Recommended Reading

Our favorite books of 2012

Recommended Reading

Dead Dads and Mother Earth's Long Death Rattle

My favorite books this year were all first novels, and, weirdly, three out of the four feature dead fathers as major plot motivators. In Jennifer duBois' exquisite A Partial History of Lost Causes (The Dial Press), a seriously ill woman tracks down the Russian chess master to whom her father, who died from the same degenerative disease, once sent a letter. Weaving between two timelines and two continents, duBois explores the fraught backstories of both the woman and the chess master until they meet and gnarl in the middle. Francesca Segal's The Innocents (Voice) cleverly transposes Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence to an upper middle class Jewish enclave in northwest London, with Segal's Newland Archer stand-in, a fatherless attorney named Adam Newman, torn between the comforts of his community and the excitements of his fiancée's racy American cousin. And in Scott Hutchins' A Working Theory of Love (Penguin Press), science's gallop toward sentient artificial intelligence takes on a special poignance for a San Francisco man whose dead father's diaries are being used as the building blocks for a computer program poised to beat the Turing test, a kind of human/robot shell game. The final debut that did a number on me doesn't traffic in dead dads – only a dying planet. Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles (Random House) charts the ruinous slowing of Earth's rotation alongside the coming-of-age of a 12-year-old girl. Hollywood disaster movies could learn a thing or two from Walker's unshowy, emotional savaging – her whisper is more lethal than all the summer movie screams put together. – Kimberley Jones

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