EW reviews three anticipated new novels that are richly atmospheric, to varying results. For more, check out our complete review archive.
The Gimmicks, by Chris McCormick
Don’t read The Gimmicks’ jacket copy, which nearly gives it all away; just trust that this brilliant, kooky book touches on everything from the Armenian genocide and the arcane rules of backgammon to the spandexed underworld of semiprofessional wrestling in 1980s Los Angeles. And that hardly a page will go by that you won’t marvel at McCormick’s tender, surreally comic study of two brothers — distant cousins, really, but who’s telling 23andMe? — bonded in fierce loyalty, then pulled apart by ideology, the forces of history, and, of course, a girl. It’s all stranger than fiction, and too fantastic not to wish it were true. —Leah Greenblatt
The Regrets, by Amy Bonnaffons
What happens when we die? That’s the first — and frankly the least — of the existential questions addressed in Amy Bonnaffons’ supernatural romance. When Thomas suffers a fatal accident, an error in the afterlife bureau that processes deaths prevents him from making a clean departure. He’s instructed to complete a 90-day stint on earth to fix his “exit narrative,” but ends up muddling it entirely by falling in love. Written in piercing prose, this brisk exploration of love, sex, and loss will leave you feeling pleasantly haunted. But just as Thomas laments that a human body is a mostly inadequate vessel for a (half) life, this love story is an often frustrating vehicle for some truly grand ideas. —Mary Sollosi
Saint X, by Alexis Schaitkin
There’s one moment in every person’s life, posits Saint X, that will define the rest of it. For many in this novel, it’s the death of Alison Thomas, a teenage girl who perishes while vacationing with her family on a Caribbean island. The mystery remains unsolved until years later, when her sister Claire runs into one of the original suspects in New York and befriends him, hoping to piece together what happened to Alison. Claire’s obsessive pursuit of the truth gives Alexis Schaitkin’s debut the urgency of a thriller, but its most compelling chapters take the perspectives of peripheral characters, whose accounts alter our understanding of Alison’s death — and of where it happened: a cruel, fragile paradise. —M.S.