It’s well documented that I love a good unreliable narrator. So how could I resist a bestselling thriller that boasts three? THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN delves into the minds of a trio of women whose lives are intertwined in a story of obsession, lies, and secrets. More compelling than a love triangle, the triangle of deception created by these three characters makes it so the reader can’t really trust any of them.
It’s a strange and wonderful thing to recognize something of yourself in a book. It’s an even stranger and more wonderful thing to recognize your own feelings in a character with whom, at first glance, you have very little in common. While the circumstances of my own life aren’t much like those of Aaron, the main character in Lori Ostlund’s AFTER THE PARADE, I was amazed at how clearly I understood him, and how relatable he seemed to be. I found myself both nodding along with Aaron’s observations about people and at the same time feeling astonished at how astute his observations were.
With the reemerging popularity of classics such as 1984 and BRAVE NEW WORLD, it’s safe to say that 2017 is the year of the dystopian novel. However, while great works from the 20th century deserve all the attention they’ve gotten, it should be noted that in the past few years there’s been an influx of great new dystopian fiction that imaginatively depicts contemporary society’s biggest fears.
BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE is a perfect candidate for your next book club pick. This should come as no surprise. After the success of A MAN CALLED OVE and MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY, Fredrik Backman has proven himself to be essential reading.
For two years in high school, I had a long-suffering crush on a guy named Randy, who only saw me as a brainy, funny friend and not the coquettish sexpot I so desperately wanted to be. We talked on the phone often, exchanged book recommendations, and watched movies together. Meanwhile, I desperately yearned to crawl underneath his arm or for his hand to brush mine and for him to spontaneously decide that OF COURSE he loved me, too.
After the election, desperate to mute the news that had become the soundtrack of my life, the torment only a reader knows struck. Despite the many books teetering on my to-be-read pile, I couldn’t fall in love with a new book. History teaches the cure lies behind us; thus I searched my shelves, seeking a book out of the limelight but still in my heart.
I opened THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY with trepidation, praying it would again transport me. Being a dedicated member of the first-line club, I held my breath and read the opening words in the prologue…
I bought BAD FEMINIST in a bookstore in Woodstock on November 6, 2016. The lady behind the counter smiled and slipped a “Pussy Grabs BACK!” sticker in the bag with my receipt. I smiled back, as if to say “We got this!” and skipped out of the store clutching the bright pink book across my chest. When I opened BAD FEMINIST on November 9, the day after the election, I dove into Roxane Gay’s writing, wrapping it around me piece by piece like armor.
A friend of mine recently told me about his relationship with a girl more than 300 miles away. They met by exchanging glances at a party while she was in town for a wedding. He impulsively gave her his address, but they parted ways with him wondering if he’d just turned himself into a punchline by asking her to write to him. He was happily surprised on opening his mailbox two weeks later.
In my own internal reference library, the brilliance of Denis Johnson’s minimalism is almost without compare. He fashions his most arresting prose from moments of tough, heartbreaking realism. In TRAIN DREAMS, Johnson depicts the hard-fought life of Robert Grainier, a gentle-natured day laborer in the Great Northwest during the first half of the twentieth century. This stunning epic novella brims with striking and spontaneous outbursts of beauty.
I love reading novels with dysfunctional characters. Something about their utter inability to get it together makes me feel so much better about my own moments of ineptitude. I may have accidentally forgotten to pay my electric bill last week, but I’ve never been so overwhelmed with responsibility that I disappear on my family like Bernadette in Maria Semple’s WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. Sure, I’ve embarrassed myself after a drink too many once or twice, but I certainly haven’t squandered an entire inheritance after a drunk driving accident like Leo in Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s THE NEST.
And I may be a poor twentysomething trying to make it in New York City, but I’m so glad I’m not a grad-school dropout living at home and unable to face reality like Cal in Kris D’Agostino’s THE SLEEPY HOLLOW FAMILY ALMANAC.