The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming Of Age By Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco, 353 pages, $27.99)
One need not be a litterateur to relish Joyce Carol Oates’ marvelous new memoir, “The Lost Landscape.” This is a book for the masses – and, in particular, Western New Yorkers, for that lost landscape is the Niagara Frontier, the site of Oates’ youth and the inspiration for the book’s subtitle, “A Writer’s Coming of Age.” A true daughter of genius loci, Oates brings us not only the spirit of the place we know so well – but multiple memories of Western New York in the 1940s and ’50s (when she lived with her parents on a small farm in Millersport). She may belong to the world today, as one of the greatest living writers of the English language, but, as she acknowledges here, her work has always drawn heavily on her primal perceptions, with her new memoir focusing “upon the ‘landscape’ of our earliest, and most essential lives, but … also upon an actual rural landscape, in western New York State north of Buffalo, out of which not only much of the material of my writing life have sprung but also the very wish to write.”
– Karen Brady
The Lost Girls: The True Story of the Cleveland Abductions By John Glatt (St. Martin’s Press, 352 pages, $26.99)
It was difficult to read, difficult to comprehend how a human being could keep three women imprisoned in his Cleveland house for more than 10 years. They were treated horrendously but somehow survived. “Lost” details what they went through while the world outside searched for them. I think “Lost” also was my favorite because it introduced readers to Michelle McKnight, the captive nobody even knew was missing. She was treated the harshest but proved the most courageous of the three and was the only one who faced her captor at his sentencing to tell him she would survive the hell he put her through.
– Lee Coppola
Target Tokyo By James M. Scott (Norton, 648 pages, $35)
In the genre of nonfiction, history, this gets my vote as a brilliant tale of adventure and bravery, the story of the bombing of Tokyo which brought the reality of war to millions of Japanese civilians for the first time. Former newspaper reporter Scott recounts the thrilling suicide mission of Capt. Jimmy Doolittle and his tight group of ace fliers on the invincible Japanese mainland just months after Pearl Harbor. A close second is Greg Steinmetz’s delightful and witty biography of a German renaissance banker and industrialist named Jacob Fugger. (“The Richest Man Who Ever Lived,” Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $27.95)
– Edward Cuddihy
Nora Webster By Colm Toibin (Scribner, 384 pages, $27)
I reviewed “Nora Webster” in January. It’s a novel about loss. In it, we observe what a young Irish widow, Nora Webster, does and doesn’t do when she is blindsided by the death of her husband, Maurice. Nora’s daily routine, living in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, in the 1960s, is perfunctory but somehow, piercingly so in its ordinariness.Enniscorthy, is Tóibín’s hometown. There is a frugality to his writing that reminds me of William Trevor, the masterly older Irish writer. Both are close observers of nothing much going on, told with nuance and deep understanding of the turbulences that course just below the surface of what passes for life. Through it all, “Nora Webster” is a story of a woman acting out her freedom with a brilliant, solo verve – in a world where others might have swerved – to reject rather than to accommodate glacial Irish attitudes about women still frozen at mid-century.
– Michael Langan
A Spool of Blue Thread By Anne Tyler (Knopf, 368 pages, $25.95).
It’s hard to say that I “like” or “love” books that knock me flat on my rear end, but this was my favorite book of 2015. I wrote about it in March and I’m still thinking about it. I encourage others to read it so we can all discuss it. “A Spool of Blue Thread” is rich and emotional and readable, but just when you’ve relaxed into it, Tyler drops you through a trap door into a whistling abyss. Tyler is sharp-eyed and unique, with a brutally powerful voice, and everyone reads her a little differently; no novel of hers has ever united the critics. She’s important and masterful, and “A Spool of Blue Thread” may be her definitive work.
– Emily Simon