To French-born, New York–based Robert Couturier, any book about an interior decorator can read like an obituary. “It’s either boring—or deadly,” he says. His own monograph, Robert Couturier: Designing Paradises, out September 23 from Rizzoli, however, is a lively, personal affair, with a large section dedicated to his own home in Kent, Connecticut. The rest of the 224-page tome showcases just a few of Couturier’s most emblematic projects over 30 years, many done in his signature classical French style roughed up with a sense of humor (a jazzy piece of fabric, a surprising objet d’art). From a sprawling Mexican hacienda to a modern Manhattan apartment, the pages pay testament to Couturier’s aesthetic versatility—it ends up being anything but an epitaph.
In his travel writing, for which he is best known, Paul Theroux eschews the obvious pleasures of the genre for deeper, more acerbic observation. As the writer of more than 25 novels and a half-dozen story collections, he understands the importance of conflict. Few authors are as skilled at both fiction and nonfiction, as well as that particular Theroux specialty: quasi-fiction.
Several of the characters in his terrific new collection, Mr. Bones, are clearly plucked from life—the painter Andrew Wyeth makes an appearance, and two of the stories feature a shoe-salesman dad. (Theroux’s own father plied the trade.) Others, such as a shrewish New England art maven and a bumbling English author, are so incisively carved that figuring out whom they are based on becomes a kind of game.
Theroux’s masterful stories, several of them originally published in The New Yorker, evince a lifetime’s study of human nature around the globe. If they often end in a chilling twist, well, he’s just calling them like he sees them.
Mr. Bones, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, comes out September 30.
Chicken, Chicken, Chicken, Where Are You? (2008)
“When my daughter was five, she said, ‘Okay, Dad, I’m going to cook something for you.’ She served a plate full of plastic vegetables and said, ‘This plate is called Chicken, Chicken, Chicken, Where Are You?’ I didn’t know how to express that kind of incredible metaphysical idea. It’s like de Chirico’s [painting] Piazza d’Italia. [Much later] we came out with this recipe that was like a twist on chicken salad [without chicken]. At the end you can find under the salad the roasted chicken flavor from the sauce.”
“This is one of the earliest plates we served. You see the shape of a cappuccino and a croissant. But it’s a ‘cappuccino’ of potato and onion, two very poor elements, served with a very, very old balsamic vinegar—maybe the most precious element in the world. It’s a very Pop idea. We serve it with a croissant. Every Italian starts the morning at the bar with a croissant. But instead of being sweet, we make it savory, breaking the border between the two tastes. So instead of representing all of Italy, it represents my terroir, Emilia-Romagna.”
A Potato Waiting to Become a Truffle (2010)
“This dish looks like a potato that has been cooked in the oven. It’s like Arte Povera. The title of the recipe is a message for the young generation: Why do you want to be a truffle? Because the market price is $3,000 instead of $3? If I had to choose to be a truffle or a potato, I would choose the potato, because it is so good. We cook the potato in salt and sugar, empty it and refill it with a soufflé of yolk, white chocolate, truffle, potato and vanilla. It’s a real working-class hero. It’s a potato that is much better than a truffle.”
In one of the most physically immersive novels to come out in recent years, Welsh author Sarah Waters conjures the details of England in 1922 with complete conviction. She depicts a country still reeling from war, adjusting to the disappointments of peace. Her heroine, Frances Wray, is also adjusting—to her dead father’s debts—and she and her mother are forced to take in lodgers: a gaudy young couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber.
Frances, intelligent, wry and unmarried, observes the newcomers with misgivings but is soon attracted to Lilian, who returns her feelings with trepidation, then with abandon. Waters traces their growing bond with a craftsman’s patience—each gesture, each shade of emotion—and the result is as tormenting as if the reader herself were falling in love. A cataclysmic event propels the plot to its tension-filled conclusion, but it is the progress of Frances and Lilian’s relationship—through passion, suspicion and maturity—that ultimately makes The Paying Guests so sad, powerful and brimming with life.
The Paying Guests, published by Riverhead Books, comes out September 16.
When the narrator of Joseph O’Neill’s fourth novel, The Dog, accepts a shady job in Dubai, he is merely escaping a broken relationship. However, he finds himself strangely at home in that “abracadabrapolis” (the book is worth reading for that phrase alone), perhaps because Dubai is a microcosm of our globalized world.
Between signing papers he barely comprehends and staring at the inexplicable building rising across the way, the everyman narrator expounds, in sharp, astoundingly funny language, on the impossibility of living a moral life; we are all in the doghouse in one way or another. The cast of characters—a missing diver, a bidoon, a liver-eating millionaire—is rich, but the heart of the novel lies in its vast intelligence, which, for all its Wodehousian humor, pulses with real despair and tenderness for the world we have made, the one that is slowly destroying us. The Dog, published by Pantheon, comes out September 9.
Photo by Grant Cornett
After the metaphysical fireworks of his epic 1Q84, Haruki Murakami scales back with a deceptively simple novel about a train-station designer whose girlfriend sends him on a mission to uncover why his four closest friends suddenly cut off all contact 15 years ago. To solve the mystery, Tsukuru Tazaki visits both his native Nagoya, Japan, and Finland, provoking a self-examination whose subtle revelations profoundly alter his sense of identity.
