Choice vs. fate is the dilemma faced by the heroine of New Zealand author Bianca Zander's second novel, The Predictions. In a guest blog post, Zander explains why the idea of a destined romance is so attractive.
When the heroine of my latest novel, set on a remote New Zealand commune, is predicted to find true love in a faraway land, she faces an eternal dilemma: Should she stay in a romance with Lukas, the adoring fellow she grew up with on the commune, or abandon him for a shot at the destiny predicted for her?
For Poppy, the prediction that leads her astray is a tangible one, but it’s fair to say that plenty of young women—myself included—face a similar predicament at one time or another.
The idea that each of us has a predestined soul mate—a match that is perfect for us in every way—is seductive, especially when we’re young and have no time for the notion that lasting love requires work.
In my early 20s, I was forever announcing to friends that I had just met my future husband at a party in the form of an attractive stranger with whom I had shared a fleeting but soulful connection. This happened with such frequency that even I was embarrassed by the number of times my prophecy had turned out to be untrue.
By the same token, I often took for granted the affections of those men already in my circle, dismissing outright their romantic potential.
Ignoring the true love that is right under our noses has been the subject of hundreds of novels and fairy tales since the beginning of time, but I wanted to explore the psychology behind the phenomenon.
Why are some women—and men—so bad at recognising true love when others harbour no such delusions? What might be in a person’s background that predisposes them to such folly?
In my own case, whatever it was, I grew out of it—as most of us do. I stopped judging books by their covers, and got to know a real man instead.
But in Poppy’s case, “growing out of it” is more fraught. She and Lukas were raised on the commune in a parenting experiment—an experiment whose scars don’t start to show until they reach adulthood.
Inside each of the lovers, something is broken, and if they stand a chance of being together, not only must they overcome the prediction, but the damage that was done to them in childhood.
Writing a love story between two broken people was a challenge but it also felt true to life. So does the journey Poppy goes on, from believing love is fate, to understanding that it’s a choice.
Best-selling author Jennifer Weiner will return this summer with a new novel. Who Do You Love will be published by Atria on August 11.
Weiner's 2014 release, All Fall Down, was a darker book that focused on a suburban mother's struggle with addiction. Who Do You Love is a romance that sounds reminiscent of Weiner's earlier works: When 8 year olds Rachel and Andy meet one night in the ER, they can't imagine how important they will eventually become to each other. Per the catalog description,
Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they’ve been running toward each other all along.
Sounds intriguing! Will you read it?
The list of books to look forward to this fall just got a little bit longer: Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks will publish a novel based on the life of King David, The Secret Chord, on September 22 with Viking.
The novel will be narrated by Nathan, the biblical prophet Brooks has described as "the keeper of the king's conscience." Though it is impossible to call a choice of subject for a Brooks novel predictable—all four of her previous books have had vastly different settings—the theme of faith is a recurring one for the author. As she told BookPage in 2005, "I'm intrigued by people who have strong beliefs, because I don't."
David is an Old Testament figure who appears in Judiasm, Islam and Christianity, and it's a safe bet that Brooks—who has studied Arabic and worked as a Middle East correspondant for the Wall Street Journal in the 1990s—will draw from all three traditions for her portrayal of the legendary king. And of course, he's a popular subject in art, film and literature, from Dryden to Faulkner.
Will you read it?
RELATED CONTENT: More on 2015 releases here.
Despite having only two novels to her credit, Lauren Groff is one of the most original voices in American literature today. Rumor has it she cements that reputation on September 15, when she'll release novel #3, Fates and Furies (Riverhead). A tour de force about a marriage, it's a story that posits that "the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets." Lotto and Mathilde married at 22, in secret, and their whirlwind romance and creative partnership is the envy of their friends. But 10 years on, we revisit the couple to find that there is more beneath the surface.
Check out an excerpt here. Who else is looking forward to this one?
Taisy Cleary and her twin brother, Marcus, haven't seen much of their father since he left the family when they were toddlers. Now, Wilson Cleary wants Taisy back in his life: He's writing a memoir, and needs her help. But doing so also means Taisy has to meet her teenaged half-sister for the second time—and confront the love she lost almost 20 years ago.
