(Ballantine Books, $25)
Deciphering the interlocking lives of Dan Chaon’s transient characters is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. Though elements of the setting are familiar — Chaon is a Cleveland Heights resident who weaves his real-life surroundings into the narrative of Await Your Reply — the thought processes of a schizophrenic twin, his orphaned teenage lover, a pothead con artist and his entangled son are not. Chaon’s novel oozes with an angsty, detached and depressing tone.
The author throws his readers into his characters’ moods: “Driving downtown for the first time, he had an apocalyptic feeling, a last-man-on-earth feeling. ... It was the feeling you got when you woke up and everyone you loved was dead.”
Still, the tale is oddly compelling, and the last chapter rewards patient readers with a worthy twist. It nearly makes up for the long struggle through Chaon’s dark and listless “amnesiascape.” — Laura Crawford
First-time novelist Paula McLain jumps from present to past — intertwining Jamie’s summer with the story of her mother and how the teen came to live with her uncle — making the storyline hard to follow. But it ultimately serves to heighten the reader’s emotional reaction to the climatic heartbreak.
While McLain’s novel seems to speak to teens, the overriding themes of growing pains and searching for a sense of self are universal experiences to which most readers can relate. — Lindsey Hoeppner
(Triumph Books, $22.95)
It's hard to believe the Cleveland Indians signed Bob Feller, the 16-year-old Iowa farm boy with a legendary arm, for $1 and an autographed team baseball. But when Feller tells the story of his first professional contract or his connections to the Kevin Cosner flick Field of Dreams, a soothing consistency emerges.
After nine decades, Feller still loves baseball. Throughout nine chapters, each representing a tenet for success on the diamond, Feller shares stories of yesteryear and insight into today's game and his values. He even throws in a handy to-do list ballplayers should follow to be winners. (If it were only that easy, Cleveland might have celebrated a second World Series since 1948.)
Even if you're not into preaching from a Hall of Famer or exclamation points — there are a lot of them! — the stories alone are worth the time. Feller takes you back to when baseball wasn't filled with steroid allegations or $100 million contracts. You know, when it actually was America's pastime. — Francis X. Bova III