From Category: Fiction
Spider in a Tree
Set in Western Massachusetts in the 18th century, during the religious revival known as the First Great Awakening, this luminous novel re-creates the domestic life and spiritual development of the theologian Jonathan Edwards. Stinson allows the complexity of the Puritan worldview to speak for itself, setting Edwards's mystical delight in nature and his deep compassion alongside his severe views of God's judgment and his defense of slave-owning.
By Naomi Novik. This fantasy novel about the braided destinies of three resourceful young women draws on elements of Eastern European fairy tales to create a legend all its own. In a twist on the story of Rumpelstiltskin, a Jewish moneylender's daughter in an alternate-history 19th-century Lithuanian village is kidnapped by the king of the Staryk, sinister ice fairies who want her to turn their enchanted silver into gold. Meanwhile, her peasant housekeeper finds heroism thrust upon her as she strives to protect her young brothers from their abusive father. Their adventures intersect with a reluctant tsarina trying to save her people from the fae's perpetual winter spell. Multiple narrative viewpoints weave a complex tapestry of conflicting loyalties that are ingeniously resolved. Though the book ends, as a good fairy tale should, with some romantic happy-ever-after's, the primary narrative thread is how the three girls grow into their unchosen obligations and become brave leaders.
Ten Thousand Stories
The cut pages of this illustrated book can be recombined to create a multitude of delightfully absurd tales. This particular offering is most suitable for adults, but Swanson and Behr, the husband-and-wife team behind Idiots' Books, also publish equally zany materials for children.
The 19th Wife
By David Ebershoff. This multi-layered novel intertwines the story of Brigham Young's ex-wife Ann Eliza, a real historical figure who successfully campaigned to outlaw plural marriage in the United States, with a modern-day murder mystery in a polygamist Mormon splinter group. The narrative unfolds through fictional documents—correspondence, research papers, autobiographies—suggesting that truth is subjective and many-sided.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
This Pulitzer-winning epic novel about the golden age of comic book superheroes is also a love song to New York City Jewish culture in the years surrounding World War II. Two boys, a visionary artist who escaped Nazi-occupied Prague and his fast-talking, closeted cousin from Brooklyn, lead the fantasy fight against Hitler by creating the Escapist, a superhero who is a cross between Harry Houdini and the Golem of Jewish legend. However, their real-world dilemmas prove resistant to magical solutions, and can only be resolved through humility, maturity, and love.
The Bean Trees
Written in 1988, the first novel by this now well-known author and activist is first of all a heartwarming and funny story about an unlikely "family of choice" formed by a single mother and her baby, a young woman fleeing her dead-end Southern town, and an abandoned Native American toddler. More ambitious than the typical "relationship novel", the story puts a human face on political issues like interracial adoption and the plight of South American refugees.
The Best American Short Stories 1999
A particularly fine installment of this annual series, the 1999 anthology includes a wide spectrum of styles and ethnic backgrounds, with emotionally compelling tales that leave the reader with much to ponder. Standouts include Nathan Englander's 'The Tumblers', which casts the shadow of the Holocaust over Yiddish folklore's mythical village of Chelm; Sheila Kohler's 'Africans', a quietly chilling account of a family's disintegration under apartheid; and Heidi Julavits' 'Marry the One Who Gets There First', an unlikely love story told through wedding-album outtakes.
The Bride Price
Bittersweet romance set on the American frontier tells the story of a white woman and a half-Indian soldier who hope their love is strong enough to survive prejudice and the dangers of army life. The hero's seduction of a married woman is hard to square with his generally noble character, but his displays of leadership and grace under pressure are worth emulating.
The Child Finder
By Rene Denfeld. This beautifully written thriller goes deep into the minds of survivors of intergenerational trauma: some who become healers and heroes, pitted against others who pass on the evil that was done to them. In the snowbound mountain forests of the Pacific Northwest, a famed investigator with her own barely-remembered abuse history searches for a little girl who was kidnapped three years ago. Meanwhile, this resilient and imaginative child tries to maintain her sanity in captivity, by reliving her favorite fairy tale and forming a bittersweet survival bond with her captor.
