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    Editor’s Picks Issue 18

    By Sam Hine

    October 26, 2018

    Amity and Prosperity

    Eliza Griswold
    (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    America is fracturing politically, but Griswold has a more literal fracturing in her sights as well: the fracking of shale beneath the small Appalachian towns of Amity and Prosperity in southwestern Pennsylvania. Just as coal did in another era, the gas boom promised a lucky break for residents no longer able to make a living on the land. Some profited, but at what cost? The book opens with poisoned pets and ailing children, and pits an indefatigable single mom and two local lawyers against energy giants and neighbors’ recalcitrance. Built on seven years of immersive reporting, this is human interest journalism at its best.


    Alissa Quart

    A report on the plight of the American middle class could easily come off as self-interested (what about the desperately poor?) and predictable (the 2008 financial crisis put to rest the myth that college guarantees security). A disciplined journalist, Quart avoids that fate, framing her facts and figures with unsettling personal stories of financial ruin triggered by getting sick or pregnant, professors on food stamps, twenty-four-hour child care, breadwinners displaced by computers, and so on. She recognizes that her subjects’ plight is not their fault. But her solutions – DIY survival strategies and European-style social democracy – seem hopelessly inadequate. What stays with you is the precariousness and stress to which today’s capitalism subjects millions of even relatively privileged people. Can a system so anti-family really be the way we are meant to live together?

    Dinner at the Center of the Earth

    Nathan Englander

    A hapless spy, troubled by the lethal consequences of his profession, decides that leaking information to the enemy will somehow break the cycle of violence. Instead, he finds himself disappeared to an undisclosed location in the Negev with an even more hapless lone guard.

    Even the best writers can’t be expected to make sense of the intractable conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. But Englander, a master of the craft, has certainly captured its senselessness; perhaps the only thing more absurd than the layered spy story he conjures is the reality that inspired it. An American Jew, Englander moved to Israel in 1996 because peace was about to happen and he didn’t want to miss it. Instead he got the second intifada. That heartbreak has, belatedly, given us this remarkable novel.

    The Aviator

    Eugene Vodolazkin

    From the author of Laurus, translated from the Russian, this is Rip van Winkle for the age of cryonics. A young man wakes up in a hospital and, gradually, random memories emerge and coalesce – eighty-year-old memories. Who was he? And what happened to him? Will he ever truly belong to the world in which he finds himself? Fame is a given, but can he find love? Can his unreliable recollections recreate a slice of life that history failed to record? Narrated entirely as journal entries, this unconventional novel is a playful mockery of historic and scientific hubris that is at the same time an earnest critique of both the Soviet terror and contemporary life.

    Contributed By Sam Hine Sam Hine

    Sam Hine is an editor at Plough.

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