Mysterium

Susan Froderberg (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Susan Froderberg’s Mysterium is based on an ill-fated Himalayan expedition in 1976, led by the American professor Willi Unsoeld. The climb succeeded, but at the terrible cost of Unsoeld’s daughter, who was named for the mountain (Nanda Devi) itself. Over 40 years later, Froderberg transposes this climb into something eerie, elemental, and coldly transcendent. Don’t expect to warm up to the characters on these icy slopes; they remain at a curious distance as they struggle through rockslides, blizzards, love affairs, rivalries, avalanches, and altitude. And yet the novel ends with an evocation of the sublime that has depended on this distance all along.

The Overstory

Richard Powers (Norton)

The Overstory provides an even greater challenge, for its main character is the forest itself. There is a scattering of human characters who are interlinked, sometimes unconsciously, by their sensitivity to elms, oaks, and redwoods as a sentient, palpable force. But the human stories are curiously discontinuous. What takes center stage is the remarkable presence of the trees themselves and how they literally communicate with one another and the world. The prophet Isaiah was onto something: The trees really do clap their hands (55:12).

Port William Novels & Stories: The Civil War to World War II

Wendell Berry

Library of America

Readers in search of a more traditional connection to human characters will appreciate this handsome compilation of Wendell Berry’s Kentucky fiction. The volume contains four novels—Nathan Coulter, A Place on Earth, A World Lost, and Andy Catlett: Early Travels—and 23 short stories, arranged chronologically by content in their common ...

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