In her uproarious collection of stories, American Housewife (Anchor, $15, 208 pages, ISBN 9781101970997), Helen Ellis skewers traditional notions of domestic bliss--and has loads of fun along the way. The leading lady in "Dead Doormen" is at first glance an expert housekeeper and loving partner, but the life she shares with her husband in their Manhattan penthouse turns out to be decidedly disturbing. When the two female neighbors in "The Wainscoting War"--a story that's presented as a series of increasingly heated (and hilarious) emails--fail to agree on how to decorate the shared hallway in their apartment building, they go head to head in a territorial showdown. In the all too timely "Dumpster Diving with the Stars," a writer, an ex-Playboy playmate and a pair of Scientology actors come together on a reality TV show. Fiction fans will recognize the book's cast of characters--the jealous wife, the uppity neighbor--but thanks to Ellis' gift for black humor, the females in this smart, provocative collection transcend type.
STRANGER IN TOWN
The Little Red Chairs (Back Bay, $15.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9780316378246) by Edna O'Brien is an electrifying novel about a quiet Irish town that's infiltrated by evil. Dr. Vladimir Dragan, a good-looking, sophisticated writer and healer, wakes up the sleepy village of Cloonoila when he arrives in the middle of winter. Local beauty Fidelma McBride is drawn to him, betraying her marriage as a result. But the town's favorable perception of the doctor is destroyed when he's arrested and his true identity as a Bosnian war criminal is brought to light. The doctor's dark past horrifies everyone in the village, especially Fidelma, who suffers violence at the hands of his associates. Fidelma eventually moves beyond this bleak chapter in her life, escaping to London to work in a homeless shelter. O'Brien's tense, politically charged novel--her first in a decade--was inspired by the real-life case of Radovan Karadzic, the Serb leader who was tracked down and convicted of war crimes after many years in hiding. O'Brien's portrayal of a quiet village forever altered by a mysterious newcomer haunts the reader long after the last page is turned.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Life of Pi author Yann Martel returns with The High Mountains of Portugal (Spiegel & Grau, $16, 368 pages, ISBN 9780812987034), a suspenseful work composed of three interconnected stories. Tomas, a young man in Lisbon in the early 1900s, finds a journal referencing a remarkable object that has the potential to transform the world. Determined to find it, he sets out on an adventure that has far-reaching effects. The narrative moves forward to the 1930s and the story of Eusebio, a Portuguese physician who becomes enmeshed in a mystery connected to Tomas' search. Five decades later, the novel reaches its finale, as Peter, a politician mourning his dead wife, arrives at his native village in Portugal, where the threads of the story come together. From the three plots, Martel creates an unforgettable portrait of Portugal across varying eras. Mixing history and suspense into a tale defined by human longing, he delivers a work that's richly rewarding.