Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck
In her new literary thriller, A Stranger Like You (The Viking Press/Penguin Group), Elizabeth Brundage (whose two previous novels were set in Albany, N.Y., and Stockbridge, Mass.) gives us a gritty, authentic Los Angeles as the backdrop to her taut, suspenseful story. Hedda Chase is a powerful Hollywood film producer, who, intent on eschewing gratuitous violence in her movies, cancels production of a screenplay filled with the kind of brutality she finds objectionable. When the writer of the cancelled script, Hugh Waters, an insurance company employee from New Jersey, learns that Hedda Chase killed his dream, he flies to L.A. and accosts her, drugging and locking her in the trunk of her BMW—the same fate as the character in his screenplay. This well-crafted novel offers clever plotting; complex and troubling characters; and a provocative look at the depiction of violence in film and in fiction.
In her latest book, novelist and part-time Northampton, Mass., resident Elinor Lipman concocts a contemporary comedy of manners. The Family Man (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) revolves around Henry Archer, a gay New York City lawyer who has taken early retirement and is feeling a little lonely—until an unexpected phone call from his appalling ex-wife (a brief mistake long ago) brings his long-lost stepdaughter, Thalia, back into his life. Helping Thalia manage her complicated relationships, Henry soon realizes that his own love life is far from over. All of Lipman’s considerable skills are at work in this book: witty dialogue, engaging characters, and humorous situations. Lipman often places her characters in awkward social situations, but with charm, heart, and a measure of sly wit, she shepherds them along to a satisfying conclusion.
Dani Shapiro’s beautifully written second memoir, Devotion (HarperCollins Publishers), mines her very personal search not so much for the big answers as for the right questions. Shapiro, who lives in Litchfield County, Conn., grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home, but abandoned those rituals in college. In her forties, married and with a young son, her need to discover her true beliefs becomes compelling. She visits synagogues and affixes a mezuzah on her front door; spends weekends at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass.; goes on a silent meditation retreat. There is no single epiphany, just a series of quiet realizations that, for her, aspects of Judaism, yoga, Buddhism, and meditation all have a place in her life. Shapiro’s tale of her transformative journey is moving, intimate, humorous, and honest.