Amy Bloom, Away (Random House, 256 pages, $23.95)
Although Away will be touted as a novel of self-invention set in the 1920s, author Bloom could give the romance-paperback hacks a run for their money in the randy, raunchy women department. And that’s a great thing. She presents the story of Lillian Leyb, a young Russian woman who flees to America after her family is slaughtered, with both clarity and hard-edged humor. Whether her heroine is eking out a living in New York as a crappy seamstress—and an excellent mistress to a father-and-son combo—or acting as a personal assistant to a bloodthirsty Seattle whore, Bloom imbues her actions with an applause-worthy air of common sense, and a stomach-turning sense of desperation. At the heart of the tale (which, with its continent-skipping narrative, actually deserves the adjective “sweeping”) is Lillian’s frantic desire to find her young daughter. It’s an all-consuming, hell-hath-no-fury mother’s quest; an obsession that ensures that no action, whether carnally, physically or emotionally scarring, will be too much to endure. And when the movie studios inevitably turn Away into a hardscrabble early-20th-century epic starting Renée Zellweger, I won’t let them see me cry, either. I’ve got a train to catch and my own baby in Siberia to save. KELLY CLARKE. Bloom reads on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm. Free.
Greil Marcus, The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 336 pages, $25)
The reigning king of American music critics pulls out the big guns for another wide-ranging survey of popular culture in the spirit of Mystery Train and The Dustbin of History. This time he’s taking on American visionaries, from John Winthrop (“we shall be as a city upon a hill”) to Corin Tucker in her Heavens to Betsy days (“My secret is coming out!”), but mostly David Lynch. So much Lynch, in fact, that the middle 100 pages of the book are dedicated to summarizing Twin Peaks . If you skip that bit, though, you’ll find the real meat of the book. Something of a prophetic voice himself, Marcus sees a terrifying motif repeating itself over and over in American history and culture: We are doomed to destroy ourselves to atone for our national hubris. Cheery. BEN WATERHOUSE. Greil Marcus reads on Friday, Sept. 28, at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651.