As the editor of the Chattahoochee Review, a respected literary journal based at Georgia Perimeter College, Marc Fitten has earned a reputation for taking risks. That instinct is on grand display in Fitten’s brilliant debut novel, a fable for adults called Valeria’s Last Stand (Bloomsbury USA, $24). In the Hungarian prairie village of Zivatar, sixty-eight-year-old Valeria is the town crank, an equal-opportunity hater who loathes everything old, new, familiar, foreign, whatever. Even going to the village market is an act of aggression for Valeria, who clutches her basket ahead of her “like a battering ram.” “Valeria wasn’t interested in foreign fruits and vegetables, mostly because she could not grow them, but also because of their blatant sensuality,” Fitten writes. “Tropical fruits were swollen with flesh and juice. They were sticky. They were uninhibited. The first time she held a banana, Valeria was offended.” This never-married woman finds herself inexplicably, suddenly drawn to the aging village potter, who is already entangled with the strong-willed Ibolya, the owner of the sole tavern in town. That unlikely triangle, along with the arrival of a smooth-talking chimney sweep, upsets the delicate balance of village life beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Every character is perfectly drawn, creating a smart, funny, unabashedly affectionate portrait of village life in the heady early days of capitalism in Hungary. Author Fitten was born in Brooklyn to Panamanian parents in 1974 and raised in the Bronx and Atlanta. He has traveled widely, including a four-year stint in his twenties in a small apartment in Hungary, when that country was in the throes of tremendous changes in politics, culture, and economics. The effect of such seismic shifts on people is tricky territory for a young novelist, but Fitten writes with the grace and quiet wisdom of a village elder. This is a stunning debut.
The King James Conspiracy
St. Martin’s Press, $25.95
Phillip Depoy’s eleventh novel—after five Fever Devilin mysteries and five Flap Tucker mysteries—is a dizzying mix of historical facts and figments of the author’s imagination. Set in seventeenth-century England, the story centers on a group of scholars assigned by King James I to create a definitive English translation of the Bible, much to the consternation of Pope Clement in Rome. One of the scholars is murdered and horribly mutilated, setting into motion a high-stakes conspiracy that could rock not only the project but the foundation of Christian beliefs. Author DePoy is a true Renaissance man—folklorist, playwright, composer, director of the theater program at Clayton State University—who brings his talents for dialogue, pacing, and character development to the mythical table. Brother Timon, a nutmeg-oil-smoking monk who is equally skilled at killing people and memorizing thousands of pages of text, heads a brilliant cast of villains and saviors, most of whom have some grounding in history.
Ballantine Books, $25
Former Atlantan Cathy Holton (author of The Secret Lives of the Kudzu Debutantes) reunites four forty-something college friends in North Carolina’s Outer Banks to relive their glory days and share all the secrets of their disparate lives.
Berkley/NAL Accent, $15 paperback
Two women with look-alike luggage but very different emotional baggage
meet after they inadvertently pick up each other’s suitcase at the
Houston airport. Marietta author Tanya Michna’s setup may not be
terribly original, but she wrings a few surprises out of the journey.
A Tree for Emmy
Peachtree Publishers, $15.95
Mary Ann Rodman, a former school media
specialist and university librarian who lives in Alpharetta, celebrates
the fuzziest, pinkest of trees in this sweet tale for young readers
(illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss) of a little girl determined to have
her own mimosa shrub.