Sunset Park by Paul Auster
You would be forgiven if you thought, from the cover synopsis and most of the reviews, that Sunset Park is a downer. A quartet of confused, lonely, and otherwise discontented 20-somethings living in an abandoned house on a forlorn street in a forgotten neighborhood does not portend sweetness and light. However, this novel, especially by Auster's standards, is really pretty darn uplifting. Arranged around the reconcilition of a father and son, the various characters all use their time of isolation and exile to regroup (if they ever were "grouped" at all). Friendships are made. Love blossoms. Dissertations get written. Compared to what I was expecting, it's a bleeding Disney movie—albeit one with statutory rape, police brutality, sibling murder, and extended discussions of Chinese political dissidents.
Nemesis by Philip Roth
Man is it interesting to be here for Roth's endtimes. To my mind (and to the minds of many others), he is one of the two or three most interesting American writers of the last half-century, with a scale, scope, and diversity of work that will probably only be recongized in the years to come. It's quite difficult to avoid seeing his last few novel/novellas as the dusk-watching thoughts of an old man. By turns frightened, angry, nostalgic, bitter, and elegaic, they are possessed of the chaos, thrashing, and poignancy of a raged-against mortality. Nemesis is a novel of remembrance, of growing up in Weequahic, New Jersey during the Second World War. Roth's evocation of place is as masterful as it is understated: dress, demeanor, and decorum suffuse this story of the polio scare of 1945. His protagonist, viewed by the narrator some four decades after the main action of the story, seems to stand in for a generation: once vigourous, purposeful, and secularly righteous, but now worn down by fortune's outrageous arrows. This will not, I don't think, find its way into the first, or perhaps even second rank, of Roth's work, but seen in the real-time decrescendo of Roth's life, it is fascinating.
Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson
I've been working by way through Milkweed Prize Winners and this one is my favorite so far. It is a burnished, quietly ferocious story of a boy watching what will be the signal, tragic event of his family's life. His uncle, the doctor both to the white and Native American populations of a small part of Montana, has been abusing some of his patients until one day the boy's father, town sheriff, gets wind of the goings-on. The novel, as you might imagine, gets a little tense at this point, with almost Sophoclean levels of moral tumult. On the punch-per-page scale, Montana, 1948 might be belt-holder for my 2010 reading.