City of Strangers

In the opening pages of his first novel, Ian MacKenzie's New York City is "exhausted, somnambulant," a place where "the crowd is a tessellated sea of backs" and, on the streets, "the cholesterol of automobiles clogs every lane." The stage is set for a story of loneliness, brutality, and failure. MacKenzie's City of Strangers is a debut impressive not only for the rich, evocative language of its sentences but also for the way the author charts the troubled path of his alienated characters across the cityscape. Paul Metzger is a man full of turbulent emotions and unresolved family issues. His father, whose past as a Nazi sympathizer has resurfaced, is dying in a Brooklyn hospital; his estranged older brother is under investigation for insider trading; and his ex-wife is still a lover he can't exorcise from his heart. MacKenzie brings all of these characters, plus a menacing mugger who stalks Paul throughout the book, to a boil in a novel that is one part Albert Camus, one part Philip Roth, and one part Martin Scorsese. Paul, anxious to understand his father's past and desperate to reconnect with his brother and ex-wife, walks the mean streets of a city where strangers collide in a cold universe, mere "flakes of incidental matter." As Paul soon learns, violence -- both physical and psychological -- is a force that's impossible to resist in the unstable world of this bleak, beautiful novel.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.