Books by the Bay: 'The Mathematician's Shiva' blends family and immigrant issues with the brilliant elegance of math
09/02/2014 03:14:01 PM PDT
09/05/2014 02:32:58 PM PDT
Crisis makes for great fiction, and these recent releases by Bay Area authors mine it for all it is worth. First-time novels by Stuart Rojstaczer, Courtney Moreno, Cassandra Dunn and Yang Huang, along with a new novel by Katie Crouch and a just-issued collection by the late Don Carpenter, deal with hard themes in diverse ways. "The Mathematician's Shiva" by Stuart Rojstaczer (Penguin, $16, 384 pages) When Rachela Karnokovitch dies, her middle-age son, Alexander "Sasha" Karnokovitch, wants nothing more than to be left alone to mourn. No chance of that: Rachela was the world's leading female mathematician, one who had spent much of her life trying to solve the century-old Navier-Stokes equation. After her death, Sasha learns that his mother may have accomplished her goal; suddenly, mathematicians from around the globe descend on the family's home in Madison, where Rachela -- a brilliant, no-nonsense Polish-American Jew -- was a University of Wisconsin professor. Fervently contentious and socially inept, the mathematicians arrive to sit shiva for their colleague, but Sasha knows why they've really come -- to eat, compete and "pry up floorboards looking for hidden notes." Sasha is a wry, perceptive observer, and his chapters alternate with excerpts from Rachela's unpublished memoir. "The Mathematician's Shiva" is a delight: Rojstaczer, a Wisconsin-born, Palo Alto-based geophysicist, delivers a smart, funny debut novel about family dynamics, the immigrant experience and the elegance of mathematics. He will read from the book Sept. 15 at Book Passage in Corte Madera and in a special Litquake event Oct. 11 at the Emerald Tablet in San Francisco. "In Case of Emergency" by Courtney Moreno (McSweeney's, $24, 280 pages) Piper Gallagher is still in training in her new job as an emergency medical technician when she responds to a distress call from a man outside a Los Angeles shopping mall. All he can tell her is "I can't function." That statement has a deep effect on Piper, who is barely functioning herself. Reeling from a messy breakup, wondering whether she can measure up in her high-stress job, and trying to help the woman she loves -- an Iraq war veteran named Ayla who has all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder -- Piper's inability to cope yields an engaging first novel. Moreno, who lives in San Francisco, formerly worked as an EMT and explores the aftereffects of trauma with considerable insight. She will read from the book Sept. 16 at The Booksmith in San Francisco. "Abroad" by Katie Crouch (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 232 pages) Tabitha "Taz" Deacon arrives in Italy as an exchange student with a keen interest in Etruscan mythology. What could go wrong? Settling into the fictional town of Grifonia, Taz -- a lonely Irish innocent -- falls in with a trio of British girls led by the hard-partying Jenny. Sex, drugs and illicit trade lead to an awful outcome; Bolinas-based Crouch, author of "Girls in Trucks," draws on the real-life Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher murder case in this dark tale of secrets and lies. "The Art of Adapting" by Cassandra Dunn (Touchstone, $25, 368 pages) A mother knits up the pieces of her broken family in "The Art of Adapting" by first-time Martinez novelist Cassandra Dunn. Lana, a single mom with two kids and a mortgage, is struggling in the wake of her divorce. When her brother, Matt, moves in, things get seriously complicated -- Matt has Asperger's syndrome, and Lana scarcely knows how to care for him. In alternating chapters, Dunn lets Lana, Matt and teenagers Byron and Abby tell their own stories, yielding a moving portrait of a family in transition. "Living Treasures" by Yang Huang (Harvard Square Editions, $19.95, 142 pages) The personal and the political merge in Yang Huang's debut novel about a college student in post-Cultural Revolution China. Gu Bao negotiates the shifting landscape of a country still struggling toward modernity, as China's education system, family planning policies and the deaths of her fellow students in Tiananmen Square sometimes push her to desperate measures. The story moves from city life to the rural home of Bao's grandparents, acquiring an epic feel in a compact length. "The Hollywood Trilogy" by Don Carpenter (Counterpoint, $16.95, 402 pages) Born in Berkeley in 1932, Don Carpenter was a Bay Area literary treasure, but his work never quite received the recognition it deserved. He published 10 novels during his lifetime, which ended in suicide in Mill Valley in 1995. Carpenter also spent years writing for Hollywood, and Berkeley's Counterpoint Press, which reissued his "Fridays at Enrico's" earlier this year, has collected three of his Hollywood novels -- "A Couple of Comedians," "The True Life Story of Jody McKeegan" and "Turnaround" -- in this new volume.
Contact Georgia Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org.