Five new books people are talking about, from the editors of the National Book Review.
1."The Bridge Ladies: A Memoir" by Betsy Lerner (Harper Wave: 320 pp., $25.99) Bridge, the card game, proves to be an apt metaphor for connection in this memoir about five Jewish ladies who have been playing weekly for more than five decades — and a mother and daughter with an often-vexed relationship. Admirers of Lerner's earlier books — the memoir "Food and Loathing" and "The Forest for the Trees," her book on writing — will recognize her beguiling voice in this remarkable, and remarkably honest, new work. Its resonance resides in Lerner's uncanny powers of perception, her heart and humor, and her sharp eye for both struggle and joy.
2. "Imagine Me Gone" by Adam Haslett (Little, Brown and Co.: 368 pp., $26) In this moving novel, Haslett explores how the profound depression of one person reverberates through an entire family. This beautiful, tragic, engrossing depiction of a web of emotional fault lines should win Haslett, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his early story collection "You Are Not a Stranger Here" and an ever wider readership for his Lambda Literary Award-winning novel "Union Atlantic," an even wider readership.
3. "The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria" by Janine di Giovanni (Liveright: 224 pp., $25.95) Syria was already on the brink of disaster when di Giovanni went there four years ago to see it before it "tumbled down the rabbit-hole of war." An experienced foreign correspondent, she had seen other wars, in Bosnia and Sierra Leone, before taking on this new array of horrors. In "The Morning They Came for Us," Di Giovanni vividly depicts the lives of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events: life and death during a time of bitter armed conflict.
4. "Eleven Hours" by Pamela Erens (Tin House Books: 176 pp., $15.95 paper) The idea of reliving the pain of childbirth might not sound particularly appealing, but Erens is such a gifted writer that in this slender novel she is able to magically transform the experiences of two women — one a mother in labor, the other a nurse — into urgent, suspenseful drama. From the first sentence — "No, the girl says, she will not wear the fetal monitoring belt" — Erens seizes control of her intense, provocative and deeply rewarding high-wire act of a book.
5. "Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s" by Meg Jacobs (Hill and Wang: 384 pp., $35) The scandal of Watergate, the massacre at the Munich Olympics, and the popularity of Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 are all enduring staples of the 1970s, but Princeton historian Jacobs makes a strong case that long gas station lines were no less central a part of the decade — and one of its deepest political currents. Jacobs argues convincingly that Washington's inability to develop an energy policy after this wrenching national experience was an object lesson in the failure of governmental regulation and power — one whose import endures strongly today.
The National Book Review is an independent online book review founded by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor.