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Author Picks: 6 Quirky, Heartfelt Novels I’ll Never Forget

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Carolyn Prusa has written for Savannah MagazineThe Charlotte Observer, and other publications. She lives in Savannah with her husband, two sons, and giant rescue dog, Dale. Find out more on Twitter @CarolynPrusa.

When asked for list of books that influenced my debut novel, None of This Would Have Happened If Prince Were Alive, my first thought was, Ooh, fun! My second was: Dang, that’s hard. Like probably many visitors to this page, I’m an omni-reader. The stack of books on my bedside table is both eclectic and towering—a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. But it’s easy to pinpoint several brilliant, quirky, and heartstring-pulling novels that both rocked my world and helped me find my voice as a writer. (Honorable mention that isn’t a book: Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Her 2016 visual album shook me up like a snow globe, and if you haven’t seen it, please do, ideally in comfy pants with a tequila drink.)

Young Jane Young
by Gabrielle Zevin

I am a full-on Zevinhead. (I don’t know if that’s a thing—maybe it is, now.) I started YOUNG JANE YOUNG sitting on the floor of a Barnes & Noble while my then wee sons perused the superhero comics section. The novel is divided into three parts that tell the story of a Lewinsky-type situation and ensuing slut-shaming from the POVs of three different female characters. I remember being so drawn to the first narrator—the South Florida–based mother, who reminds me of my mom and her bestie, Mary Ann, who consider themselves authorities on all things and finish each other’s sentences. Zevin is so brilliant and funny, and her writing is full of accessible human moments she makes beautiful.

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Young Jane Young
Gabrielle Zevin

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Mrs. Fletcher
by Tom Perrotta

This book came out before people used the expression “cringe” to describe anything painfully awkward. (Unrelated: yesterday my nine-year-old informed me that I’m “cringe” when I call out that I love him during soccer games.) MRS. FLETCHER is filled with “cringe” moments, done in such a masterful way. I loved following Mrs. Fletcher’s empty-nest sexual awakening. Much of my writing stems from dialogue bubbles of people trying to communicate but often dancing around each other or veering way, way off track in conversations. Perrotta is such a gifted comic writer. I would trade Trudy, my Chevy Traverse, for 0.3 percent of his talent.

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Mrs. Fletcher
Tom Perrotta

Now an HBO series starring Kathryn Hahn!

“Light, zingy, and laugh-out-loud funny” (People), the New York Times bestselling novel about sex, love, and identity as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged woman and her college freshman son.

A forty-six-year-old divorcee whose beloved only child has just left for college, Eve Fletcher is struggling to adjust to her empty nest. One night she receives a text from an anonymous number that says, “U R my MILF!” Over the months that follow, that message comes to obsess Eve. While leading her all-too-placid life—serving as Executive Director of the local senior center and taking a community college course on Gender and Society—Eve can’t curtail her own interest in a porn website that features the erotic exploits of ordinary, middle-aged women like herself. Before long, Eve’s online fixations begin to spill over into real life, revealing new romantic possibilities that threaten to upend her quiet suburban existence.

Meanwhile, miles away at the state college, Eve’s son Brendan—a jock and aspiring frat boy—discovers that his new campus isn’t nearly as welcoming to his hard-partying lifestyle as he had imagined. Only a few weeks into his freshman year, Brendan is floundering in a college environment that challenges his white-dude privilege and shames him for his outmoded, chauvinistic ideas of sex. As the New England autumn turns cold, both mother and son find themselves enmeshed in morally fraught situations that come to a head on one fateful November night.

“The sweetest and most charming novel about pornography addiction and the harrowing issues of sexual consent that you will probably ever read” (The New York Times Book Review), Mrs. Fletcher is a timeless examination of sexuality, identity, parenthood, and the big clarifying mistakes people can make when they’re no longer sure of who they are or where they belong. “Tom Perrotta’s latest might just be his best” (NPR).

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories
by Flannery O'Connor

This is kind of cheating. Even though I adore this masterpiece, I mostly wanted to give a shout-out to Ms. O’Connor, whose childhood home is two miles down the street from mine in Savannah. And invite y’all to Local Author Day in the spring, which includes a musical parade featuring several of her famous characters, and chicken bingo. But seriously. My favorite Southern writers capture the quirkiness, comedy, deep family ties, and complicated darkness of the region with grace. O’Connor is the OG.

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories
Flannery O'Connor

In 1955, Flannery O’Connor established herself as one of the most original and provocative writers of her generation. Steeped in a Southern Gothic tradition, this story collection illuminates O’Connor’s grotesque view of life infused with religious symbolism, haunted by apocalyptic possibility, and sustained by the tragic comedy of human behavior.

