The Other, Thomas Tryon (NYRB Classics, Oct. 2): A horror-novel bestseller from the early 70s, packed with reliable tropes--tropes because they work, otherwise they'd be clichés. We've got the bucolic New England town, a long-established family in decline, a slightly psychic ethnic grandmother (Russian), and most notably, in the person of creepy, vicious, taciturn Holland Perry, the evil twin. (Evil children were big in the 70s, weren't they? I'm sure film theorists have written about this, but I'm gonna speculate it's because Baby Boomers started having kids and got cranky about not being the center of attention anymore.) The Other is ominously paced, and Tryon reveals his secrets at optimum times, making for a page-turning read with some excellent shocks. This was the only book I picked up (as an ARC) at Book Expo America this May (because I knew the guy at the NYRB booth from book club, and was too shy to talk to anybody else), so I'm glad I liked it as much as I did. (P.S. There is one other doozy of a trope here . . . I shall leave it as an exercise for readers more astute than I.)
Lazarus is Dead, Richard Beard (Europa Editions): Yep, that Lazarus. This is a fascinating novel, counting down until the famous revenant's demise and beyond, reconstructing a wryly humorous, quasi-historical (and not at all blasphemous, always a nice surprise in modern literary fiction!) account of Lazarus's life, death and resurrection. Extrapolating from the Bible, hagiography, fiction, and drama, Beard makes some pretty compelling connections. I loved especially the idea that Lazarus was the son of Joseph's best friend, the only other family to escape Herod's slaughter of the innocents--thus relieving Joseph of the guilt of running off to Egypt and leaving all those other children to die. It works, right? The whole thing works. And it kinda made me wanna go to Mass.