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The Nightstand | July 2014

Since we’re talking about neighborhoods in this month’s issue, it would make perfectly good sense to highlight a few books set in particular vicinities. There is one eerie, prizewinning novel, We Agreed to Meet Just Here, by former Austinite Scott Blackwood, that is not only set around Deep Eddy pool, but is narrated by the neighborhood itself; it’s definitely worth checking out. Some of the most magnetic books that publishers are offering up this summer, though, are notable for how very global they are, with locales in Mexico, India, and Bangkok, to name a few. So you can actually stay in your own neighborhood, read the books featured below, and feel as if you’ve traveled far.

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The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

  • By Mira Jacob
  • 512 pp., $26.00

Because Jacob is a debut novelist, her publisher has to compare her work to a few big names so you know what you’re in for. So the word is, if you like books by Meg Wolitzer, Mona Simpson, Jhumpa Lahiri, and J. Courtney Sullivan, you’ll like The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. All those writers tend to focus on family, so the comparisons make sense; Jacob’s novel is about a surgeon and father in New Mexico who’s been talking to his dead relatives from his porch. That kooky behavior has a more tragic side to it and prompts his daughter to return home from Seattle, which causes a messy revelation of family secrets to unfurl that involve the family’s Indian heritage. Jacob is a big-hearted, darkly comic, irreverent writer.

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The Rise and Fall of Great Powers

  • By Tom Rachman
  • 400 pp., $27.00

The commercial and critical success of Rachman’s The Imperfectionists was one of 2010’s happy publishing success stories. His follow-up is a little sadder than that novel but possesses his customary warmth. Tooly Zylberberg is the American owner of a bookstore in a village in Wales who, after a lifetime of wandering, is forced into confronting reality, and the vicious ways she’s been treated in the past, by her ex-boyfriend’s revelation about the man he believes is her father. Tooly’s reckoning with her past is a dramatic, worldwide trek that compels us to think about what we risk when we let others into our lives.

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Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter

  • By Maria Venegas
  • 320 pp., $26.00

As a child in Chicago, Venegas became accustomed to her father’s return trips to Mexico to see his parents and extended family. He didn’t return the time he took a bulletproof vest and his guns with him, however. Years later, still embittered by his neglect, she hunted him down in Mexico. In Bulletproof Vest, Jose comes across as a violent, tempestuous man, yes (he first shot a man when he was twelve), but also as someone who’s not entirely to blame for the conflicted sense of masculinity swirling around him. Venegas writes sparely, as if reporting on her wild family’s activity, but with a rare empathy and insight.

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Arts & Entertainments

  • By Christopher Beha
  • 288 pp., $14.99

Some of the most exciting recently published fiction has been about celebrities, or about the fallout from knowing one: Jennifer duBois’s Cartwheel, Christine Sneed’s Little Known Facts, and Teddy Wayne’s The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, for example. Beha’s Arts & Entertainments is about a former actor that the tabloids have named “Handsome Eddie” who sells a sex tape made with an ex-girlfriend, a famous actress, while he and his wife are hoping their in-vitro fertility treatments take hold. He probably shouldn’t have sold that tape, right? Yep, but it’s deliciously more complicated than that in Beha’s ironic, poignant treatment.

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Images courtesy of Kirkus Reviews

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