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THE BOOK YOU HAVE TO READ

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Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club, recommends Wieland, or the Transformation by Charles Brockden Brown (Prometheus Books, $9).

In pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania, a deranged figure uses a mysterious vocal skill — ventriloquism — to terrorize a tight-knit family and turn them against one another. I discovered Wieland in law school, as if I needed a reminder that language could be untrustworthy. The twists are so surprising and dark this might be the work of a modern master of the historical thriller; in fact, it was published in 1798. It’s irresistible fun to follow the narrator as she decodes the turmoil. There’s a sequel too, Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist.

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