Please Step Back

Robert Franklin, the fictional character in New Yorker editor Ben Greenman's fourth novel -- about a young man who christens himself Rock Foxx and goes on to lead a mixed-race-and-gender funk-rock band in the '60s and '70s -- was born when Greenman tried his hand at writing a biography of the leader of the race-and-gender-mixing funk-rock band Sly and the Family Stone. But fiction proved more illuminating than fact, and Greenman's treatment of a band that produces music "sweeter than the Beatles and more filling than Dylan" becomes all the more filling when he makes it his own. The young Robert leaves his chilly Boston home, with only a note for his mama, to test his moves in California. He puts a Nordic girl on bass, a black girl on vocals, and Italian guy on guitar in an era when one can still make the argument on national television that allowing members of the Negro Leagues into the baseball Hall of Fame is like putting "animals next to people." They listen to the Velvet Underground, open for the Stones and decline to play Woodstock, due to Robert's fear of flying. The verses follow a well-worn groove: His first hit comes before he's even figured out how to be a proper rock star. He achieves, then squanders fame, fortune, and the love of a good woman. But the brilliance of this novel is in its riffs: This is a writer who sees rain "coming down like there was a jailbreak in the clouds" and can write: "He had the whole world in his hands. If he dropped it, would it bounce?" One is amply rewarded for listening all the way through to the end.

April 16: ""Blue pottery vases and bowls for flowers are most attractive, and certain blue books...will repeat and emphasize color."

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
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.

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet

Amara Lakhous delivers a mystery novel with its finger on the hot-button issues of today's Europe.  Immigration and multicultural conflicts erupt in the Italian city of Turin, as journalist Enzo Laganà looks to restore peace to his native burg.

Papers in the Wind

In this insightful novel by Eduardo Sacheri, a young girl left destitute by the death of her soccer-playing father is uplifted by the bold schemes of her uncle, his pals, and one newbie player to the professional leagues.