From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s doomed Puritans and Flannery O’Connor’s cursed freaks, right up to Marilynne Robinson’s devout, reserved Midwesterners, there is a rich tradition of religious novels in American literature. Val Brelinski explores similar themes in her provocatively titled debut novel The Girl Who Slept With God.
Looking at a world from an outsider’s point of view is a common theme in literature—with good reason. It supplies a powerful perspective and often enlightenment, as demonstrated in these four memorable first novels.
When a murder mystery is set in Washington, D.C., readers expect a good dose of politics, hallowed halls and monuments. That is not the case with Murder, D.C. by Neely Tucker, the second book in a series featuring crime reporter Sully Carter. Carter is a modern hero, emotionally and physically scarred from his Bosnian reporting days. He's a flawed individual who nonetheless retains his integrity when pursuing the truth of a story.
Rebecca Makkai’ s novels—The Borrower and The Hundred Year House—have established her as one of the most talented literary voices today. Her short fiction has been selected for The Best American Short Stories four years in a row. Now the acclaimed writer returns with Music for Wartime, an anticipated collection of short stories, several of which were inspired by the lives of her paternal grandparents.
Historical novels that use real people, eras and achievements as a springboard can sometimes become overworked lessons of the history on which they’re treading. Other times, they can be inspired, original works that remind us of both the importance of history and the timeless concerns of our own humanity. Thankfully, The Architect’s Apprentice is the latter.
So much can happen in one day. And when it comes to Eddie Joyce’s first novel, so much is remembered in one day: Small Mercies is the story of the Amedolas, an Irish-Italian family living on Staten Island. The story is set in the current day, but it stretches back through generations with a particular emphasis on September 11, 2001, the day they lost Bobby—he was a firefighter, but he was also a son, brother, father and husband.
“When you stopped trying to be one perfect person, you could be many.” A small-town Tennessee girl flourishes into a classic, yet never cliché, femme fatale in Rebecca Scherm’s provocative coming-of-age debut, Unbecoming.
It’s easy to forget that by the time he was 41, F. Scott Fitzgerald was washed up. His books were out of print, magazines weren’t interested in his stories and his monthly royalties were down to pocket change. In 1937, he went to Hollywood, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays, barely staying one step ahead of his creditors. It is these lean years that Stewart O’Nan examines in his brilliant biographical novel West of Sunset.
Rebecca Makkai’s second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is an appealing mix of archival mystery, ghost story and historical novel. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt set in a former artist’s colony, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place. I was able to catch up with Rebecca at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books.
If the mark of a great author is not merely how much she incites the imaginations of readers but the extent to which she inspires fellow writers, then there can be no doubt that Jane Austen is the greatest author of them all. Just when you think the market for Austen spinoffs has reached capacity, a new book comes onto the scene that turns the genre on its head. Such is the case with First Impressions, Charlie Lovett’s delightful new novel.