Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Brinkley-Rogers looks back at a love affair half a century and half a world away in this touching memoir. As an English-born 19-year-old US Navy recruit in the Far East, he had a fleeting romance with a Japanese woman trying to escape her yakuza gangster boyfriend. Through the medium of rediscovered letters between them, twice-married Brinkley-Rogers examines their passionate affair and questions whether in fact this educated and erudite older woman was the love of his life. He looks at their post-war, Cold War, summer of love in the late 1950s and turns it into a gently warming coming-of-age story.
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. Fourth Estate, £12.99 (ebook £8.49). Review by Kate Whiting
Veblen Amundsen-Hovda is the quirky protagonist in Elizabeth McKenzie’s utterly charming new novel. We meet her in California’s Palo Alto, at the moment of her engagement to neuroscientist Paul Vreeland, spied on by a squirrel. As the tale unfolds, we’re introduced to the supporting cast of their lives – neurotic mother and mentally ill father (Veblen), hippy parents and brain-damaged brother (Paul) and taken back to their childhoods, to find out how they became the eccentric 30-somethings they are. McKenzie gently teases out what makes this pair tick, making them some of the most acutely drawn characters I’ve ever read. A true joy of a book.
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce. Corsair, £14.99 (ebook £7.99). Review by Abi Jackson
Can you wholeheartedly enjoy something, but find it deeply uncomfortable at the same time? Love Me Back, the debut novel by Texas-born Merritt Tierce, is proof that, yes, you can. Barely out of her own childhood, Marie is already divorced and mother to a little girl she only gets to see on alternate weekends, working – a little too hard – as a waitress to earn a living. But away from the polished silverware, life is a mess of booze, drugs, self-harm and sex. As Marie crashes through life, Tierce’s pacey prose pulls you right along with her. It’s an odd contradiction, as a reader, to wish a story was different – for Marie’s life to be different – while at the same time lapping up its brilliance.
Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt Corsair, £16.99. Review by Natalie Bowen
In the 1970s, an orphaned boy and girl called Nat and Ruth develop an unusual bond to survive the agonies of being raised by a religious cult – and the pair harness Nat’s apparent ability to channel the dead as a means of escape. Decades later, Ruth appears at her pregnant niece Cora’s house, mysteriously mute, and the pair set off on a bizarre pilgrimage across New York State. US author Samantha Hunt deftly twists these two stories around each other and there are plenty of potential spine tingles to this modern gothic tale. Sadly, Hunt’s slow-burning style scuppers her attempts at Wilkie Collins-esque thrills and the modern sections drag.