I can vividly remember the quiet tears after my seventh birthday party. It was a wonderful party with my favorite spice cake with brown butter frosting and lots of good toys. But no one gave me a book. And not having a new adventure in reading waiting for me on my bookshelf brought on unexpected seven- year- old melancholy. I feel the same way whenever I leave for a plane or crawl into bed and don’t have a book in hand. I love the assurance that a good book is waiting for me. Here are a few newer titles that have recently helped feed my fiction addition.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – This is the story of a grumpy curmudgeon. He likes routine and order. He doesn’t smile and give compliments but he’s an honest man and a man with integrity. As the story opens Ove is fifty-nine years old, forcefully retired, bitter, alone and unsure how to fill his days. But behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. One November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door. Thus begins an unexpected friendship and a transformation that shakes Ove and his entire neighborhood to its foundations. Backman’s style succeeds in being life-affirming yet not sentimental. A wonderful read.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – ‘A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we wake from dreams.’ — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Those who have read and loved Atkinson’s Life after Life will recognize Teddy, the protagonist of her new novel. Teddy is Ursula Todd’s beloved younger brother who flew for the RAF. During the perils of his bombing career, he never expected to have a future. Living into that future turned out to be his biggest challenge. In Life after Life the author plays with time and creates several possible narratives for Ursula, the book’s protagonist. A God in Ruins is more straightforward but the chapters still move back and forth in time. This is not a chronological narrative of Teddy’s life but rather a collection of memories. Like all lives, Teddy’s has had its ups and downs. People’s lives are often defined by tragedy. Many of those people strive to make the best of their lives despite tragedy. Kate Atkinson writes beautifully and explores the familiar themes of the fragility of life, the certainty of death and the redemptive power of love in her singularly elegant, thoughtful and somewhat quirky way.
LaRose by Louise Erdrich – Louise Erdrich is a literary icon. She won the National Book Award with The Round House and her newest book is just as beautiful as her previous award-winners. Set in a Native American reservation in North Dakota, this story unfolds when a man accidentally shoots his neighbor’s young son and gives his own son, LaRose, to the grieving family. Pushed forward by the deep and complex emotions that surround grief and inheritance, this novel will take you on a phenomenal ride.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – Stephanie Danler’s first novel is one of the breakout bestseller surprises of the year. Tess is a 22-year-old waitress in a Union Square restaurant. She’s new to the Big Apple and has a huge, infection appetite for life. She soon finds herself attached to two servers: Jake, a quiet, handsome bartender, and Simone, an older woman who takes her under her wing. As the year unfolds, Tess learns that finding yourself often involves learning some hard lessons.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – The legendary star-crossed friendship between Truman Capote and New York socialite Babe Paley lies at the core of this work of historical fiction. Babe’s husband was CBS titan Bill Paley and Capote soon became the couple’s favorite weekend guest at their home in the Hamptons. Capote could always be counted on for both gossip and a sympathetic ear. Over their twenty year friendship, Capote became Babe’s most trusted friend as well as analyst. Their friendship ended in a tragic betrayal inaugurated by a Vanity Fair article Capote published. All of these facts are well-documented in NYC’s social history. Benjamin explores the inner workings the friendship between Capote and Babe, her loveless marriage to Paley, and a brief time in New York City when a small caderie of socialites — “the swans of Fifth Avenue” – reigned over the social scene.
Beth Pocock is Assistant Director at the Sawyer Free Library.