Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering; Candlewick Press, 155 pages ($16.99).
Mary Losure, who won much critical acclaim for “The Fairy Ring,” tells the fascinating tale of “the savage of Aveyron,” the wild boy who was found living in the forest in southern France at the tail end of the 18th century, attracted the interest of leading thinkers of the day including the French interior minister (Napoleon’s brother) and eventually lived out his days on the grounds of an abandoned convent with a kindly caretaker in Paris. Quoting from original source material, Losure crafts a work of nonfiction that reads like a novel, chronicling the people who studied Victor, the lessons that finally achieved breakthroughs, the simple things that made him happy (potatoes, an acorn). Young readers will no doubt be horrified at the rude treatment given the boy: he was tied up in the town square, confined in an orphanage, bullied by deaf-mute classmates at a school in Paris, proclaimed an “imbecile” and studied as a specimen. His fortunes changed when a kindly doctor, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, took over supervision of his care and saved him from being locked up in an insane aslyum. The most fascinating chapters are Itard’s patient work teaching the boy. In her simply written, eloquent narrative, Losure is careful to note the difference between what is known to have happened to the boy and what might have happened. The book includes a map, extensive footnotes and an author’s note commenting on modern speculation that the boy may have been autistic. The story is perfectly complemented by the expressive charcoal illustrations of Timothy Basil Ering, who illustrated Kate DiCamillo’s “The Tale of Despereaux,”
– Jean Westmoore
Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin; Little, Brown, 400 pages ($25.99)
Welcome back to the Lothian & Borders Police force, John Rebus.
Since Ian Rankin put the colorful, much-loved protagonist of 17 novels aside with “Exit Music” in 2007, he stumbled with the stand-alone thriller “Doors Open” in 2008 before finding his feet with “The Complaints” (2009) and “The Impossible Dead” (2011).
Those two Edinburgh-based police procedurals featured Malcolm Fox, an internal affairs investigator who doesn’t drink or care for music. Despite Rankin’s seeming determination to turn him into an almost colorless anti-Rebus, those novels are thoroughly involving, and the reader is won over by Fox’s rock-solid decency.
Fox is no Rebus, however. And from the opening scene in which the semiretired detective – now working as a part-timer for the Serious Crimes Review Unit – is standing in the rain at a funeral thinking about how badly he needs a smoke, we’re delighted to have the dour old Tartan noir detective back in action.
The case that drives “Standing in Another Man’s Grave” involves a teenage girl who had gone missing in 1999. Through diligent application of shoe leather, Rebus links her to a series of similar disappearances over the years. All of the presumed dead women had been traveling along a route that runs from Edinburgh north through the Scottish Highlands to Inverness. As a no longer full-fledged member of the force, Rebus is forced to cut corners and pretend he has more authority than he has. He’s even treated, at first, with a certain wariness by his former protegee, Siobhan Clarke, the rising Detective Inspector who Rankin readers have been patiently waiting to see in a book of her own. Rebus remains as fascinatingly complex and gruffly engaging as ever.
– Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash; Ecco, 256 pages ($24.99)
Like Emily Dickinson, a poet famed for her oblique approach, Ron Rash is in the business of concealing the truth. “Tell it slant,” Dickinson once recommended. “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.” Since his first book appeared in 1994, Rash’s portraits of life in the mountains of western North Carolina have done just that. Whether chronicling the loss of the region’s lush natural resources in “Serena” and “Saints at the River,” or exploring the effects of that loss in searing short fiction such as 2010’s “Burning Bright,” his starkly beautiful prose has mapped the heart and soul of southern Appalachia in a way few writers of his generation can match.
Perhaps because he has lived most of his life in the area his ancestors have occupied since the 1700s, Rash rarely concerns himself with characters who live elsewhere.
That is not to say the people of Sylva and Blowing Rock and Canton don’t want out – they do, sometimes desperately, even murderously. A splendid new collection of Rash’s short fiction, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” provides 14 front-row seats to their escape attempts, using Dickinson’s stealth technique to perfection.
A star pupil who’s struggled for years to get into college finds himself enmeshed in his ex-girlfriend’s new life as a meth addict in their hometown. A couple facing mounting debts gamble their last $150 at a casino hoping to change their luck. An embittered, one-handed Civil War veteran refuses to let his daughter marry a man who fought for the enemy — unless he agrees to a ghoulish dowry. A British musicologist travels deep into the hills in search of old English ballads and finds a “beldame,” a wizened old granny whose long-lost songs offer a cruel reminder of their shared ancestry.
The stories seem simple on the face of it, but there are minefields galore here, embedded so deftly and deeply into the plot that each one registers only as a hushed, looming inevitability. Concealed beneath Rash’s often unadorned, nearly Shaker prose and modest, aw-shucks language is the barely audible ticking of a bomb about to go off that leaves a blinding truth in its wake.
– Gina Webb, Atlanta-Journal Constitution