May is a month of abundance during a season of immense growth. These 10 novels reflect May’s unchecked ambition, clocking in at an average of 450 pages apiece, and grappling with grand themes, multiple settings, and vast casts of characters. While there are no thousand-page doorstoppers like 2666 or City on Fire, each one of these 10 books is packed with enough ideas to keep you busy all month long.
The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay
Melville House, May 10
“A globetrotting, time-bending, wildly entertaining literary tour de force in the tradition of Cloud Atlas. Set in three cities in three eras, The Mirror Thief calls to mind David Mitchell and Umberto Eco in its serendipitous mix of entertainment and literary mastery. The core story is set in Venice in the sixteenth century, when the famed makers of Venetian glass were perfecting one of the old world’s most wondrous inventions: the mirror. Meanwhile, in two other iterations of Venice—Venice Beach, California, circa 1958, and the Venice casino in Las Vegas, circa today—two schemers launch similarly dangerous plans to get away with a secret. All three stories will weave together into a spell-binding tour-de-force that is impossible to put down—an old-fashioned, stay-up-all-night novel that, in the end, returns the reader to a stunning conclusion in the original Venice . . . and the bedazzled sense of having read a truly original and thrilling work of literary art.”
Editors note: We’re running an interview with Seay (a Chicago author) in May.
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
Tor Books, May 10
“The first book of Terra Ignota, a four-book political SF epic set in a human future of extraordinary originality. Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer—a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.”
“The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labelling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life. And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life.”
Editor’s note: Palmer is a Chicago author who teaches Renaissance history at the University of Chicago.
The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books, May 24
“The third and final installment in The Passage trilogy. With The Twelve destroyed, many wonder if the threat to humankind also has vanished. But then a terrifying threat shudders the gates of the colony . . . and Amy—the girl who must save the world—Peter, Alicia, and Michael must at last confront their destinies. The Passage trilogy is an epic adventure set in an apocalyptic America shaped by the fallout of a government experiment on twelve death-row inmates that follows the journey of Amy, a mysterious girl asked to save the world.”
Editors note: We’re running an interview with Cronin this May, and you can meet him in Chicago at BookCon on Saturday, May 14.
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Doubleday, May 24
“England. A century ago, give or take a few years. An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot.”
“An England utterly strange and utterly real. An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie—knowledge that could cost them their lives.”
“This is the world of Smoke, a narrative tour de force, a tale of Dickensian intricacy and ferocious imaginative power, richly atmospheric and intensely suspenseful.”
The Fireman by Joe Hill
William Morrow & Company, May 17
“A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.”
“Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged. In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life and that of her unborn child goes up in smoke.”
Back to Moscow by Guillermo Erades
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 3
“Martin came to Moscow at the turn of the millennium hoping to discover the country of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and his beloved Chekhov. Instead he found a city turned on its head, where the grimmest vestiges of Soviet life exist side by side with the nonstop hedonism of the newly rich. Along with his hard-living expat friends, Martin spends less and less time on his studies, choosing to learn about the Mysterious Russian Soul from the city’s unhinged nightlife scene. But as Martin’s research becomes a quest for existential meaning, love affairs and literature lead to the same hard-won lessons. Russians know: There is more to life than happiness.”
“Back to Moscow is an enthralling story of debauchery, discovery, and the Russian classics. In prose recalling the neurotic openheartedness of Ben Lerner and the whiskey-sour satire of Bret Easton Ellis, Guillermo Erades has crafted an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a complex portrait of a radically changing city.”
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Harper, May 10
“In this literary masterwork, Louise Erdrich, the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture.”
“North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich. The youngest child of his friend and neighbor, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola.”
“Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. Our son will be your son now, they tell them. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal. But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole. Inspiring and affecting, LaRose is a powerful exploration of loss, justice, and the reparation of the human heart, and an unforgettable, dazzling tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished literary masters.”
Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo
Knopf, May 3
“A best-selling and beloved author, at the very top of his game, now returns to North Bath, in upstate New York, and the characters who made Nobody’s Fool, his third novel, his first great success. The irresistible Sully, who in the intervening years has come by some unexpected good fortune, is now staring down a VA cardiologist’s estimate that he only has a year or two left, and he’s busy as hell keeping the news from the most important people in his life: Ruth, the married woman he carried on with for years… the ultra-hapless Rub Squeers, who worries that he and Sully aren’t still best friends… Sully’s son and grandson, for whom he was mostly an absentee figure… Doug Raymer, now chief of police and still obsessing over the identity of the man his wife might have been having an affair with before she died in a freak accident… North Bath’s mayor, the former academic Gus Moynihan, who also has a pressing wife problem… and then there’s Carl Roebuck, whose lifelong run of failing upwards might now come to ruin. Everybody’s Fool is filled with humor, heart, hard times, and characters whom you can’t help but love for all their faults. It is classic Russo—and a crowning achievement from one of the greatest storytellers of our time.”
Editor’s Note: We’ll be running an interview with Russo in May, and you can see him in Chicagoland at Anderson’s Bookshop on May 13.
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 3
“Hellsmouth, an indomitable Thoroughbred with the blood of Triple Crown winners in her veins, runs for the glory of the Forge family, one of Kentucky’s oldest and most powerful dynasties. Henry Forge has partnered with his daughter, Henrietta, in an endeavor of raw obsession: to breed the next superhorse, the next Secretariat. But when Allmon Shaughnessy, an ambitious young black man, comes to work on their farm, the violence of the Forges’ history and the exigencies of appetite are brought starkly into view. Entangled in fear, prejudice, and lust, the three tether their personal dreams of glory to the speed and grace of Hellsmouth.”
“A spiraling tale of wealth and poverty, racism and rage, The Sport of Kings is an unflinching portrait of lives cast in shadow by the enduring legacy of slavery. C. E. Morgan, who received a 2016 Windham–Campbell Prize for Fiction, has given life to a tale as mythic and fraught as the South itself—a moral epic for our time.”
The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
New Directions, May 31
“Sibylla, an American-at-Oxford turned loose on London, finds herself trapped as a single mother after a misguided one-night stand. High-minded principles of child-rearing work disastrously well. J. S. Mill (taught Greek at three) and Yo Yo Ma (Bach at two) claimed the methods would work with any child; when these succeed with the boy Ludo, he causes havoc at school and is home again in a month. (Is he a prodigy, a genius? Readers looking over Ludo’s shoulder find themselves easily reading Greek and more.) Lacking male role models for a fatherless boy, Sibylla turns to endless replays of Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. But Ludo is obsessed with the one thing he wants and doesn t know: his father’s name. At eleven, inspired by his own take on the classic film, he sets out on a secret quest for the father he never knew. He ll be punched, sliced, and threatened with retribution. He may not live to see twelve. Or he may find a real samurai and save a mother who thinks boredom a fate worse than death.”
Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.