"Where there's a father saying 'whorish,' there's a boy. Spill it, missy."
I opened my mouth. Shut it.
Trillium reached for my hand. "Hold on. The boy wasn't a bad one, was he? He didn't abuse you or something?"
I shook my head. "He was good."
My mouth was dry. My heart was marbles in a tin can that someone was shaking.
"Name?" asked Trillium.
"Ben Ransom." The tin can shook harder. Clatter, clatter, clatter. After all this time, all it took was saying his name.
What are you reading this week?
Happy St. Patrick's Day! When you raise a (green) beer to honor an Irish saint for his brave 5th-century snake-banishing (via Riverdance, perhaps?) take a moment to consider Ireland's rich literary legacy. Here are a few of our favorites from today's best Irish authors:
A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black
Black's atmopheric mysteries are as full of twists as they are elegantly written (Black is a pseudonym for prize-winning author John Banville). We love his take on 1950s Ireland and his savvy amateur detective Garret Quirke.
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
This quiet story of the life of an everywoman in 1970s Ireland turns into a wider exploration of the country's past, present and future in the capable hands of Tóibín, one of today's most accomplished Irish writers.
Faithful Place by Tana French
No list of Irish writers would be complete without Tana French, whose textured mysteries have taken the suspense world by storm since she made her debut in 2007. In Faithful Place, she brings the Liberties—a housing project in Dublin—into the spotlight, uncovering the truth behind a decades-old disappearance.
An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray
Murray is best known for his excellent second novel, Skippy Dies, but his charming, Wodehous-ian debut, set in a crumbling Irish mansion, is a social satire for the ages.
At the Edge of Ireland by David Yeadon
In the tradition of classics like Under the Tuscan Sun, big-city reportor David Yeadon recounts his adventures and attempts to fit in with the locals after moving to the most isolated outpost in Ireland he could find—the Beara Peninsula.
My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain
This novel blends past and present in a time-tested formula. It's the story of modern-day Irishwoman Kathleen de Burca, who becomes obsessed with the story of an ancestor who escaped Ireland during the potato famine.
A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle is best known for his novels for adults, but in this magical middle-grade novel has an Irish setting that shines, a tough heroine and, best of all, a ghost.
Big news for Fall 2015: Jojo Moyes will publish a sequel to her blockbuster 2013 hit, Me Before You, on September 29. After You (Pamela Dorman) continues the story of Lou Clarke, a working-class girl whose unlikely romance with wealthy, wheelchair-bound Will Traynor changed her life forever.
Moyes credits her work on the script for the film adaptation of Me Before You (due in 2016) for her continued interest in the characters' lives, adding, "It has been such a pleasure revisiting Lou and her family, and the Traynors, and confronting them with a whole new set of issues. As ever, they have made me laugh, and cry. I hope readers feel the same way at meeting them again."
Moyes' British publisher has posted a brief trailer here, complete with a specially commissioned song. Are you looking forward to this one?
It's the middle of winter, and Francis Falbo is depressed, despondent and he hasn't changed out of his long johns and blue terrycloth bathrobe—the "uniform of a Life in Default"—for nine days. In the wake of his mother's death and his recent divorce, 30-something Francis has taken refuge in his father's creaky Victorian in his hometown of Pollard, Illinois. He could write some songs about all of this, except his moderately successful rock band, the Third Policeman, has also fallen apart. But as he slowly starts to venture outside his attic room, he comes to know his increasingly offbeat tenants and becomes more entangled and invested in their complicated lives than he ever expected.
I am also now sporting a beard, and have developed a very real anxiety about it smelling gamey, like a wet squirrel or coon. Beard pong can be and acute social/hygienic problem and when I encounter my tenants at the front porch mailboxes or in the basement laundry room I make an effort to keep at least an arm's length between us. Though I twiddle and stroke the beard compulsively, in fact I don't know what it looks like, as I've been doing my best to avoid mirrors and reflective surfaces of any kind out of fear of what I'm liable to see staring back at me. I'm starting to imagine the beleaguered Civil War soldier. Or the banished indie record store warlock. Or a derelict from the northeast United States. Like one of those Olympia, Washington, societal dropouts who eat only frosted Pop-Tarts, living out a Nineties grunge fantasy. The beard mangy and random with riptides and lots of wiry rogue strands.
