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The universe of Wilton Barnhardt’s first novel, Emma Who Saved My Life, is New York City in the 1970s, with its centipede-infested apartments, off-off-Broadway theaters, and all-night loft parties. “It was still a time when people moved across the country by Greyhound Bus,” Gil Freeman, Emma’s narrator, buoyed by dreams of Broadway stardom, begins. Gil’s years in the trenches, lived out of suitcases and sublets, are both hilarious (during his legitimate stage debut, he must improvise the final act of a play after the lead passes out drunk) and full of ache (in a motel room facing a cold Atlantic ocean, he fails to grant his best friend’s parting wish). The novel, written over a summer, was profitable enough that Barnhardt could take his time—seven years, in fact—researching and plotting his follow-up, Gospel. Here, the author’s landscape is enormous, tracking a theologian and a graduate student as they pursue an apocryphal gospel across three continents. Presided over by the Holy Spirit, with the text of the fictitious gospel threaded throughout, Gospel is true art, at once thrilling and redemptive. For his third novel, Show World, Barnhardt narrows his scope, focusing on writer Samantha Flint, from her days as a woman of promise at Smith College to her working life working in Washington and, finally, to her ruin in the City of the Dead. Read Show World—or, for that matter, Emma or Gospel—and see that no man, not even Wally Lamb, writes women as believably or brilliantly as Barnhardt. The author reads from and signs copies of Show World at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 18, at Borders, 5871 Crossroads Center Way, Baileys Crossroads. Free. (703) 998-0404. (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa)