I was born because a man came to kill my father. That's the opening sentence in Pharmakon, Dirk Wittenborn's novel about a family buffeted by tragedy, psychology, and pharmacy. It's an engaging opening to a saga that never quite finds its way through the author's dense plotting and habit of "telling not showing." Nonetheless, that opening line propels the reader through the story of the Friedrich family from the 1950s to the 1990s. Everything spirals outward from the moment troubled student and psychology guinea pig Casper Gedsic shows up at the Friedrich household with murder in his eyes. Casper is upset because Dr. William Friedrich, a Yale professor, has put him on an experimental "happiness drug" he hopes will send patients into states of chemical bliss. Instead, Casper cracks and goes on a rampage. Fast-forwarding several years, Pharmakon picks up with Zach, the youngest son of the Friedrich brood, who details the busy and troubled life of a family ruled by a distracted patriarch and a mother suffering from severe depression in the wake of tragedy. Zach, along with his brother and sisters, is "overdosed with family," and so, too, might be readers as they find themselves tangled in a novel that bears similarities to early John Irving and his cavalcade of zany characters. Wittenborn is at his best in the scenes where Dr. Friedrich is convinced his "synthetic joy" will cure postwar America of its unhappiness, all the time unaware that the saddest family is his own.

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.