Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin (Atria, $25)
“What a turnaround,” says British author Abigail Tarttelin, laughing about the six-figure book deal she signed for her just-released second novel, Golden Boy. “The last place I worked in was just hell.” While holding a crummy job in your 20s is practically a rite of passage—the world’s smallest violin begins to play in my head—Tarttelin isn’t your average 20-something: she started writing at 19 and published her first novel, Flick, at 23. (The manuscript was picked out of a slush pile.) Sadly, her publisher went out of business shortly after the book’s 2011 release, and Tarttelin was left with 2,000 copies of her debut and little else. But she eventually sold the rights to her next publisher—and used the existing stockpile as fireplace kindling.
Tartellin then continued on to write the manuscript for Golden Boy, which became the buzziest title of the 2012 London Book Fair. She was in a chocolate shop when she got the call from her agent: the book had sparked a bidding war. “How can you describe the feeling of knowing that life is going to be so much easier, I guess? That was so liberating.”
This dream-come-true outcome came, fittingly, as the result of a dream about two brothers. “I remember waking up and typing an email to myself,” she says. That email would later form a scene in the novel between her “golden boy” protagonist Max Walker and his troubled younger brother, Daniel. Max’s seeming perfection is complicated by a secret: he’s intersex, born with both male and female sex organs. Life isn’t easy for 16-year-old Max as he struggles to come of age in a culture that doesn’t want to spend too much time mucking around in the weedy areas that surround the borders between male and female.
Tarttelin first began thinking about issues surrounding gender roles in her early 20s. Suddenly “the woman” in her first serious relationship, she began to wonder how such self-consciousness affects one’s sense of self. Golden Boy is the manifest result of that “conundrum,” and it’s a puzzle that like her creation, Max, Tarttelin hasn’t been entirely able to resolve. One thing that is for certain though, is that—with Golden Boy generating film interest and Flick set to be re-published in 2014—Tarttelin likely won’t be waiting tables again anytime soon.
The Dark by Claire Mulligan (Doubleday Canada, $33)
Consider the fictional Fox sisters of Giller-nominee Claire Mulligan’s latest novel to be the Victorian era’s answer to the Kardashians. As wily (if not as bodacious) as their business-minded contemporary counterparts, they claim to be able to speak to the dead, a skill that becomes remarkably lucrative. The result is a quirky period piece that delves into the spiritualist movement of the latter half of the 1800s.
A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon (Ballantine, $31)
A class-conscious Jew and a Massachusetts Wasp meet cute on a college campus—it sounds like the set-up to an off-colour joke. But in Brooklyn-based author Joanna Hershon’s fourth novel, it’s the straightforward set-up to an investigation into friendship and the dynamics that bind-slash-divide the upstarts from the elite.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (Knopf Canada, $30)
Nora Eldridge is accomplished, attractive, in her late 30s—and desperately unfulfilled. Then she meets the highly enviable Shahid family, and all hell breaks loose. The Toronto-raised author’s fifth novel offers a contemporary portrait of a lady that rivals Henry James’s own contribution to female psychology.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, $30)
Excerpt: “It did not escape my attention that while modeling for the drawing class I was both literally and figuratively standing still. It was a position I’d hold for another three years, a long time when you’re going nowhere, and an interminable one when you’re going nowhere fast.”