Granted, a plot synopsis of The Swimming Pool (Doubleday, $25.95) sounds like the worst melodrama ever written. Beautiful Marcella is reeling from the tragic death of her lover, Cecil McClatchey—whom she met while he was summering at Cape Cod—shortly after his wife, Betsy, is murdered in the McClatcheys’ Atlanta home. Cecil’s daughter, Callie, is losing her tenuous grasp on sanity as she cares for her two young children with the help of a nanny, who happens to be Marcella’s daughter. And Callie’s brother, Jed, begins a secret love affair with Marcella—who was his father’s lover, in case you’ve lost track. Through the miracle of good writing, though, all that angst coalesces into a fearless debut novel full of fresh insights and casually elegant writing: “For a moment Marcella felt nothing—the blankness between fear and joy.” The story is about deep, sometimes painful love. LeCraw, who lives near Boston, was born and raised in Atlanta, where her father founded the late, great Oxford Books. After spending her childhood among the shelves of wonderful books, she has created one of her own.
Also this month
Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
(NewSouth Books, $24.95)
Rheta Grimsley Johnson, a longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who now lives in Mississippi, pours her heart and sardonic soul into this lovely memoir. After decades of transforming ordinary lives around her into literary art, she finally turns her amazing observational skills inward. In one chapter, she writes of the nearly unbearable shame of dressing her classic doll in homemade clothes. “My Barbie looked as if she had just returned from a Girls’ Auxiliary meeting at the Baptist Church where the Lottie Moon Christmas offering had been discussed,” she writes. “The store-bought-dressed Barbie looked as if she’d had an enchanted evening all right, possibly at Ken’s frat house where the boys were brewing Purple Passion punch.”
Fireworks over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff
(Thomas Dunne Books, $22.99)
Veteran TV screenwriter-producer Jeffrey Stepakoff (Dawson’s Creek, The Wonder Years) offers up his first novel, a soft-spoken charmer set in the North Georgia town of Toccoa over five steamy days in 1945. Lily Davis Woodward, rebellious daughter of old-money Atlantans, is awaiting the return of her serviceman husband, whom she married at her parents’ urging only weeks before he was shipped overseas. Before the homecoming, trouble arrives in the form of Jake Russo, a sexy young son of immigrants who is hired to put on the town’s July Fourth fireworks display. Stepakoff, who teaches at Kennesaw State University, gives the tired old theme of forbidden love an unexpected jolt of life with engrossing descriptions of the pyrotechnical arts, lovely depictions of the Toccoa countryside, and well-timed plot surprises.
A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White
Atlanta author Susan
Rebecca White follows up her terrific debut novel, Bound South, with a complicated, quietly intelligent story of two teenage sisters who are forced into separate lives after the deaths of their parents.
The Sandbox by David Zimmerman
(Soho Press, $25)
This debut novel by Atlanta native David Zimmerman, set on a military fortress in the Iraqi desert, is an unflinching, relentlessly gory tale of soldiers who get caught up in a scary conspiracy.
To Win and Die in Dixie by Steve Eubanks
ESPN Books, $26)
Sportswriter Steve Eubanks reopens the murder case of J. Douglas Edgar, a British-born golf pro found dying in front of his West Peachtree Street home almost ninety years ago. This is a fascinating slice of 1920s Atlanta.