QUIRKY NEW TAKES ON OLD TALES FOR SEPTEMBER

For September, if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, a little quirky, you have an interesting choice: you could read a book narrated by an unborn child, or a book about a person who’s unwittingly made a deal with the devil. Or, of course, you could read both and really go for a wild ride.

nutshell-cover

Consider a take-off on the plot of Hamlet: a woman has an affair with her husband’s brother and plots with that brother to murder her husband.  In Hamlet, of course, the title character is the woman’s son who learns of the plot from his father’s ghost and then spends most of the play agonizing about what he should do with this knowledge.  Now suppose that instead of having a young adult faced with the knowledge of his mother’s and uncle’s ill-deeds, the witness is a soon-to-be born child in his mother’s womb.  That may sound like a gimmick and a very risky gimmick at that, and in the hands of most authors, this would be a recipe for disaster.  However, Nutshell, the book in question, is written by Ian McEwan, the author of (among other things) Atonement (winner of the National Book Critics Circle award) and Amsterdam (winner of the Booker prize), and so the odds are really good that this will not feel like a gimmick but a fascinating twist on a well-known and often-explored plot, and certainly worth a try.

dead-souls-cover

The idea of someone’s making a deal with the devil is another of those tropes that gets taken out for a spin over and over again, from the days of Faust  and The Devil and Daniel Webster through 2016 ‘s The Devil You Know.  You would think there’s not much new that can be done with the idea, but that’s because you haven’t read Dead Souls, by J. Lincoln Fenn, yet.  The clever idea here is to take a modern young woman and put her in the place of Faust or any other victim of the devil.  Fiona Quinn, our protagonist, is a modern young woman who believes her boyfriend might be cheating on her.  When she meets some guy in a bar who calls himself Scratch and claims to be the devil, she’s as skeptical as any sensible person would be. In fact, she thinks this is some kind of new line he’s trying out, even when he offers her one wish in exchange for her immortal soul.  Still thinking it’s some kind of joke, she asks for invisibility, and Scratch tells her she owes him a favor which he will collect on sometime in the future.  If she doesn’t do what he asks, she’s his for eternity. She  thinks nothing more of the whole matter, until she sobers up, gets her wish and realizes, to her horror, that she was in fact dealing with the real devil, and that at any moment she might be called on to do just about anything, with results she can’t even imagine.  Is the devil going to call in his favor?  What would it be?  Can she get out of the promise she unwittingly made?  With wit and imagination, Fenn takes us to the dark side with Fiona and Scratch, a ride you’ll enjoy taking.

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