potential. It soon becomes clear Henry is hiding things from Tess. With the polio epidemic in full swing, Tess gets a chance to use her nursing skills at last, but the home front remains as unsettling and mysterious as ever in this suspense-filled, World War II-era tale.

Paris in the Present Tense, by Mark Helprin
74-year-old Jules Lacour, a teacher at the Sorbonne reeling from his wife’s death and inaccurately believing himself a failure, thinks it’s about time he left behind the earthly plane as well. But his leukemia-ridden baby grandson needs him to find the money for treatment, and he hasn’t yet made peace with the tragic, seminal events in his life, including the deaths of his family members in the Holocaust. Perhaps there is yet time to play the cello, fall in love again, and save the day, if he’s willing to take a few risks. Paris looks to be invigorating and haunting read.

What new fiction are you excited to read this month?

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