Meg Wolitzer

If you've ever received one of those emails claiming to be from someone in Nigeria, and telling you that millions of dollars await you, it may have been sent from an Internet cafe, the kind that proliferate in Lagos, Nigeria. There, under a sign warning patrons not to engage in fraud, people might sit typing emails that make outrageously fraudulent claims. Guards might be stationed in the cafe, and when they notice suspicious activity, they swoop down upon the offending patron, perhaps threatening him with torture and prison, and shaking him down for money.

Some things in life are just too painful to accept, and the same is true in novels. Family Life is the story of the Mishras, who immigrate to the U.S. in the late 1970s from India. Their departure is such a big deal that townspeople gather around just to have a look at their airplane tickets. Expectations of the life that awaits them start to build. "Americans clean themselves with paper, not water," says a classmate of the younger Mishra brother, Ajay, who narrates the novel. "In America, they say 'yeah' not yes," the boy goes on. To which Ajay replies, "That's nothing.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Teen years are sort of a "rehearsal" for adulthood, author Meg Wolitzer tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, and that's particularly true at the performing arts summer camp where her latest novel begins. It's 1974, and the main character, Jules, a newcomer to the camp, is invited into a circle of 15- and 16-year-olds who nickname themselves — with knowing irony — The Interestings.

Meg Wolitzer's latest novel is The Interestings.

I have to admit that the first time I tried to read Middlemarch by George Eliot, I ended up putting it aside after only 20 pages. My teenage self, feeding heavily at the time on Pearl S. Buck and Go Ask Alice, found the novel difficult and dry. But then one day, when I was older and more discerning and less antsy, I tried again, and this time I was swept in. This time, I guess I was ready.

Meg Wolitzer's most recent novel is The Interestings.

What's potentially more troubling than a memoirist out for revenge? One who's only out for truth. Gary Shteyngart's dazzling, highly enjoyable book is the story of his life — a story that he owns, along with all the details. Yet, as an only child who immigrated from Leningrad to Queens with his parents in 1979, with no brothers or sisters to provide narrative distraction, he not only provides an intimate look at himself, he also by necessity put his parents under a fairly strong magnifying lens.

I approached this review with a little bit of dread. How do you write about the iconic novelist Thomas Pynchon, whose books are strange and difficult things, and whose die-hard readers gather online to wax poetic, and use words like Pynchonian, Pynchonalia and Pynchonesque? They are just so into him, and often so articulate about their love. If you read the thoughtful and detailed writing by Pynchon devotees, they make a very persuasive case.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

"You've got spunk," Lou Grant says to Mary Richards on the very first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And then he adds, famously, "I hate spunk." The year is 1970, the same year in which Jeannette Walls set her new novel, The Silver Star. In the book, someone tells the 12-year-old narrator, Bean Holladay, that she's got spunk too. Maybe it's no coincidence. 1970, after all, was situated squarely in the middle of second-wave feminism. It was an era when women and girls were asserting themselves and finding their voices, which weren't always met with approval.