There are few companions quite like a book, especially when on the road. (Aren’t books, really, the ultimate trip? Between their pages, an escape hatch – the mind’s getaway of the highest order.) A hotel of the literary sort, SIXTY makes sure to guide its guests towards tomes of note. This month, our contributor Jennifer Vineyard selects six must-reads, from a meta-murder mystery to Murakami’s latest masterwork. Herewith, your guide.
Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami
Declared “indecent” by Hong Kong censors, Killing Commendatore is really about loftier things – the formation of ideas, the inspiration for art, and the secrets of history. Which is not to say there aren’t more than a few erotic scenes as well. The story is narrated by an unnamed painter. When he and his wife separate, he goes to live in a borrowed house that once belonged to a famous artist named Tomohiko Amada. There, the narrator finds an undiscovered work by Amada (“Killing Commendatore”), and strange things begin happening, including the materialization of one of the figures from the painting, who pops out into real life. (Is he the physical manifestation of an idea? Part of a magical realm?) Harukists will enjoy the shifts from realism to surrealism, and the intertextuality with The Great Gatsby and Alice in Wonderland. They probably won’t mind the repetition of symbols from previous works or the many exposition dumps. And surely they’ll be grateful that the author has come up with one of his most satisfying resolutions in recent memory.
The Captives, Debra Jo Immergut
Should who we were in high school continue to define us? Frank Lundquist is a fallen psychologist, once esteemed but now reduced to counseling inmates in a women’s prison. When Miranda Greene – a girl Frank once obsessed over in high school – shows up at his office to seek counseling, as she’s now serving time on a second-degree murder charge, he sees a chance to continue pursuing his teenage dream. Ethically, he should recuse himself from treating Miranda, but he can’t. We see that Frank is as damaged as she is, and we wonder if either of them can escape the shackles of their pasts. This is a love story (at least in his mind), and also a riveting thriller.
Get in Trouble, Kelly Link
The everyday collides with the bizarre in Link’s other-worldly short story collection, a worthy Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the nine stories here, you’ll find non-traditional parents dealing with unsettling premature births, teenage girls experimenting with animatronic boy toys, astronauts creeping each other out with ghost stories, and men and women trying to connect in very strange locations. But the best of the bunch is “The Summer People,” in which a teenaged girl engaged in a family tradition of caring for magical creatures living in a North Carolina vacation home is compelled to find help after she comes down with the flu. Link isn’t telling fairy tales here – she’s also interested in issues of enslavement, escape, and the painful ethics of full disclosure. Wonderful stuff.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, Michelle McNamara
True crime blogger McNamara didn’t live to savor the publication of her only book earlier this year (she died in 2016 from complications related to a heart condition), so she missed the culmination of her years-long obsession with the Golden State Killer, a man who committed more than 50 rapes and a dozen murders in California in the 1970s and ‘80s. McNamara left behind finished chapters and drafts of chapters for this book, but it had to be completed by her lead researcher and an investigative journalist (with some assistance from the writer’s husband, comedian Patton Oswalt), who combed through the 3,500 files she left behind, as well as her notebooks and police/prosecutor reports to wrap up the project. The book is a gripping read – an In Cold Blood for the internet generation – even though McNamara was never able to identify the killer. However, less than two months after the book’s publication, Sacramento police, using a controversial DNA method, arrested a former cop, 72-year-old Joseph James DaAngelo, and charged him with the crimes.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
When Gaiman published American Gods in 2001, it was his first proper novel. It’s a wonderful attempt to understand America, the author’s conceit being that when people emigrated from the old country to this new one, they brought their gods with them, and thus created a mélange of mythologies. One of these old gods, who calls himself Mr. Wednesday (that’s “Odin” to astute readers), notices that the worship he and his fellow deities thrive on is in short supply. The “new gods” – TV, media, credit cards, technology, and the like – are getting all the followers. So a war between the old and new factions is brewing, and Mr. Wednesday enlists an assistant named Shadow to travel with him and rally up support. It’s a sprawling book, with many detours, but chances are good it’ll make you a believer.
The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz
This is a meta-murder mystery, where a gumshoe detective convinces our author to write a book about him – this book, in fact – as he solves an unusual case. (A woman goes to a funeral parlor to make arrangements for her own service, and is killed hours later). Horowitz writes a chapter, and then shares the detective’s thoughts on that chapter. Horowitz debates even writing the book, as he’s supposed to work on a screenplay for Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, but talk of this book (and a funeral he’s supposed to attend) derail his big-screen plans at their meeting. (It’s based on a real meeting the author had in Paris, and if this chapter is any indication, Spielberg does not like to be interrupted.) How much is real? How much is fake? Does it matter? Either way, it’s a great story.
Header photo courtesy of Alfred Wertheimer