Bich Minh Nguyen's enthralling second novel, Pioneer Girl, offers a version of the immigrant experience that's different from the one we usually read about: the Middle America Asian-American experience. Our interview with Nguyen about Pioneer Girl highlights the fascinating inspiration behind the book, also offering a peek into her creative process.
We were curious about the books Nguyen has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Happiness, Like Water
By Chinelo Okparanta
I love the distilled experience of reading short stories, and Okparanta’s debut collection is powerful and heartbreaking in the best way. Set in Nigeria and the United States, the stories follow characters struggling in their relationships, families, and social and political circumstances. The question of identity, especially for women, is always at the forefront, as in two of my favorite stories here, “On Ohaeto Street,” about a couple’s doomed marriage, and “America,” about a woman whose decision to emigrate creates hope but also signals the loss of family heritage.
Son of a Gun
By Justin St. Germain
I recently taught this memoir, which is as clear-eyed, beautiful and intense as one could hope for in a work of nonfiction. While St. Germain focuses the narrative on his search for understanding in the years after his mother’s murder, he also reflects on the landscape of Tombstone, Arizona, and its culture of myth-making and violence. With restraint and care, St. Germain weaves together ideas about past and present, rage and stillness, loss and reinvention.
By Natalie Baszile
I just started this lovely and absorbing novel about a mother and daughter who move from Los Angeles to Louisiana, drawn by an inheritance of 800 acres of sugarcane land. The farming life and the Southern country life are completely unfamiliar to Charley Bordelon and her daughter Micah, and they have to learn quickly. Much is on the line here, as Charley feels like this is her one big chance to start over and make a life for herself and Micah. And there’s a tantalizing mystery, too: Who was Charley’s father? Why did he leave all this land to her? I can’t wait to see how the stories and secrets unfold.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Pioneer Girl—or any of Nguyen's recommended books—to your TBR list?
According to British author Louise Doughty, there comes a point in each woman's life where she finds herself wondering, "What's it all about?" The infamous mid-life crisis is exactly what her latest novel, Apple Tree Yard grapples with.
Accomplished geneticist Yvonne Carmichael meets an alluring stranger in a corridor and begins a sudden affair. But this one attempt to shake up her domestic life evolves into a much broader set of choices with increasingly tumultuous consequences.
Our reviewer, Amy Scribner appreciates how Doughty "perfectly captures the quiet details of domestic life, the erotic charge of a high-stakes affair [and] the crackling drama of a courtroom," while also boldly challenging the way we think about fate.
Watch Doughty play the heck out of a piano and describe the details of her novel, now available in the U.S. for the first time.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list. Think J.R. Ewing and “Dallas.” Think Lonesome Dove. Think Faulkner. This stunning second novel from Philipp Meyer (following his critically praised debut, American Rust) combines epic storytelling, Texas tragedy and raw, powerful writing. Tracing the rise to power of the McCullough clan—from the birth of patriarch Eli in 1836 to the 20th-century struggles of great-granddaughter Jeannie—Meyer reveals more about Texas and its violent past than any history book ever could. Read our review or interview, or check out an excerpt. To see the full list of our best books of 2013, click here.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
Donna Tartt's hefty new novel is that rarest of creatures: a book that is both exquisitely written, and excruciatingly suspenseful. Like the work of art it centers on—Carel Fabritius' 1654 painting The Goldfinch—the novel's vivid detail and creative spark combine to create a masterful work of trompe l'oeil.
Read our review.
Acclaimed author Marilynne Robinson will return with another novel set in the town of Gilead, Iowa. Her publisher FSG has just purchased rights to publish Lila, the story of a mysterious young woman who arrives in town and marries John Ames, the hero of her second novel, Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. No release date has been set.
Robinson has spent her last two novels rounding out the lives and characters of the Ames family in her lyrical, deliberate writing, and it sounds like she'll be continuing in the same vein here. Those looking for a comparable read can turn to fellow Pulitzer winner Paul Harding, a former student and now friend of Robinson who has just published his second novel, Enon. In a recent Q&A, Harding says of Robinson: "[W]ithin 10 minutes of her walking into the first meeting I knew that hers was the sort of life of the mind, the intellect, the soul that I wanted for myself. For whatever reasons, she and I can plunk down onto whatever chairs or park bench might be at hand, or just walk around in circles and talk and talk for hours about theology and art and politics and physics and cosmology."
Are you looking forward to Lila?
If you've already purchased and devoured Alice McDermott's recently released novel, Someone, I have good news for you: She has another book in the works, to be published by FSG in the fall of 2016.