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Writers & Lovers
by Lily King

Every writer should read this! No matter what you’re trying to write. First, Lily King’s prose is unparalleled—lush and flowing yet grounded in tangible details. I was cheering for Casey Peabody, who is both grieving for her mother and buoying herself in the act of creating something when it seems the world is conspiring against you. I remember my heart beating rapidly during the scene where Casey is at work and going back and forth with her agent on the phone, wanting so badly for her to sell her book. Also, I love the scene where she first talks to an agent and immediately forgets everything they discuss. During my first phone calls with editors, my brilliant agent, Maggie Cooper, was tap-tap-tapping notes on her end because she knew the same thing would happen to me!

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Writers & Lovers
Lily King

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Prep
by Curtis Sittenfeld

I had a sneak peak of Sittenfeld’s brilliance when I was a reader on the submission committee for the literary magazine at college. Even then—um, ten, um, twenty-ish years ago—her voice jumped off the page, and though the submissions were anonymous, we instantly knew when a piece belonged to her.

I received my MA from a challenging, wonderful, albeit dude-dominated creative writing program. Though I learned so much, I felt a little bit lost afterward. I had gotten the message that literary fiction was the most, and only, important kind of writing. Which didn’t seem to leave room for the bizarre, hilarious Southern voices in my head. Also, at that time, many popular novels involved, um, incest and vampires. (Who doesn’t love both, right?)

But I am a sucker for a coming-of-age novel, especially when the character doing the growing is a teenage girl. I loved PREP in its celebration of the brutal moments of adolescence. Reading it felt like a message from the universe that I can write stories about being a woman, a daughter, a mother, a human.

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Prep
Curtis Sittenfeld

Although she once felt like an outsider, scholarship student Lee managed to carve a place for herself at the Ault School. When her behavior takes a self-destructive turn, though, her carefully crafted identity is shattered. Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel is an insightful and uproarious coming-of-age story, as well as a vivid dissection of class, race, and gender.

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Class Mom
by Laurie Gelman

One time, I picked up my son from kindergarten and noticed he had icing both in his hair and on his T-shirt. Apparently, a girl had brought a sheet cake to celebrate her birthday that day and ended up hurling pieces of it at her classmates. Y’all—I cannot emphasize enough how much this story delights me. Which brings me to Laurie Gelman’s CLASS MOM. This book is a blast. I was so charmed by the way Gelman balances the irreverent attitude and heartfelt motivation of the main character. It reminds me that, within the more mundane moments of parenting, there’s urgency, drama, and brutal and hilarious situations that test one’s spirit. And sometimes icing in weird places.

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Class Mom
Laurie Gelman

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None of This Would Have Happened If Prince Were Alive
by Carolyn Prusa

AVAILABLE NOVEMBER 22, 2022!

Ramona’s got a bratty boss, a toddler teetering through toilet training, a critical mom who doesn’t mind sharing, and oops—a cheating husband. That’s how a Category Four hurricane bearing down on her life in Savannah becomes just another item on her to-do list. In the next forty-eight hours she’ll add a neighborhood child and the class guinea pig named Clarence Thomas to her entourage as she struggles to evacuate town. Ignoring the persistent glow of her minivan’s check engine light, Ramona navigates police check points, bathroom emergencies, demands from her boss, and torrential downpours while fielding calls and apology texts from her cheating husband and longing for the days when her life was like a Prince song, full of sexy creativity and joy.

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None of This Would Have Happened If Prince Were Alive
Carolyn Prusa

Perfect for fans of Maria Semple and Jennifer Weiner, this smart and witty debut novel follows Ramona through the forty-eight hours after her life has been upended by the discovery of her husband’s affair and an approaching Category Four hurricane.

Ramona’s got a bratty boss, a toddler teetering through toilet training, a critical mom who doesn’t mind sharing, and oops—a cheating husband. That’s how a Category Four hurricane bearing down on her life in Savannah becomes just another item on her to-do list. In the next forty-eight hours she’ll add a neighborhood child and the class guinea pig named Clarence Thomas to her entourage as she struggles to evacuate town.

Ignoring the persistent glow of her minivan’s check engine light, Ramona navigates police check points, bathroom emergencies, demands from her boss, and torrential downpours while fielding calls and apology texts from her cheating husband and longing for the days when her life was like a Prince song, full of sexy creativity and joy.

Thoroughly entertaining and completely relatable, None of This Would Have Happened if Prince Were Alive is the hilarious, heartwarming story of a woman up to her elbows in calamities and about to drive off the brink of the rest of her life.

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