Classic Literary Fiction

Name: Jackie Teeven
Genre: Classic Literary Fiction
Title: Slaughterhouse Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Appeal Factors: Darkly Satirical, Irreverent, Anti-war, Narrative style
Read Alikes: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile’s Story of Return & Revolution by Andrei Codrescu
Summary/Thoughts: The novel begins with the disclaimer that this story “is mostly true” because he, the author, was there.  Vonnegut then launches into telling the bizarre tale of the life of Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist.  Billy is a WWII infantry soldier and German POW, who is present for and survives, the horrific bombing of Dresden by the Allies.  The story is not told in chronological order and literally leaps forward and backward between the decades of Billy’s life.  Billy suffers from PTSD, is abducted by aliens, and frequently travels back and forth through time as well as space.  The reader is left to decide for themselves whether or not some of these travels occur solely in Billy’s mind.  The author summarizes the book quite accurately on the fly leaf – it is a tale told by an infantry scout and POW in a telegraphic and schizophrenic manner – the way stories are told on the planet Tralfamadore – where the flying saucers come from. Peace.

Name: Anne Cummings
Genre: Literary Fiction
Title: Ellen Foster
Author: Kaye Gibbons
Appeal Factors: Female, plucky and brave child narrator Southern setting Character-driven Coming-of-age story Theme of racial inequity Theme of biological family vs. true family Theme of friendship Emotionally evocative language Quick Pacing
Read Alikes: Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Summary/Thoughts: Lovers of To Kill a Mockingbird would find many shared appeal factors between these literary fiction gems:

Female, plucky and brave child narrator
Southern setting
Character-driven
Coming-of-age story
Theme of racial inequity
Theme of biological family vs. true family
Theme of friendship
Emotionally evocative language

The contrast of the leisurely pace of To Kill a Mockingbird with the quick pacing and succinct language of Ellen Foster will be noticed by readers.

Name: Pam Aghababian
Genre: Classic Literary Fiction
Title: The Outsiders
Author: S.E. Hinton
Appeal Factors: earnest yet somewhat optimistic, effective use of slang, theme of class differences
Read Alikes: To Kill a Mockingbird, Walter Dean Myers
Summary/Thoughts: Widely considered the first YA novel, The Outsiders is a story written by the main character, Ponyboy, as a class assignment when his grades drop (you don’t find this out until the very end, but it makes the way he talks about things make a little more sense). He describes the life of a Greaser in 1965 Tulsa and how the Greasers (lower class) and the Socs (middle/upper class) clash. Trouble arises, and Ponyboy has to go on the run, leaving him plenty of time to think about how this isn’t the life he wants and yet how being a Greaser is an integral part of his existence.

Name: Louise Goldstein
Genre: Classic Fiction
Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Author: L Frank Baum
Appeal Factors: wit, illustrations, characters, creativity, American fairy tale
Read Alikes: Wind In The Willows, Alice In Wonderland, Alice’s Adventures Underground, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Wind In The Willows
Summary/Thoughts: What a wonderful book!  Great for all ages.  Creative, witty, beautifully illustrated.  The first American fairy tale with a humbug wizard scamming the world…however, he manages to help everyone out anyway!  Hilarious.

Name: Tatanya Flannery
Genre: classic literary fiction
Title: The Good Earth
Author: Pearl S. Buck
Appeal Factors: reflective, character-driven, leisurely paced, strong sense of place
Read Alikes: The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling
Summary/Thoughts: Author Pearl Buck drew from her own experiences growing up in China to write this novel, a family saga set in the rural countryside in the years just before the political and social upheavals of the 20th century. The book portrays the life of Wang Lung, a poor subsistence farmer who prevails over setbacks both man-made and natural to eventual prosperity.  An atmospheric, reflective novel with strong characterization makes for an enjoyable tale.  The book won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938.

Karen Perkins

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The 1% of today’s American society may recognize the truth behind Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth.  The time is the Gilded Age New York City, where only those with an opulence of wealth can break the rules of high society with no consequence, where who  you know matters more than who you are and climbing the social ladder can become a lifetime pursuit.  So enters the life of the young Lily Bart, beautiful and endearing yet cunning, Lily seeks to marry not for love but for wealth.  Lily has many faults but one loves her for them, they make her human.

Having lived during the Gilded Age in NYC Wharton’s descriptions of the time are exquisite. From dressmakers to improper soirées the reader feels the softness of the silk and the  murkiness of veiled  impropriety.  Normally description  slows the reader but Wharton’s are the much needed background to frame the story.

Characters are plentiful, the rich aunt who takes the orphan Lily in, a lawyer who is a kindred spirit to her, other twenty somethings who give Lily’s character a reality, and multitude of wealthy folks who provide a gauge to which we judge Lily. Some characters are more interesting than others but none are extraneous to the story.

Despite the vastness of description and the multitude of characters the storyline moves along.  Readers will find the experiences of Lily in trying to fetch a husband  and remain in the social circle of the 1%  almost comical but tragic all the same.

Appeals:

Location -Gilded age New York City; Framework-Novel of manners; Pace-descriptive and satire; Storyline- interior thoughts and motives of the characters

Similar reads:

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

Middlemarch by George Eliot

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