Gully Fisher’s twin sons will soon be 45, and are the push and pull of their clan. Michael is almost too good; immune to consternation, he is the family rock, while Fish is the family maverick, acting out what the others cannot bring themselves to do. Michael’s wife, Ursula, spends her days rearranging the lives of failed families, and craves a deeper intimacy with her taciturn husband and her two children. Katie, still seduced by Fish’s tales of Vietnam and jail, has a new job and a boyfriend, and thinks of breaking away. The elder Fishers, celebrating 50 years of marriage, teeter on the line between suppressed anger and fierce loyalty. When Katie and Fish’s 9-year-old daughter, Rebecca, appears from Texas (where she is being raised by Katie’s mother), she lurches across this landscape and the entire family is beset by a summer of little squalls. By the fall, a few secrets are out, and they’re all better for it. This is a novel full of the telling: poignant details that illustrate the fabric of domestic life, allowing the reader a shock of recognition. It is often funny, sometimes sad, always wise. All the Fishers are emotionally complex characters who reveal fresh insights into human nature and relationships. At a time when groups are springing up all over the country in order to provide instant intimacy and support for people lost in their selfhood and history, this is a novel demonstrating that love can be messy, silly, painful, and utterly idiosyncratic—that marriage and family can be uniquely defined. The Fishers are such a family, loving because they are bound, because they have the habit, and because the larger world can’t understand them. They love more than they know how to say, and they love beyond deserving.
Frog is a complex and paradoxical character: petulant, compulsive, overbearing, hostile, and self-righteous, but also imaginative, loving, kind, and strong. No matter how exasperating he gets, it’s still hard not to care about him. His story is a nonsequential patchwork of flashbacks, real and imagined stories, and retellings from various perspectives.
As the world slips into the throes of war in 1939, young Maciek’s once closetted existence outside Warsaw is no more. When Warsaw falls, Maciek escapes with his aunt Tania. Together they endure the war, running, hiding, changing their names, forging documents to secure their temporary lives—as the insistent drum of the Nazi march moves ever closer to them and to their secret wartime lies.
The narrator of this splendidly expansive novel of high intellect and grand passion is an American anthropologist at loose ends in the South African republic of Botswana. She has a noble and exacting mind, a good waist, and a busted thesis project. She also has a yen for Nelson Denoon, a charismatic intellectual who is rumored to have founded a secretive and unorthodox utopian society in a remote corner of the Kalahari—one in which he is virtually the only man. What ensues is both a quest and an exuberant comedy of manners, a book that explores the deepest canyons of eros even as it asks large questions about the good society, the geopolitics of poverty, and the baffling mystery of what men and women really want.