By Richard Russo. (Alfred A. Knopf, 256 pages, $25.95.)
Richard Russo, the man behind many madcap moments in novels such as “Everybody’s Fool,” plays it straight in his new collection of short stories. The four tales here are replete with Russo’s insightful studies of relationships between couples and/or brothers and observations about the state of humankind. We meet a literature professor estranged from her own life and another trying to rebound from a career-ending mistake. We see two middle-aged brothers come to terms with long-buried family trouble. In the finale, Russo breaks the pattern and draws on his experience as a screenwriter in a yarn about the smarmy side of filmmaking that could be a screenplay itself, complete with script. Throughout, we enjoy Russo’s skill at weaving a story in which conflicted characters find moments of revelation and, sometimes, redemption. While I missed the broad comedy in this Pulitzer Prize winner’s other books, these stories are still rewarding and worth ruminating about.
The Lying Game
By Ruth Ware. (Scout Press, $26.99, 370 pages.)
In 2015, British novelist Ruth Ware made a splash with her debut thriller, “In a Dark, Dark Wood.” It was a winning formula: Old chums from high school are reunited after more than a decade when the alpha female announces her wedding plans and invites her once besties to a remote English cabin for a “hen party,” the British equivalent of a bachelorette weekend. Kept secrets and new betrayals emerge, really bad things happen, and we’re not certain until the final pages who is behind all the mayhem.
Ware followed with “The Woman in Cabin 10,” a suspenseful cocktail of intrigue at sea, rich cruise passengers doused with too much alcohol and suddenly surrounded by peril in inescapable icy waters. It, too, raced up the bestseller lists.
In her latest, Ware is back to her inaugural theme, women reunited to face the horrors of the past. The story has roots at a second-class boarding school on the gloomy English coast. Our girl chums have all been banished from home for one reason or another and seem to have little in common until a mean-spirited lying challenge pulls them together. They prank and torment fellow students, faculty and townspeople so much that these British “mean girls” become outcasts, which unites them even more tightly.
Their fraught friendship is upended by a dark secret that pulls each girl in, then scatters them apart. And years later, when the alpha friend sends an urgent text — “I need you”— the conspirators come running, just as they knew they would one day.
Ware writes with sharp dialogue and rich psychological drama. If you liked her earlier works, you just may love “The Lying Game.”