By David Canfield and Leah Greenblatt
November 27, 2019 at 09:00 AM EST
Riverhead Books; Harper Collins

On Swift Horses, by Shannon Pufahl

In booming postwar America, what does it mean to want? In the tradition of ’50s-set classics like Revolutionary Road and Far From Heaven, Pufahl’s tender, melancholy debut locks eyes on bighearted characters left adrift in an era of prosperity and conformity: Muriel, a newly married housewife in San Diego, and her brother-in-law Julius, a gay man searching for liberation in Las Vegas. The two share a silent connection that persists, even as fate separates them. They gamble, they love, they yearn for something better. The glacial plot casts its own spell, wandering around with two beautifully broken souls determined to find meaning — find themselves — in a world that often doesn’t seem to give a damn. –David Canfield

Grade: B+

The Sacrament, by Olaf Olafsson

An unspecified crime at a small Catholic school in Reykjavík; a young French nun sent to investigate; a cold case that hopscotches across decades: The latest from Olafsson (Walking Into the Night) feels at first like a classic study in Scandi noir, that austere genre of frosty characters and snow-flecked mystery. But something more tender and ephemeral lurks beneath Sacrament‘s bare outlines — particularly in its reticent narrator, who turned to God, we learn, not so much out of deep faith or devotion but out of a terrible shame. Moving in clean declarative prose between ’60s Paris, ’80s Iceland, and the modern day, the novel’s core temperature sometimes runs too cool; there’s real devastation, though, in the revelations of its final chapters, and freedom, too. –Leah Greenblatt

Grade: B

**

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