THE CASUAL VACANCY
Quite famous — and deservedly so — for her amazing Harry Potter series, Rowling’s foray into grown-up fiction has plenty of well-drawn characters, especially the troubled teens of Pagford. She gets inside the heads of almost all of the citizens she spotlights, but that’s part of the problem. There are too many characters, most of whom are dreadfully unsympathetic, and it takes quite a bit of effort to keep them straight. The book seems like a major overreaction to the Potter books: no hero; no magic whatsoever; bleakness and bitterness; and tiny, sad lives. It’s a downer but a well-rendered one, except for a bit of heavyhandedness where the have-nots are concerned.
Almost all the residents of the tiny village of Pagford are affected when town councilman Barry Fairweather dies suddenly. A local boy from the wrong side of the tracks who made good, he was a lifeline for Krystal, a high schooler from his old neighborhood, known as the Fields. His death also offers his smug opponents on the council a chance to advance their cause: that of closing down a local addiction clinic and breaking away from the Fields and its disadvantaged residents. Meanwhile, his family and friends mourn him and the students at the local school plot against their parents. (LITTLE, BROWN, Oct., 503 pp., $35.00)