The Chosen One
This chilling and all-too-real story takes place inside a fundamentalist polygamist cult in the Utah desert. Thirteen-year-old Kyra loves her extended family and tries not to question the elders' tightening grip on their lives, but when they command her to marry her 60-year-old uncle, she plans a desperate escape that could put her life at risk. Billed as a young adult novel, this book may be too disturbing for some readers in that age group.
The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Volume 6: The Crime Stories
The famed writer of Westerns was also a master of the hard-boiled crime story. These action-packed noir tales are populated with treacherous dames, mobsters, prizefighters, coal miners, scam artists, and decent guys trying to survive against the odds.
The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories
The often absurd and exaggerated premises of these witty tales heighten our compassion for the hapless protagonists who seek love and sex in urban America, but rarely hang on to either one for long. Almond chronicles life's freakshow in the same spirit as Flannery O'Connor's grotesque: to shock us into solidarity with one another and compassion for our abnormal secret selves.
The Girls Club
Winner of the Bywater Prize for lesbian fiction, this enjoyable and honest first novel follows three young working-class Catholic sisters as they navigate women's changing social roles in the 1970s. Cora Rose, the protagonist, comes to embrace the aspects of herself that she once struggled to hide: her chronic illness and her desire for other women. In prose that is electric with wit and longing, Bellerose shows how the ones who drive us crazy are the ones we can't live without.
In 1962, the civil rights movement has barely touched the ladies of Jackson, Mississippi, who continue to treat their African-American maids like dirt—that is, until one misfit heiress with journalistic ambitions convinces the longsuffering housekeepers and nannies to share their anonymous testimonies in a book that will scandalize the community. Though the novel's neat happy ending could be considered too "Hollywood", this tale of interracial friendship is inspiring and enjoyable.
The Home for Wayward Clocks
In this beautiful and innovative novel, an abused boy becomes a recluse who lavishes all his human warmth on the clocks he rescues and repairs for his museum. But a disabling accident, and the arrival of an abused teenage girl who needs his help, compel him to reach out to his neighbors and learn to trust again. His storyline is interspersed with the stories of the clock-owners.
By Scott A. Winkler. Old-fashioned and wholesome, this Vietnam War era coming-of-age novel reminds us that there was more to America in the late 1960s than the coastal counterculture. The eldest son of small-town Wisconsin dairy farmers, high school graduate Walt Neumann is torn between his dreams of becoming a college-educated writer and his rugged, taciturn father's demand that his sons carry on his legacy of military service. Not your typical rebel, Walt deeply honors his family's traditions of hard manual labor and service to the place they call home, but grows to understand that the traumatic stories locked inside the stolid "Greatest Generation" veterans may be preventing an entire nation from learning from its errors. Beautiful writing and sensitive character portraits make this meditative novel a good opener for blue- and red-state Americans to start understanding each other.
The Mountain in the Sea
By Ray Nayler. This compelling hard-science thriller is set in a reshaped geopolitical environment, where humankind's aggressive harvesting of the oceans for protein may have put evolutionary pressure on octopuses to develop a civilization of comparable intelligence as ours. But rather than pitting humans against nature, the multi-layered and well-researched plot comes down to two theories of consciousness: the colonialist quest for knowledge-as-control, or empathy across the mysterious divide of self from other. The stakes are nothing less than human survival on the planet.
The Poisonwood Bible
In this novel, a dangerously naive American missionary family is swept up into the turmoil of the Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960. Each of the multiple narrators speaks with a poetry all her own, and voices a different way to make sense of this clash of cultures. Despite the violence and injustice that the family witnesses, and in which they become complicit, the world they inhabit is anything but meaningless, though it may be a meaning that does not have the white race, or even the human race, at the center. Kingsolver combines a prophet's rage with a mystic's delight in small miracles such as the jungle's fertile ecosystem and the generosity of starving villagers.