More straightforward than the author’s usual fare, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki sold more than a million copies in its first week on sale in Japan last year. Yet Murakami retains his trademark feel for the surreal with an evocative account of the internal tectonics triggered by investigating one’s willfully buried past. The unadorned novel feels as clear and clean as a glass of water, and the crisp poetry of its emotional insight seems all the more refreshing for it.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, published by Knopf, came out in August.
Photo by Grant Cornett
This year has seen the release of not one but two biopics of Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008. One, Yves Saint Laurent, was approved by his longtime partner and business manager, Pierre Bergé. The other, Cannes contender Saint Laurent, was not, and had to re-create YSL’s iconic designs from scratch. Both were (unsurprisingly) visually stunning. But the year’s most intimate look at the enigmatic couturier is Bergé’s own moving tribute to his and YSL’s life in Marrakech, titled Yves Saint Laurent: A Moroccan Passion (Abrams, September). First published in French to coincide with a 2010 exhibit at Marrakech’s Jardin Majorelle, the designer’s final resting place, the book takes the form of a journal, with candid photos, YSL’s sketches of Moroccan-inspired haute couture and text scrawled in the 83-year-old Bergé’s shaky hand. The scrapbook feels like an invitation into a circle of fabulous expatriates—with cameos from guests like Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Loulou de la Falaise and Catherine Deneuve—luxuriating in a cloistered, Orientalist reverie.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Koh / Lighted Pixels
In today’s world of gluten hostility, it almost feels rebellious to handle a cookbook exalting flour in all its glutinous forms. But chefs Janice Wong (2am:dessertbar in Singapore) and Ma Jian Jun have delivered exactly that in their collaborative (and now English-translated) effort, Dim Sum (Gatehouse). The subtitle itself, “A Flour-forward Approach to Traditional Favorites and Contemporary Creations,” might as well be a warning label.
Here, however, flour is key as the cause behind the consistency, appearance and flavor of each mouthwatering dumpling, bun and pastry featured. (There’s even a flowchart that explains the connection between them: high gluten = elastic skin = shao mai.) Consider the number of flour casings (“skins”) that are listed—crystal, elastic, chewy, matte, stretchable, transparent and sticky—not to mention the cloud-like buns and flaky pancakes that appear across these pages.
Equally important, however, is the latter half of the book’s subtitle, which declares the chefs’ quest to rethink traditional dim sum dishes for a modern palate and sensibility. While classic flavors are ever-present—shrimp, pork, crab and custard appear throughout—their inventive combinations of dill and turbot, foie gras and cognac, anchovy and scallop, tripe and yuzu have likely never appeared on the menu at your local Chinatown tea parlor.
The result is an elevated approach to an unctuous dining experience and a collection of 90 edibles as beautiful to look at as they are tasty to imagine. Though each dish’s recipe fits on a single page—the design and layout of the book are as modern as its culinary mindset—do not be fooled by the brevity. These dishes call for techniques, proper equipment and patience—and maybe a new appreciation for gluten—that will likely take time to master. gatehouse.com.
Photo courtesy of Ken Goodman
If Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead) sounds like the title of a long-lost Gabriel García Márquez novel, the comparison is not entirely misleading. Like the work of the late Colombian master, Tiphanie Yanique’s entrancing debut seems to grow out of the soil in which it’s set, in this case the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her heroines are sisters born in the early 1900s, seeking love and status as their Caribbean homeland and its customs become subsumed into the American century. Yanique, who’s earned high praise for her short fiction, divides her time between Brooklyn and her native St. Thomas. Refreshingly, her prose has none of the navel-gazing, sexless glibness so common in Brooklyn literary circles, and instead exhibits a sultry musicality all its own. It’s no surprise to learn she played the steel pan as a child. Calypso echoes through the book, particularly “Rum and Coca-Cola.” (Not the Andrews Sisters’ hit, but the crackly, 1940s Lord Invader version they stole.) There’s plenty of sea, sex, sun and soap-operatic drama, which makes it a perfect summer book. It’s a beach read that’s actually about the beach, not as postcard paradise but as a limbo between land and ocean, known and unknown, myth and reality. —J.S.
© Bourbon Street Books - Harper Collins Publisher
“After showering, I dressed in gray pants, blue shirt, dark blue tie, and the soft tweed sport coat that had become part of my uniform. It was…casual and understated, which helped deny its custom-tailored cashmere heritage.” —from Wendell Black, M.D.
Nice detail, no?
Dr. Gerald Imber is one of the “big deal” plastic surgeons, the man behind some of the best “faces” in town, always at the top of those Best Doctors lists. He lives in Manhattan with his chic and talented wife, departures contributor Cathryn Collins; spends weekends in Millbrook, New York; loves Mozart and Puccini opera (the Pearl Fishers duet from Les Pêcheurs de Perles with Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill is a favorite), St. Barths in spring, Capri in summer…and has his suits custom-made by Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row—that is, the guy’s a worldly, sophisticated sort.
He also does not suffer fools gladly, a quality shared with his fictional detective. The first in a brand-new series, Wendell Black, M.D. (Harper’s Bourbon Street Books) starts with a bang—a cardiac arrest during a flight from London—and doesn’t stop. Manhattan is the backdrop, and there’s a swell, elegant, knowing sort of way about Imber’s writing that’s as up-to-the-minute as London-Tehran drug cartels and counterterrorism. Black reminds me of my favorite detective of all, that armchair gumshoe Nero Wolfe, whom Rex Stout created so many years ago. amazon.com