Current Literary Fiction

Name: Tatanya Flannery
Summary/Thoughts: Rural Ireland’s recent past is the setting for this novel about 40-year-old mother of four Nora Webster who struggles to adjust emotionally after a fatal illness takes the life of her husband of 20 years.  Burdened by straitened finances, distracted by grief and by turns worried about or detached from her children, she is weighed down by the dullness of her days without her husband.  Nora’s circumstances are not entirely hopeless though as she is capable, independent-minded and supported by well-meaning family and acquaintances.  Her pessimism about the future begins to recede as she permits herself to take pleasure in small moments of happiness. A chance encounter with a local voice teacher leads to a new focus on music as a means to recovery as she crafts a new life on her own.
Genre: Current Literary Fiction
Title: Nora Webster
Author: Colm Toibin
Appeal Factors: character-driven, melancholy, reflective
Read Alikes: House of Splendid Isolation by Edna O’Brien

Name: Stefanie A.
Summary/Thoughts: The Meursault Investigation is a short novel told in a first person narration that sets out to give the character “The Arab” in Camus’s The Stranger a name and history.  While the term “Arab” is mentioned 25 times in original novel, he is never identified beyond that and never actually appears as part of the crime Camus’ narrator really ends up on trial for.

While Daoud uses the story of Musa, the Arab and his brother, Harun to complete the story of the Stranger, it is also a discourse on the nature of French colonialism in Algiers and the idea of Otherness that can affect those marginalized by radicalization.  Tensions between Algiers’ French occupiers (Meursaults to the narrator) and a growing native Muslim identity lead to clashes and eventually the French leaving Algiers.

Musa’s death in the Stranger forces his brother to carry this sense of revenge against the French, the Others, but he himself is Other as he cannot move forward in his life and do things expected of him, like join the Resistance.   His actions are always too early or too late or too hesitant.   The theme of existentialism and apatheism that follows Camus’ narrator now plagues Daoud’s.

It is a very interesting look at a classic piece of literature, and make the reader think about the way language is used to keep a population down.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Title: The Meursault Investigation
Author: Kamel Daoud
Appeal Factors: language, setting and detail, length, easy to read, modern sequel to a classic
Read Alikes: The Stranger by Camus, Invisible by Paul Auster, Nausea by John Paul Sartre

Name: Pam Aghababian
Summary/Thoughts: Jam’s boyfriend has died, and she has been sent to a boarding school for troubled teens after she slips into depression. She is put into a very special English class, where a small group of students spend the whole semester reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. They are also asked to write in a journal, but they discover that writing in these journals sends them into a fugue state where they confront their past traumas head-on.

Information about each character is given at a steady pace, and the secondary characters are perhaps more compelling than Jam, the narrator. There is use of flashbacks, and you could consider the fugue states to be magical realism.

The main ideas that everyone’s traumas are their own and you can’t really compare traumas between people are good for discussion.
Genre: Current Literary Fiction
Title: Belzhar
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Appeal Factors: compelling pacing, character driven (especially with strong secondary characters), hopeful melancholy tone, dealing with aftermath of trauma
Read Alikes: companion to The Bell Jar (but not necessary to read that first), Looking for Alaska, We Were Liars, Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Name: Kate May
Summary/Thoughts: This is a debut novel. It tells the story of a Irish village and the effect of the devastating recession (2008) through the voices of the villagers.  Each chapter is a tale as told by a very diverse group residents. Each tells their story and how their were effected by the financial collapse. It is written in the vernacular (“dialect filled”).  It is a challenging read, but worth the effort.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Title: The Spinning Heart
Author: Donal Ryan
Appeal Factors: stong sense of place, character driven, bleak
Read Alikes: Broken harbor by Tana French, A good man is hard to find & other short storie by Flannery O’connor

Name: Karen Perkins
Summary/Thoughts: A modern day humorous coming of age novel about a family mending itself A Man At the Helm by Nina Stibbe illustrates how the bonds of love can reunite us.  Newly divorced, Elizabeth Vogel moves with her two daughters and son from the city proper of London to a small English countryside village.  Village characters are well placed and entertaining as the daughters conclude that mom needs a man at the helm for the family to be accepted into village life.  The story is narrated by 9 year old Lizzie and is told retrospectively .  The innocent and humorous antics of Lizzie and her sister trying to get their mother married entertain as do the events of everyday life in the village.  Though there are dark moments, a mother’s drug addiction, neglected children, con men and sudden poverty, Lizzie’s lighthearted voice and determination to do what is right warms the soul into believing families can recover and survive.

Recommended for those who enjoy funny coming of age stories, English country characters and eccentric families.
Genre: Current Literary Fiction
Title: A Man at the Helm
Author: Nina Stibbe
Appeal Factors: Humor, English English country, Eccentric families, Young female main character, Survival
Read Alikes: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Name: Heather Backman
Genre: Contemporary literary
Title: Outline
Author: Rachel Cusk
Appeal Factors: philosophical, wordy, idea-focused
Read Alikes: The Dinner by Herman Koch?
Summary/Thoughts: A writing professor, recently divorced or separated, flies to Athens to teach a writing course. The book consists of many conversations/encounters she has with a variety of friends, strangers, and students during her trip. There isn’t  much of a plot; rather, the focus is on the characters’ pontifications about life, relationships, and themselves. People who talk like “that guy” from a PhD level theory class may enjoy this, as they recognize themselves in the characters. So might people with a very dry or sarcastic sense of humor who enjoy making fun of people like “that guy” – in the end, Cusk turns out to be satirizing that kind of person and the vacuous, verbose philosophical talk in which they engage (though the hint at satire is faint enough that it may go right over nonattentive readers’ heads).

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