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Heller McAlpin

Heller McAlpin is a New York-based critic who reviews books regularly for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.

Reading may not be the opiate of the masses, but it sure is my anti-anxiety elixir of choice. Whether you're quaking in fear of the dreaded coronavirus (as I was), relieved to be recovering from it (as I am), or worried about the world and feeling restlessly cooped up (as we all are), here are a trio of delightful new books that can transport you to a happier place for hours at a time.

Anne Tyler's latest novel is heartwarming balm for jangled nerves. Once again, she burrows so convincingly into the quotidian details of her main character's life, home, and head that you have to wonder if she's some sort of Alexa-gone-rogue.

Redhead by the Side of the Road has a lot going for it, beginning with its alluring title. But I'm not going to give away anything about that roadside presence except to say that the redhead is a lovely metaphor for the protagonist's inability to see clearly, which causes him to misread the relationships in his life.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there has been a spate of new novels exploring the long term damage of sexual abuse. In the past two years, predatory high school teachers have factored into two of the best of these — Kate Walbert's His Favorites and Susan Choi's Trust Exercise. Kate Elizabeth Russell's explosive debut now joins the line-up.

Lily King's new novel, her fifth, won't transport you to an exotic locale the way her last one did, but oh my, it's a good read. After Euphoria (2014), a richly researched and imagined tragic love triangle inspired by anthropologist Margaret Mead's life, King returns to her comfort zone: a distressed young woman finding her way in late 20th century New England.

Some people, my mother used to say, look for trouble. In her most personal book to date, Katie Roiphe — frequently a lightning rod for her inflammatory, unpopular stances on issues such as date rape — probes questions raised by the turbulence in her private and professional life.

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