Witty novel chronicles the romantic travails of the authors of a 1970s sex manual and their four children, who are first mortified by their parents' unabashed passion, then wounded and disillusioned by their divorce. Wolitzer treats her characters' failings tenderly, managing both nostalgia for the Free Love generation's idealism and clear-sighted compassion for the Generation X'ers living in the wreckage of sexual utopia. The style is so light and clever that one realizes only later how many deep truths have been communicated.
The Prince and the Dressmaker
By Jen Wang. In this perfectly heartwarming graphic novel, set in "Paris at the dawn of the modern age", a special friendship blossoms between a cross-dressing teenage prince and the working-class seamstress who guards his secret. By day, Prince Sebastian dodges his parents' efforts to set him up with eligible young ladies, while by night, he dazzles as fashion icon Lady Crystallia. Meanwhile, Frances wonders how she can achieve her dreams of success as a fashion designer without exposing her royal client's secret. All ends happily in a tale that is suitable for both YA and adult readers.
The Question Authority
By Rachel Cline. This slim, incisive, timely novel of the #MeToo Movement explores the long aftermath of a popular teacher's serial predation on tween girls in a 1970s Brooklyn private school. Two middle-aged women, once childhood best friends, find themselves on opposite sides of another sexual misconduct case because of the different psychological strategies they employed to cope with their victimization. The Question Authority fearlessly examines the gray areas of consent, understanding that young women routinely overestimate how much choice and objectivity they could really bring to a relationship with an older male mentor.
Members of a Jesuit-led expedition to another planet face the ultimate test of their wisdom and endurance when they encounter two intelligent alien species, one of which uses the other as both servants and prey. This well-written novel and its sequel, Children of God, raise profound questions about the spiritual meaning of suffering and the unforeseen consequences of our actions.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
By Theodora Goss. Suspenseful but basically light-hearted, this series opener is a fun feminist talkback to the Victorian literary tradition of mad scientists who viewed women as raw material for monstrosities. The daughters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team up with the Bride of Frankenstein, Nathaniel Hawthorne's poisonous Beatrice Rappaccini, and other not-quite-human women from Gothic fiction to track down a secret society that is performing murderous experiments. The third-person narrative includes frequent first-person intrusions by the characters, teasing each other or disputing how the story is framed. Some might find this editorializing a little too cutesy, as it does lower the dramatic stakes by reassuring the reader that the whole team survives to the end of this adventure. However, the style has the serious purpose of offering an alternative to the solitary hegemonic perspective of the male genius, as well as highlighting its monstrous heroines' common origins in the Victorian Gothic fear of hybridity. Not enough plot threads are resolved at the end, in order to leave an opening for the next book—a structural weakness, but one that does not unduly diminish the reader's warm feelings as the book closes.
The Strange History of Suzanne LaFleshe: And Other Stories of Women and Fatness
This important anthology from The Feminist Press spans a century of women's short fiction. The large women who populate these stories may be sensual goddesses, lesbian feminists, sideshow performers, battered wives, or troubled teens, but each poses a question about our discomfort with embodiment and female power. A bonus feature of this anthology is an excellent critical essay by Koppelman, a literary historian and the leading expert on short fiction by US women. View her author page at The Feminist Press website for other themed anthologies in this series.
The Three Great Secret Things
Gentle, profound coming-of-age story about an orphan boy in postwar America and his introduction to the mysteries of sex, love, art and faith. The boarding-school setting allows insightful readings of literary classics and Christian beliefs to be skillfully woven into the narrative. Readers of all ages will feel for young David Lear as he matures from observer to author of his own life, with help from a strong-willed, unforgettable girl. This book is the sequel to Leaving Maggie Hope but can be enjoyed on its own.
The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories
Every story is a masterpiece of voice, setting, and emotional depth in this collection of short fiction from the 1970s and '80s. Contributors include Dorothy Allison, Allan Gurganus, Mary Gaitskill, Ron Hansen, Chris Offutt, Susan Power and John Edgar Wideman. This anthology stands out for the genuine diversity of its authors and subject matter (race, class, gender, location, historical period) and the absence of intellectual anomie and cynicism: something truly human is at stake in every tale.
