That’s right, we discussed literary fiction this time! Literary fiction is defined by a multi-layered, experimental, or technical virtuosity writing style. The focus is more on character than plot and will prompt a high degree of interaction between reader and book. When you read what people had to say about their books, you might just find something to suggest to your own book discussion group!
Megan: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is a deeply moving yet disturbing love story. Wavy, the daughter of a meth dealer father and a mentally ill mother, is taught from an early age to not trust anyone. When one of her father’s thugs wrecks his motorcycle eight-year old Wavy is the only one who sees the accident. Her decision to help Kellen will forever change both their lives. Kellen becomes her friend and protector and she is his constant companion. No one takes notice of the relationship between the strange, silent child and the enormous ex-con with a heart of gold until Wavy becomes a teen. Wavy and Kellen’s story is heartbreaking and engrossing and at times even uncomfortable to read about. No matter what you believe about their relationship, their story will stick with you long after the book is done.
Chris: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It’s 1991 and Lotto and Mathilde have just married a few months after falling madly in love with each other at first sight. Theirs is romance friends envy because it seems so perfect in every respect. But a decade later, it’s revealed that things are not always as they seem. Yes, there are two sides to every story and this novel is written with Lotto telling his side first followed by Mathilde’s side which is the more interesting. It reveals the secrets that they kept from each other, and it’s these secrets that ultimately kept the marriage together. A fascinating read–A New York Times Best Seller, Finalist for the 2015 Book Award and named Best Book of the Year by many publications.
Beth: Lynda Cohen Loigman’s introduces us to two sisters by marriage and their families as they cohabitate in a two-family home in Brooklyn, NY. The story unravels the complexity of family relationships as it shares their story over 30 years, through the different family members’ perspectives. The Two-Family House leaves the reader pondering on relationships and choices over a short lifetime.
Gina: In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the story is told by main character Holden; reminiscing on the time in his life that could be considered to be his lowest point. After be expelled from his fourth prep school, Holden went on a journey to New York to find himself. Holden battles with the understanding of innocence, sexuality, and the meaning of life; but through this journey, he finds hope in his sister’s youthfulness. This is a true American coming of age book for everyone to enjoy.
Carol: In The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, Lib Wright is a former “Nightingale” nurse in 1850s London who is sent to a small Irish village in order to investigate the locals’ claim that eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell hasn’t eaten anything in months, but instead is surviving on manna from heaven. Lib is obviously skeptical and when Anna’s health declines during the observation period, Lib finds a hard time avoiding emotional involvement. Is she witnessing a miracle or is Anna in dire need of help? The Wonder is an atmosphere novel with a slow-building suspense that left me completely enthralled from start to finish.
Steve: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a tense page turner that finds Georgia plantation slaves Cora and Caesar on the run as they escape their horrible lives via a vast physical underground railroad. The two at first find their way to South Carolina and settle into a seemingly progressive town with caring citizens, only to find out that the town is doing experiments with disease and birth control on runaway slaves. The two continue seeking freedom elsewhere, while desperately trying to outrun the brutal slave catcher Ridgeway.
Emma: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway was written in 1952. For 80+ day’s Cuban fisherman Santiago has had a run of bad luck. He’s caught no fish. So Santiago finally travels far beyond the other fishing boats and eventually catches a giant marlin. It takes him two days and nights to bring the fish back to shore strapped to the side of his boat. He loses most of it to sharks on his return trip. The marlin would have fed him for many months or it could have been sold at a good price. This is a rather sad but beautiful long short story.
Dori: In Joan London’s award-winning book The Golden Age, 12-year-old Frank Gold is convalescing at a home for victims of polio after World War II. The child of Hungarian refugees who have unwillingly been resettled in Perth, Australia, he’s an observant, dreamy boy who yearns to be a poet. When we first meet him, he’s wheeling around the hospital with one goal: to glimpse Elsa, the only other child his age and the object of his affections. The book doesn’t just limit itself to Frank and Elsa, though; London is attentive to all her characters and their inner lives. Her writing has a lovely radiance and she’s able to evoke the feelings of displacement, growing up, finding hope and safety and, of course, love.
Sarah: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is about a young mother, Lucy Barton, who is recovering from a minor operation that became complicated and and kept her in the hospital for months. She and her mother haven’t spoken for years, having become estranged after Lucy’s harsh upbringing in a poverty-stricken small town. Yet Lucy is touched and grateful when her mother comes to visit for five days. She tells Lucy about the town and people of her youth, about their marriages, lives and deaths, as she and Lucy begin to reconnect. However there is an underlying tension as memories of Lucy’s troubled childhood surface, and we are given a glimpse into how complicated family relationships can be. This was a fascinating and engaging story that left me wanting to get to know Lucy Barton and her mother better.
Lauren: The Girls is Emma Cline’s debut novel. We meet Edie Boyd, a shy and lonely teenager living in California during the late-1960s. She meets a group of girls—mysterious and magnetic Suzanne stands out—and is slowly drawn into their isolated world of counter-culture, freedom, sex, and drugs. At the helm is their leader, Russell, whom the girls all seem to worship. Split between the present-day and Edie’s remembrance of the past, a frightening picture is slowly painted as the girls approach a horrific point-of-no-return.
Stacey: Open the cover on To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey and you’ll find yourself spirited away to a different time and place. Multiple storylines are told concurrently with subtle shifts in tone and style to reflect each character, descriptions of the natural world mix easily with mystical elements, and the use of images enhance a reader’s experience. Recording the past as journal entries but calling certain aspects into question through a contemporary correspondence builds one complex story full of subtle, surprising moments. A beautifully crafted book, from the wildly adventurous story to the presentation on the pages, this is a reading experience you won’t soon forget.
Next time we’ll cover the dangerous world of horror fiction! Horror books are written to frighten the reader (obvs?) and are distinguished by supernatural or occult elements, often featuring the power of the natural world gone awry. Turn on all the lights and -enjoy!