The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Vampires, werewolves, and other members of the mainstream supernatural club do not appear in this debut novel. Yet Mara Dyer, a "B student with a body count," is plagued by vaguely unbranded mysterious—and murderous—events. Psychosis, ESP, or PTSD? Hard to say.
 
Mara's troubles begin after she wakes up in the hospital, the only survivor of an accident at an abandoned New England lunatic asylum that killed her two best friends and her then-boyfriend. Her parents move the family to South Florida for a fresh start. Our romantic hero, when he appears, wears "Chucks with holes worn through, no laces," likes dogs, hates yellow, and stands out for his English accent and notable lack of an orange complexion. His name is Noah, and alas, according to the school gossip, the man is a whore. Are the tales true, or is their teller—a suitably fake-baked blond named Anna who dresses like "an accountant's mid-life crisis" and has a novel evil sidekick, Aidan, a gay, meathead bully—just jealous? As Noah charms her mother with lilies, her older brother with discourse on the "Kafka-Nietzsche nexus and the parodic sonnets of Don Quixote," and Mara herself with Jeff Buckley, Camus, Cuban food, and a costly yet thoughtful birthday exorcism, the two engage in the kind of Hepburn-Tracy-esque banter that makes their mutual intentions clear.

The last-page cliffhanger leaves the nature of Mara's troubles unresolved and a sequel all but guaranteed. While the dead bodies, when they appear, can sometimes feel like an awkward intrusion into an otherwise witty and cosmopolitan novel, many background narratives—Mara's matrilineal connection to India; an Animal Liberation Front subplot, her "token black Jewish bi friend"—promise some interesting real-world possibilities.

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

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

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

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).