Hot Stew, Secrets of Happiness

Hot Stew, by Fiona Mozley

An old building in the middle of London's Soho becomes an obsession in this stunningly clever sophomore novel from Fiona Mozley (Elmet). A wealthy businesswoman hopes to flip the property, which houses a brothel whose workers resist her efforts; the fight for the fated building also draws in a Dickensian company of drunks, dreamers, lawyers, and vagrants, their paths tangled by history. Mozley's vision of London, simultaneously ancient and deeply modern, is layered with mystery (pieces of which are perhaps too neatly solved) and packed with humanity — a deliciously spicy stew indeed. Grade: A- —Mary Sollosi

Secrets of Happiness, by Joan Silber

Few make fiction feel as exciting as Joan Silber — and not in plot, but mere structure. Characters impact one another. Tones shift with perspective. Scenes build with profound scope. Off her award-winning Improvement, this latest novel feels like vintage Silber: stories interlinked with the confidence of Elizabeth Strout, but all their own in mood and power. Secrets opens on a gay New York attorney whose family is thrust into a paternity scandal; the action then moves to Thailand and, from there, connects sex-lovers and estranged parents and wounded siblings. This, Silber shows again and again, is how it's done. Grade: A- —David Canfield

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