If you loved Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, you're going to want to check out Rachel Pastan's third novel, Alena, which pays homage to the classic. In it, a young art curator from the Midwest is offered a job by the handsome, wealthy and mysterious owner of a museum on Cape Cod. The former curator, Alena, disappeared, and the museum staff is fiercely loyal to her. Conflict, drama and twists ensue. (Read our review of Alena.)
We were curious about the books Pastan has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share:
By Andrea Barrett
While writing my new book Alena, which is set in the art world, I read a lot of novels about that world. Lately, as though in response, I have been craving fiction about science. I heard Andrea Barrett on the radio talking about a story in this collection, “The Island,” centered on Louis Agassiz, one of the Victorian era’s great naturalists. I love the clarity and energy of Barrett’s prose, as well as her portrayal of two young 19th-century women who are passionate about science and determined to shape their lives around that passion.
My mother, who gives me many books, gave me this—though I would probably have sought it out anyway because I love Patchett’s work. Many people have praised this novel (also about scientists), which is partly an adventure story set deep in the jungles of Brazil. What I haven’t heard so much talk about is the original way the novel approaches issues around mothers and work. Neither of the two main female characters is a mother, but the price of fertility and the cost of being dedicated to one’s profession are central themes here, as are close bonds between both men and women and their surrogate children.
The Suicide Index
By Joan Wickersham
After hearing the author read from this unconventional memoir about her father’s suicide, I went right out and bought a copy. Organized not chronologically but literally as an index (Suicide: act of, attempt to imagine; factors that may have had direct or indirect bearing on; finding some humor in, etc.), this book is nonetheless (or consequently?) absolutely riveting. Wickersham’s sentences are electric with the energy it takes for them not to fly apart.
What do you think, readers? Will Alena—or any of Pastan's recommended books—be going on your TBR list?
(Author photo © Carina Romano)