First time authors are rarely known to write a truly exceptional book but Lisa Halliday accomplished the nearly impossible when she published Asymmetry: a collection of three short stories, two that appear to be related (Folly and Ezra Blazer’s Desert Island Discs) and one that appears to be asymmetrical but is clearly the star of the show (Madness).
In Folly, Alice, a twenty-something assistant editor at a publishing house in New York City meets Ezra Blazer, an elderly well known and universally respected writer of classic 20th century fiction who has yet to win the Nobel Prize for fiction. Blazer was probably once a player with rugged good looks and a shocking head of thick hair but time has not been kind to the author who complains about back pain, his heart problems, and the other ailments that haunt the elderly. Read more
Never run in town or people’ll think you stole something.
Where the Crawdads Sing is the first book of fiction published by Delia Owens, an author known more for the non-fiction books (The Eye of the Elephant, Cry of the Kalahari, and Secrets of the Savanna) she co-authored with Mark Owens about her experiences as a wildlife scientist in Africa. With the same attention to detail and observation made in previous books, Owens writes a coming of age novel about a young girl growing up in the marshlands of North Carolina in the 1950’s and 60’s, which is rumored to be partially autobiographical. Read more
Seven years ago in 2011, Jennifer Egan was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for A Visit From The Goon Squad (Goon Squad) – a novel that wasn’t typical in its structure or story which left readers perplexed because aren’t novels supposed be about momentum and anticipation? Read more
There is an old Arabic story about a man who hears Death is coming for him, so he sneaks away to Samarra. And when he gets there, he finds Death in the market, and Death says “You know, I just felt like going on vacation to Samarra. I was going to skip you today, but how lucky you showed up to find me! And the man is taken after all.
When the book “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2018, there were generally three camps of people: those who didn’t understand how this book won what many consider the most prestigious annual literary award in the world, those who totally got it, and the rest, myself included who didn’t understand why the book won until they got through most of the book and realized the brilliance is not only the story but also how it was told (note: I didn’t really like the book until I got to the end when the story came together brilliantly). Read more
Written by Meg Wolitzer, The Wife begins on an airplane, and specifically in seats 3A and 3B where Joe and Joan Castleman are sitting. The couple is on their way to Finland to attend the annual Helsinki Awards dinner where a prestigious literary award will be given to Joe, a distinguished well-respected American writer of fiction who previously won a Pulitzer for one of his books.
Narrated by Joan Castleman, the long-suffering wife who displays impatience for a husband who acts more like a baby than a man, while basking in the attention that goes along with being the wife of a man put on a pedestal, The Wife is the story of a marriage from the point of view of the wife. By the second page of the novel, the reader learns that Joan has finally decided to leave Joe after more than 40 years of marriage, and all the reader can think about is why. Read more
You realize, don’t you, that you weren’t saying what I thought? You were saying what you thought.
You Think It, I’ll Say It is a collection of ten short stories written by Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfeld (who goes by Curtis Sittenfeld). Published in 2018, You Think It, I’ll Say It is hard to put down because the stories draw the reader in to the turmoil between what appears to be true and what is actually true. Personal perspective, as determined by history and experience, is a key part of each story which only reinforces what we all know but sometimes forget: most of us start out optimistic and naive; life experiences either strengthen us or bring bitterness and disillusionment which means that truth is often subjective. Read more
People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget those of us who live too much on earth.
In 1984, Sandra Cisneros – a woman who “dreamed about having a silent home, just to herself, the way other women dreamed of their weddings” – was a 30-year-old Mexican American writer (having earned a BA in English from Loyola University and a Masters of Fine Arts from Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa) published her first book, The House on Mango Street: the story of a young Hispanic girl named Esperanza Cordero growing up on the west side of Chicago. Read more
We can wonder if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all. ~Elizabeth Strout
In 1959, life in small town America revolved around family, school, work, and church which was pretty much the same decades before and decades since. Houses may have updated appliances, driveways new cars, and schools fitted with updated technology but people tend to stay the same. They root for a winner but can’t help finding fault, gossiping, and crucifying others for perceived slights, petty jealousies, or simply because they have nothing else to do. And, as soon as a person is knocked down to size, they come together to lift him or her up, rejoicing in their newfound redemption. Such is the story of the townspeople in a small northeastern town in Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout. Read more
Because if everyone just turns out like their mother, then what’s the rat’s-ass point?”
Elizabeth Strout is one of the few writers who has mastered the art of writing about difficult women we loathe but love to read about. In her Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge (2009), Strout gave us an opinionated, forthright, bossy, cantankerous, and self-righteous protagonist (Olive Kitteridge) who was also loyal, honest, and conscientious. Most readers identified in some way with Olive Kitteridge – the school teacher, the wife of the local pharmacist, and the mother who loved imperfectly – but felt relieved the similarities only went so far. Read more
Before you pick up the book, Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, do yourself a favor and read My Name is Lucy Barton first. Both books stand alone as good reads but collectively these fictional stories are even better because the first book sets the stage and introduces a cast of colorful characters whose lives intertwine in the most bizarre ways in the second book. Read more