New in Paperback: ‘Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath’ and ‘Sisters’

By Jennifer Krauss

HIS VERY BEST: Jimmy Carter, A Life, by Jonathan Alter. (Simon & Schuster, 800 pp., $20.) Alter’s “important, fair-minded” biography, David Greenberg wrote in his review, renders his subject with “a depth rarely achieved by political journalism.” The book “exposes Carter’s weaknesses as well as his undervalued strengths, his reverberating failures as well as his unsung triumphs,” and shows how the qualities that propelled him to the presidency “also kept him from rising to his historical moment.”

THE NEXT GREAT MIGRATION: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move, by Sonia Shah. (Bloomsbury, 400 pp., $18.) A finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, Shah’s compassionate and insightful book argues that migration, for animals and humans, is a natural biological phenomenon, not an irregular, disruptive force.

THIS IS HAPPINESS, by Niall Williams. (Bloomsbury, 400 pp., $17.) In what our reviewer, Elizabeth Graver, described as “a lush, wandering portrait” of a fictional Irish village on the cusp of change, an aging narrator looks back at a trio of intersecting events from the spring of 1958: bringing electricity to the town; his hopeless crushes on all three of the local doctor’s daughters; and the arrival of a stranger intent on righting a past wrong.

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH RUSSIAN PIANO, by Wolf Wondratschek. Translated by Marshall Yarbrough. (Picador, 224 pp., $18.) Reading this first novel to be published in America by the acclaimed septuagenarian German writer often compared to Kerouac, our reviewer, Ethan Hawke, became “newly excited about getting old.” He called the book “egoless, sly, profound, funny, authentic and utterly mysterious.”

RED COMET: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, by Heather Clark. (Vintage, 1,184 pp., $20.) Drawing upon unpublished material, including Plath’s diaries and calendars, and “previously unexamined police, court and hospital records,” this “scrupulously researched” account, in the words of our reviewer, Daphne Merkin, is “nothing short of mesmerizing,” recharting “a much-told but uncommonly intriguing narrative that has all too often been the object of fierce partisanship.”

SISTERS, by Daisy Johnson. (Riverhead, 224 pp., $16.) “Crammed with disturbing images and powered by a dare-to-look-away velocity,” this Gothic novel of “grief and guilt, identity and codependency, teenage girls and their mothers” reminded our reviewer, Harriet Lane, “in its general refusal to play nice,” of early Ian McEwan.

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