Time to stash the beach reads in favor of something more hefty? Seems like it. It’s September, and publishers are pulling out the big guns, with heavyweight returns from bestsellers and award winners like Ann Patchett, Jonathan Safran Foer (with his first in 11 years!), and Ian McEwan. But they’re also betting on some startling new voices, with a stunning debut from Affinity Konar and a page-turner of a first adult tome from YA bestseller Gayle Forman.
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
Spanning five decades and two families, Patchett’s latest is a sprawling family saga, full of quirk and spirit and lightness and devastating moments, sometimes on the same page. When Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating divorce their spouses and wed, their union creates a beautiful and often destructive lifelong bond between the clans they left in their wake, to pick up the pieces and rebuild both relationships and resentments through their shared holidays and a tragedy that marks them all into adulthood.
Here I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer
Foer’s first novel in 11 years dissects notions of family, community, religion and our place in the world. Jacob and Julia Bloch’s marriage is disintegrating—and recent crises both big (an earthquake and the turmoil that follows in its wake in the Middle East) and small (their preteen son Sam is accused of harboring obscene materials in his desk at school) are wreaking havoc. With his usual sure footing, Foer tackles major themes and questions with a decidedly readable, deceptively light touch.
Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
The author of the bestselling Rules of Civility returns with this sophomore saga, which follows the entirely interior travails of one Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, banished for all his days to the hotel Metropol after the Bolsheviks spare his life but remand him to house arrest. There he makes acquaintance with the staff and the guests alike, creating an interesting, layered microcosm of 1920s Russian society and mores.
Nutshell: A Novel, by Ian McEwan
This novel is out of the mouths of babes—literally. It’s an unborn child, specifically, that narrates the latest by Nobel winner McEwan—author of Atonement and The Children Act—and the kid is worried about his future. His mother and her lover Claude are plotting to murder his father, who’s also Claude’s brother. Lust, lies, money, and murder—all that Shakespearean drama and scandal in a modern-day London make McEwan’s latest a page-turner. But it’s his humor that will keep you tuned in and clutching your belly.
Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore
Let there be light! Screenwriter and bestseller Moore, known for The Imitation Game and The Sherlockian, returns with this movie-ready (and big screen–bound) historical drama that centers on a big question: who really invented the light bulb? Paul Cravath is a lawyer for George Westinghouse, who has been sued by Thomas Edison over the patent. Holding his own against Edison and other historical figures, including inventor Nikola Tesla, the bold and ambitious Cravath navigates the heady, fast-paced and deceptive world of late 19th-century New York.
Mischling, by Affinity Konar
Interned at Auschwitz, twins Pearl and Stasha revel in their togetherness—but soon fall victim to the horrors of Mengele’s Zoo, where Nazi doctors committed unspeakable things in the name of science. After Pearl goes missing and the camp is liberated by the Red Army, Stasha and her companion Feliks, who has lost a twin of his own, travel through Poland in the hopes of finding family and justice. A spare, stunning debut that’s a must-read, but not for the faint of heart.
Leave Me: A Novel, by Gayle Forman
Forman, known for bestselling YA drama If I Stay, shines in this exploration of some very grownup angst in her adult fiction debut. Leave Me centers on the troubled Maribeth Klein, a mother and magazine editor who’s so stressed and busy she doesn’t even realize she has had a heart attack. Post-bypass, she decides the only real way to recover is to abandon her twins and her job for Pittsburgh, where she hopes to find out more about the birth mother who gave her up for adoption more than four decades ago. A nuanced take on the idea of wanting to “have it all”—and knowing when to give it all up.
Orphan Mother: A Novel, by Robert Hicks
Hicks returs with this companion novel to his bestseller The Widow of the South. Here, Mariah Reddick, former slave to Widow’s Carrie McGavock, is living a quiet life in the wake of the Civil War as a midwife in Franklin, Tennessee. Then her son, Theopolis, a cobbler with political aspirations, is killed at a rally, and she must unravel the mystery of who wanted him dead—and why—when her path crosses that of sharpshooter George, who has his own reasons for wanting to unravel what happened that night.
Mercury, by Margot Livesey
Livesey’s follow-up to The Flight of Gemma Hardy centers on an optometrist who thinks he’s all-seeing and insightful, but is blind to sudden, cataclysmic shifts in the life of his wife, and the repercussions they’ll have on the life he has built and loves. His wife, equestrienne Viv, becomes obsessed with a new horse, Mercury, at the stables where she works, risking ruin in all realms to chase her riding ambitions through the stallion. Secrets, lies, and the emotional stagnation they breed are explored quietly and deftly here.