Mrs. Fletcher, Election, The Leftovers . . . Tom Perrotta’s books involve wholly American stories that place oddball characters in unconventional situations that result in a deep and sometimes hilarious look into societal taboos. And, as a note for book clubs, they often generate some interesting, edgy topics for fun discussions. The books that he recommends similarly take a deep dive into all the complexities of the human condition: its beauties, absurdities, tragedies, and all!
Tom Perrotta Recommends: 7 Books with Dark, Edgy Storytelling
“POMEGRANATE feels like something new: a humane, closely observed account of a Black woman—a recovering addict, a mother who’s lost custody of her children—emerging from prison, working to stay clean, reconnect with her family, and come to terms with her complicated past. This moving and panoramic novel starts off as a character study and evolves into a big-hearted story of redemption.” —Tom Perrotta
“A remarkable feat of literary conjuration.” —Jennifer Haigh, nationally bestselling author of Mercy Street
The acclaimed author of The Serpent’s Gift returns with this gripping and powerful novel of healing, redemption, and love, following a queer Black woman who works to stay clean, pull her life together, and heal after being released from prison.
Ranita Atwater is “getting short.”
She is almost done with her four-year sentence for opiate possession at Oak Hills Correctional Center. With three years of sobriety, she is determined to stay clean and regain custody of her two children.
My name is Ranita, and I’m an addict, she has said again and again at recovery meetings. But who else is she? Who might she choose to become? As she claims the story housed within her pomegranate-like heart, she is determined to confront the weight of the past and discover what might lie beyond mere survival.
Ranita is regaining her freedom, but she’s leaving behind her lover Maxine, who has inspired her to imagine herself and the world differently. Now she must steer clear of the temptations that have pulled her down, while atoning for her missteps and facing old wounds. With a fierce, smart, and sometimes funny voice, Ranita reveals how rocky and winding the path to wellness is for a Black woman, even as she draws on family, memory, faith, and love in order to choose life.
Perfect for fans of Jesmyn Ward and Yaa Gyasi, Pomegranate is a complex portrayal of queer Black womanhood and marginalization in America: a story of loss, healing, redemption, and strength. In lyrical and precise prose, Helen Elaine Lee paints a humane and unflinching portrait of the devastating effects of incarceration and addiction, and of one woman’s determination to tell her story.
“THE SUNKEN CATHEDRAL is a gem of a novel—lyrical, ominous, and unexpectedly funny. Kate Walbert has somehow managed to write an elegy for a Manhattan that still exists, and characters who—like most of us—would prefer not to think about their impending doom.” —Tom Perrotta
From the highly acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award nominee, a “funny…beautiful…audacious…masterful” (J. Courtney Sullivan, The Boston Globe) novel about the way memory haunts and shapes the present.
Marie and Simone, friends for decades, were once immigrants to the city, survivors of World War II in Europe. Now widows living alone in Chelsea, they remain robust, engaged, and adventurous, even as the vistas from their past interrupt their present. Helen is an art historian who takes a painting class with Marie and Simone. Sid Morris, their instructor, presides over a dusty studio in a tenement slated for condo conversion; he awakes the interest of both Simone and Marie. Elizabeth is Marie’s upstairs tenant, a woman convinced that others have a secret way of being, a confidence and certainty she lacks. She is increasingly unmoored—baffled by her teenage son, her husband, and the roles she is meant to play.
In a chorus of voices, Kate Walbert, a “wickedly smart, gorgeous writer” (The New York Times Book Review), explores the growing disconnect between the world of action her characters inhabit and the longings, desires, and doubts they experience. Interweaving long narrative footnotes, Walbert paints portraits of marriage, of friendship, and of love in its many facets, always limning the inner life, the place of deepest yearning and anxiety. The Sunken Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful, profoundly wise novel about the way we live now—“fascinating, moving, and significant” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post).
“THE GOD GAME is a dark, edgy thriller, populated by a vastly appealing cast of teenage underdogs. Danny Tobey has written an unusually smart and provocative novel, a book full of ideas and heart that feels both fantastical and all-too-real at the same time.” —Tom Perrotta
"Smart, funny, sexy, and hard to put down. In this fast-moving, deeply compelling novel, Melissa Broder combines an unexpected (and very hot) love story with a sharp-edged examination of body image, religion, and cultural identity." —Tom Perrotta
Named a Best Book of the Year by Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, Time, Esquire, BookPage, and more
This darkly hilarious and “delicious new novel that ravishes with sex and food” (The Boston Globe) from the acclaimed author of The Pisces and So Sad Today is a “precise blend of desire, discomfort, spirituality, and existential ache” (BuzzFeed).
Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, through obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.
Rachel soon meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.
“A ruthless, laugh-out-loud examination of life under the tyranny of diet culture” (Glamour) Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is “riotously funny and perfectly profane” (Refinery 29) from “a wild, wicked mind” (Los Angeles Times).
“FRIENDS AND STRANGERS is a smart and deeply compelling exploration of female friendship and the complicated politics of motherhood and childcare. J. Courtney Sullivan is a shrewd and sympathetic observer of our current cultural moment, with an unerring eye for the way that the unspoken realities of money and class can affect even our most intimate relationships.” —Tom Perrotta
“MOTHER DAUGHTER WIDOW WIFE is suspenseful, keenly intelligent, and thoroughly engrossing. Robin Wasserman’s novel explores the complexities of memory and identity with unflinching clarity and deep compassion.” —Tom Perrotta
*Finalist for the 2021 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction*
From the author of Girls on Fire comes a “sharp and soulful and ferociously insightful” (Leslie Jamison) novel centered around a woman with no memory, the scientists studying her, and the daughter who longs to understand.
Wendy Doe is a woman with no past and no future. Without any memory of who she is, she’s diagnosed with dissociative fugue, a temporary amnesia that could lift at any moment—or never at all—and invited by Dr. Benjamin Strauss to submit herself for experimental observation at his Meadowlark Institute for Memory Research. With few better options, Wendy feels she has no choice.
To Dr. Strauss, Wendy is a female body, subject to his investigation and control. To Strauss’s ambitious student, Lizzie Epstein, she’s an object of fascination, a mirror of Lizzie’s own desires, and an invitation to wonder: once a woman is untethered from all past and present obligations of womanhood, who is she allowed to become?
To Alice, the daughter she left behind, Wendy Doe is an absence so present it threatens to tear Alice’s world apart. Through their attempts to untangle Wendy’s identity—as well as her struggle to construct a new self—Wasserman has crafted an “artful meditation on memory and identity” (The New York Times Book Review) and a journey of discovery, reckoning, and reclamation. “A timely examination of memory, womanhood and power,” (Time) Mother Daughter Widow Wife will leave you “utterly riveted” (BuzzFeed).
“THE DAYS OF AFREKETE is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time. Asali Solomon is a wickedly astute observer of the human condition, alert to all our weaknesses and absurdities, as well as our occasional moments of transcendence. The clarity of her vision is sometimes unsettling, but it’s always revelatory." —Tom Perrotta
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