My Education, by Susan Choi (Viking). In Choi’s fourth novel, Regina Gottlieb, a young graduate student, is drawn to an eccentric and physically beautiful professor with a reputation for carrying on affairs with his students. Regina is swiftly drawn into his life and that of his pregnant wife, though the professor student romance is anything but predictable. Our heroine, a student of literature, speaks in an academic tone; despite her intelligence, she remains hopelessly naive in matters of the heart. Regina’s ambition becomes consumed by her rapture as the line between sexual passion and compassionate love is blurred. «I didn’t grasp that desire and duty could rival each other, least of all that they most often do». When Choi flashes years ahead, her characters benefit from the wisdom of hindsight, which points up how life’s many stages illuminate one another. «We are ghosts of ourselves, and of others», she writes, «and all of these ghosts appear perfectly real»
Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House). Sittenfeld’s novel is a tale of middle-class anxiety with a supernatural twist. Kate seems an average housewife and mother, but she and her twin sister, Violet, can foresee the future. After a traumatic adolescence, Kate decides that the ability is more of a burden than a blessing, and tries to will it out of existence. But Violet becomes a spiritual medium, a choice that turns into a liability for Kate when Violet publicly predicts that a cataclysmic earthquake will hit St. Louis. As the clock counts down to doomsday, a media maelstrom threatens the domestic normalcy that Kate has carefully cultivated. The novel is full of insight into the anxieties of modern motherhood and of sisterly competition, but its attempt to probe the nature of life, love, and family never quite transcends the commonplace.
Balanchine and the Lost Muse, by Elizabeth Kendall (Oxford). Among ballet people there has always been whispering about Lidia Ivanova, who was a schoolmate of George Balanchine’s at the Imperial Theatre School, in St. Petersburg. When Balanchine and others left on a dancing tour of German resorts in 1924 for Balanchine the trip stretched into a lifetime of exile Ivanova was to have gone, too. But, shortly before, she went out boating with five men and, by their report, accidentally drowned. Many believed that she was murdered on the orders of the secret police, because she knew too much. (She was a party girl, and went out with government officials.
Country Girl, by Edna O’Brien (Little, Brown). «I kept a diary. I read with misgivings that only the very young and the very mad keep diaries». We may be glad that O’Brien had such records to draw on for this memoir one, she says, she swore she would never write. Beginning with her birth in Ireland, in a grand house built from the ruins of an English manor burned by Irish Nationalists, it ends with a trip to see her first 3-D film. We follow O’Brien through convent school, love affairs, motherhood, the banning of her books, and her working years in London and New York. Along the way, we encounter Gunter Grass, Joseph Brodsky, Jackie Onassis, and other luminaries, O’Brien beautifully renders her remarkably rich life, her «many me’s».