The real-life consequences of at-home DNA tests, fun with grammar, and how America’s opioid epidemic is just the tip of a global crime syndicate.
By David Adams
This month, we’re taking an eye-opening road trip to the US-Mexico border, hitting the courts with a delightfully sharp-tongued basketball phenom, unlocking the mystery behind an acclaimed memoirist’s family tree, and exploring how one of the world’s biggest crime bosses evaded detection for nearly a decade. And we learn from the Random House copy chief why it’s okay to start a sentence with “and.”
An outcast at the elite Manhattan private school her parents have scrimped and saved to send her to, 17-year-old Lucy Adler knows exactly what to do when a basketball is in her hands—it’s all of life’s other moments that trip her up. Luckily, she has her best friend and teammate, Alexis, and her cousin Violet, a painter in the Downtown arts scene, to help her find her footing. Their guidance is more crucial than ever when Lucy develops a sudden, unrequited crush on her childhood friend and fellow basketball junkie Percy, a disaffected rich kid whose buddies call him the “Virgin Surgeon.” Touching on themes of class, race, sexuality, and gender inequality, and offering a poignant portrait of 1990s-era New York City, The Falconer has drawn comparisons to A Catcher in the Rye and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. But Lucy’s precocious, painfully self-aware voice is all her own, and narrator Candace Thaxton (who also read the audio edition of Lisa Halliday’s excellent debut novel Asymmetry) captures it perfectly.
The popularity of at-home genetic tests such as 23andMe has given rise to a wave of true stories in which people accidentally discover that they aren’t, in fact, related to their parents or siblings. But rarely, if ever, has this life-altering revelation happened to someone as poised to investigate its implications as Dani Shapiro. (In four previous memoirs, Shapiro has explored issues of truth, identity, and family secrets in relation to her own marriage, her Orthodox Jewish upbringing, and her father’s tragic death in a car accident.) After submitting her DNA to a genealogy website, Shapiro learns that the woman she’d known as her half-sister isn’t biologically related to her at all. She doesn’t waste any time setting out to solve the mystery. What she learns will answer lifelong questions about her relationship to her parents and reveal shocking truths about in vitro fertilization as it was practiced in the early 1960s. Reading her own luminous prose for the audio edition, Shapiro expertly conveys the suspense and deep emotions of her profoundly personal experience.
The Mastermind by Evan Ratliff, read by the author
Recent reporting on the opioid epidemic has focused on the role that legitimate drug companies such as Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, have played in getting millions of Americans hooked on painkillers. Less well known is the effect that online pharmacies, many of which operate in a legal gray area, have also had in laying the groundwork for the epidemic. As investigative reporter Evan Ratliff reveals in this fascinating and deeply disturbing work of true crime, one such company, RX Limited, not only sold several hundred million dollars’ worth of pills from 2004 to 2014—it was also part of a vast global crime network that included arms deals with Iran, the distribution of Colombian cocaine and North Korean methamphetamine, and at least six murders. Behind it all was a brilliant Zimbabwean computer programmer named Paul Le Roux, creator of some of the world’s most impenetrable encryption software. Ratliff traces the story of Le Roux’s astonishing journey from desk jockey to cartel boss to DEA informant with wit and precision, offering a rare glimpse into the sinister world that operates just below the sleek surface of our modern, globalized economy.
In this timely and boldly inventive novel, a married couple and their two young children from previous relationships take a road trip to visit the ancestral homeland of the Apaches. The father is working on a documentary project about Apache culture; the mother has promised that she will help a friend track down her two undocumented daughters who have gone missing near the Arizona-Mexico border. But the boy and girl in the backseat can sense the unspoken reason for the journey—their parents’ marriage is in danger of falling apart. Driving across America, the foursome listen to Apache legends, an audiobook of Lord of the Flies, and news reports about a surge of unaccompanied minors trying to cross the southwestern border. After they arrive in Arizona, the kids make a fateful decision that ties together the story’s disparate threads and leads to one of the most stunning climaxes in recent literary fiction. The audiobook features the author and her 9-year-old daughter as part of the cast and includes snippets of what’s playing on the car stereo during the trip. It’s an immersive aural experience that brilliantly blends fact and fiction to enrich the novel’s themes and formal strategies—an absolute must-listen.
Who would have guessed that a style guide could be so entertaining? Anyone who follows Benjamin Dreyer on Twitter. The Random House copy chief’s delightfully blunt assessments—“Only godless savages eschew the serial comma”—and unabashed love for his Great Dane-pit bull mix, Sallie, earned him tens of thousands of social media followers. In his New York Times bestseller, Dreyer takes everyone from POTUS to The New Yorker magazine (“If you’re going to have a house style, try not to have a house style visible from outer space”) to task for mucking up the English language. The audio edition, which features Broadway actress Alison Fraser reading Dreyer’s illustrative examples in an astonishing array of accents and intonations, is both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply informative, whether you’re writing a novel or drafting an email to a client.