The Whore’s Child and Other Stories
Deftly drawn portraits of intimate relationships explore how the people closest to us may be the most mysterious. In the title piece, an elderly nun in a fiction writing class writes her memoirs in defiance of the teacher's expectations, but the exercise reveals that the true story is different from what she had thought it to be. Other pieces gently probe the strengths and weaknesses of long-married couples, and how they are held together as much by the fictions they believe as by the truths they know about one another.
This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon
This luminous collection of linked stories takes the risk of positing a universe where tragedy and confusion do not get the last word. The narrator's acerbic wit and unsparing assessments of human nature, particularly her own, earn credibility for the moments of grace that always break in to redeem her family's love-hate relationships.
By GennaRose Nethercott. In this extraordinary work of Jewish magical realism, the American great-great-grandchildren of legendary Eastern European witch Baba Yaga inherit her chicken-legged hut, and find themselves tasked with laying the ghosts of the pogroms to rest. The story is undergirded by a traditionally Jewish vision of death and the afterlife, in which being remembered by your descendants is the most important form of immortality. The Yaga descendants, whose magical powers have their hidden roots in Jewish survival skills, must do battle with the personification of genocidal forces that would erase not only a marginalized people but even the memory of their existence. And there is a traveling puppet show, and a monster-hunting band of queer rock musicians, and a lesbian romance with an animated graveyard statue. What more could you ask for?
Till We Have Faces
In this fantasy novel loosely based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche, an unloved queen recounts her grievances against the gods, only to discover the struggle between selfish and unselfish love in her own soul. This is Lewis' most "feminist" book, showing a remarkable grasp of women's experiences in a male-dominated society.
By Sandra Hunter. With startling breadth of vision, this short story collection reveals the raw and tender material of our common humanity across borders—from a Sudanese refugee in Glasgow, to the survivor of a Colombian paramilitary kidnapping, to young soldiers in the Middle East whose emotional armor is breached by defiantly joyful children. The standout tale "Brother's Keeper" channels Flannery O'Connor to expose the underside of white Christian benevolence toward Africans. For immigrants and wanderers everywhere, gratitude takes a backseat to homesickness, and rescue is not the same as safety. Hunter restores these displaced persons to the center of their own life story.
By Jackie Kay. Lyrical writing distinguishes this multivocal novel about a trans male jazz musician in 1950s-'90s Scotland and the many ways that people process the revelation of his queer identity after his death.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman
By Kaitlyn Greenidge. This ambitious, unsettling debut novel delves into the secret history of primate research and race relations in America. The Freemans, a high-achieving middle-class black family, accept a live-in position at the (fictitious) Toneybee Institute in rural Massachusetts to teach sign language to a chimpanzee. Their narrative is braided with that of Nymphadora, a maverick black schoolteacher in the 1920s who was seduced into taking part in the Toneybee's questionable experiments. In both timelines, the black protagonists' lives unravel because they underestimated how the white scientists saw them, too, as animal test subjects.
William Trevor: The Collected Stories
Small masterpieces of melancholy from acclaimed Irish writer. Like a scalpel, Trevor's prose is delicate yet piercing, exposing unnamed but all-too-familiar psychological truths about his characters and ourselves.
XX Eccentric: Stories About the Eccentricities of Women
This short fiction anthology from Main Street Rag celebrates the creativity and perseverance of women who don't play by normal rules. The eclectic cast of characters includes an HIV-positive senior citizen, a spunky lesbian drama teacher fighting her school's bureaucracy, and a teenage girl with a crush on Abe Lincoln.
You Are Not a Stranger Here
Flawless prose captures emotions that are almost too subtle for words. Though his dark themes may seem familiar to readers of literary fiction (several tales feature bereavement and mental illness), these stories shine with moments of wisdom discovered and hard-won love, lifting them far above most examples of the genre.