1. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES Cormac McCarthy Cormac McCarthy has always been the kind of novelist other writers appreciate, a prodigiously gifted author whose virtuosity prompts wonder and admiration. But as with many another dazzling stylist, popular recognition has long eluded him. That has changed with his National Book Award-winning All the Pretty Horses, the first in a series McCarthy calls the Border Trilogy, and just about as tone-perfect and emotionally resonant a novel as has ever been written about the American West.
2. JAZZ Toni Morrison Jazz isn’t called Jazz because it’s about jazz musicians but because its prose is the verbal equivalent — long, looping improvisations full of recognizable blues melodies on the subjects of death, jealous rage, the serenity of reconciliation. The springboard for Morrison’s music is the murder by a 50-year-old cosmetics salesman of his teenage mistress. An investigation into the roots of this behavior takes Morrison from Harlem, circa 1926, to the antebellum South. Surely someday Morrison’s name will appear on the spine of a Library of America edition — but meantime we can enjoy her latest masterpiece in its first edition.
3. FATHERLAND Robert Harris Welcome to a historical fantasy — a thriller set in Nazi Germany in 1964, 20 years after Hitler’s conquest of Europe. The hero is one Xavier March, a homicide investigator who goes his own stubborn way on murder cases. When the corpse of a former high-ranking civil servant washes up near Schwanenwerder, the island where Goebbels and other top Nazis reside, March chases down clues doggedly. The parallel-world gimmick, no matter how fascinating, is never allowed to overshadow Harris’ plot, which is intricate and ominous enough to pull us in on its own merits.
4. LINCOLN AT GETTYSBURGH: THE WORDS THAT REMADE AMERICA Garry Wills In the 272 words of his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln performed an astonishing sleight of hand by substituting the Declaration of Independence for the Constitution as the cornerstone of American democracy. Wills traces the sources of Lincoln’s speech in classical oratory, in the rural cemetery movement in this country, and in Lincoln’s own profound but careful opposition to slavery. In doing so Wills has produced a book almost as original and surprising as Lincoln’s address.
5. ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: VOLUME ONE 1884-1933 Blanche Wiesen Cook Maybe because there were no investigative journalists at her heels throughout her long, monumental life, it’s easier to think of Eleanor Roosevelt as just that — a monument — than as a real woman of passions. This biography gives the extraordinary First Lady flesh. Cook’s research is rich; her description of ER’s courtship and marriage to her distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt is especially sensitive, and, authoritatively, Cook supplies important details about the world ER created with the lesbian friends who formed her circle of intimates.