According to the deal announcement, the new book "follows the intertwined lives of three Long Island men over the course of fifty years, their affections, their mistakes, and the stories that have shaped them." Sounds a little bit like the masculine version of Someone, no?
A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
Random House • $26 • ISBN 9780812993219
Published March 12, 2013
Like The Privileges, this novel tells the story of a wealthy couple. But here the couple find themselves in the midst of a major disaster: The husband, Ben, has a total breakdown, eventually getting himself a DWI and an accusation of sexual harassment from a summer associate at his law firm. Helen, the main character and Ben's wife, divorces her husband and must figure out a way to support herself and her daughter. Turns out she has a knack for PR. Specifically, she intuitively knows how to make powerful men (think, politicians embroiled in sex scandals) apologize. The story is a clever critique of our culture—both amusing and timely. Though A Thousand Pardons lacks the grace of The Privileges, I thought it was an entertaining read, and I enjoyed watching Helen's reinvention.
Here's an excerpt from an early scene, in which Helen must reason with a New York councilman whose violent actions have been caught on a surveillance camera. Helen's the first one speaking, then the councilman.
"You will admit to everything. You will apologize to this young woman, by name, for your violent behavior. You will not use any phrases like 'moment of weakness' or 'regrettable incident.' You will apologize to your wife, and to your children, and to your parents if they are still alive . . . Basically, you will get up in front of the cameras and make an offering of yourself."
Some of the redness drained from his face as she spoke; she could feel, as she'd felt before, the power her words gave her over him. "You really think that's the play?" he said.
"That is the only play. To ask forgiveness. If you hold back in any way, the story lives. Let me ask you this: presumably you are a man with ambitions. What do you want to happen now? What is the outcome that will put those ambitions back on the track that your own mistakes threw them off of?"
He tipped back noiselessly in his chair. "I want to stay in office," he said. "I want to be reelected. This was a stupid thing for me to have done, but it does not define me. It was a one-time thing, and I want to get away from it."
"You will never get away from it," Helen said. "But you can incorporate it into the narrative. You have to be sincere. You have to be completely abject, and not attempt to defend yourself or your behavior in any way, and not attempt to defend yourself or your behavior in any way. No 'I was drunk,' no 'she hit me first.' You have to take, and answer, every question. You have to hold your temper when people try to get you lose it. Do you think you can do that?"
Joyce Maynard—author, most recently, of The Good Daughters—has signed a deal with Morrow to write two new novels, "the first of which is loosely based on a series of killings in the San Francisco area in the 70s, in which the daughter of a homicide detective in charge of the investigation sets herself up as bait to catch the killer" (via Publishers Marketplace).
We love Maynard for her compelling characters, her excellent storytelling abilities and the questions she raises in her fiction—which makes her books perfect for book clubs.
Browse her author page on BookPage.com. Will you look forward to Maynard's first novel since 2010?
Does anyone write about contemporary London better than Zadie Smith? The brilliant writer's new novel, NW (Penguin Press), follows four siblings who made it out of the grim housing estate they were born into, only to be sucked back in when a stranger comes knocking. Reports have Smith describing it as a "very, very small book" but it sounds like big news to us.
Smith herself grew up in northwest London—she was born in Brent in 1975—and still lives there. We are counting the days until this September 4 release, which "brilliantly depicts the modern urban zone—familiar to city dwellers everywhere—in a tragicomic novel as mercurial as the city itself." It's Smith's first novel since 2005's On Beauty. Will you be reading?
Reader name: Lacey
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Favorite genres: Literary fiction, short stories, LGBT, children’s/YA
Favorite authors: David Mitchell, Don DeLillo, Jeanette Winterson, Flannery O’Connor
Favorite books: Cloud Atlas, House of Leaves, Drown (by Junot Diaz), Orlando (by Virginia Woolf), The Picture of Dorian Gray, Varmints (by Helen Ward)
Ellis Avery’s The Last Nude would be a good choice for Lacey. This sensual jazz-age story is about the relationship between real-life Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and her muse, Rafaela, the woman famously depicted in the portrait Beautiful Rafaela (and on that stunning book jacket).
In the realm of short stories, I recommend Adam Haslett’s collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. A finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, this perceptive and dark book drew praise from our Well Read columnist Robert Weibezahl in 2002: “Haslett is an expert storyteller who draws the reader in with his compassion, then methodically unravels unexpected truths.” Haslett also won the Lambda Literary Award for his debut novel, Union Atlantic.
Put your name in the hat for you own book fortune by sending an e-mail to bookfortunes (at) bookpage (dot) com.