The word wayward comes to mind.
But I'm a musician, so doesn't this fact make my current state okay?
What are you reading today?
On the eve of her wedding, a young woman wonders if she's ready to commit to her picture-perfect fiancé.
A lonely, overweight 20-something is working a dead-end job as an advice columnist when someone unexpected enters her life and shakes things up.
These may sound like stories you've read before. But this summer, two fearless debut novelists are pushing the boundaries, releasing female-centered stories that blend dark twists and searing social commentary.
Lily Wilder, the narrator of Eliza Kennedy's I Take You (Crown, May), is doubting her decision to marry—but not for the reasons you'd expect. Lily, a successful lawyer, isn't afraid that the ceremony won't be perfect, that she's not good enough for Will or that he'll run out on her: She's worried that marriage will cramp her not-exactly-monogamous lifestyle.
And Plum Kettle, the overweight protagonist of Sarai Walker's Dietland (HMH, June)? The person she meets who changes her life isn't a man, but a mysterious young woman who initiates the virtually housebound Plum (who is planning on having bariatric surgery) into a secret society of guerrilla fighters who are committing terrorist acts against the patriarchy. (No surprise, The Sun's page 3 is among the targets.)
Both Lily and Plum are heroines who lie outside the social norms. Lily loves her fiancé, Will, but she also loves sex—lots of it. She isn't sure if she can change that about herself, or if she even wants to, even though by accepting his proposal she's signed on to try.
Likewise, Plum is not conventionally beautiful–and maybe not even unconventionally beautiful, although it's hard to tell since Plum is only ever described through her own very critical eyes. All her life, Plum has defined herself by her weight, spending years on thankless diets waiting for her skinny self—whom she calls Alicia—to emerge so she can finally start living.
Still, it's not entirely unusual for stories to start out with women who don't conform to the norms. After all, that's why their lives aren't perfect, right? As the pages turn, you're waiting for the moment when Lily and Plum transform, become what society expects—which makes you realize just how well-trodden the tropes of women's fiction can be. But as Dietland and I Take You approach their very different but equally satisfying conclusions, it becomes clear that this isn't the point. Plum and Lily aren't the ones who need to change—the world is.
These two daring debuts introduce authors who have something to say.
It's still early in 2015, but at least one unknown female author has already rocketed to the top of bestseller lists (we're looking at you, Paula Hawkins!). Which other women will join her this year? Here's our list of the top 10 candidates.
THE FAIR FIGHT
Riverhead • April 14
Fans of authors like Sarah Waters and Michel Faber will thrill to Anna Freeman's debut, The Fair Fight, an exciting historical novel set in the little-known world of women's bare-knuckle boxing. Yes, in 1800s England, women—at least, some women—were allowed to escape the confines of the home to fight for prizes that were twice the annual salary of a housemaid (one of the few occupations for women at the time). But Freeman, who is a poet and lectures in English at Bath Spa University, goes beyond the blood splatters and missing teeth to take a broader look at the limitations of class and gender, encouraging readers to ponder who (if any) among her characters is given a fair fight.
Thomas Dunne • April 21
An artful mix of suspense, fantasy and social critique, Emily Schultz's The Blondes puts a feminist twist on the dystopian stories that have been crowding fiction shelves for the last several years. It's the near future in New York City, and grad student Hazel is pregnant after an affair with a married man. She's also confined to the house thanks to a mysterious virus that is turning blonde women into cold-blooded killers (luckily, Hazel is a natural redhead). Now blondes are no longer the butt of jokes but the world's worst nightmare. Schultz's work has been praised by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Stephen King (who gave an unwitting bump to her first novel, Joyland, when he published a book by the same name)—look for The Blondes to be embraced by an equally diverse group of readers.
Pamela Dorman • May 5
Retellings of Jane Eyre are not exactly thin on the ground (see 1 2 3 4), but Queens-born writer Patricia Park takes a fresh tack in her debut, Re Jane. She casts the quiet but strong-willed heroine as a mixed-race Korean orphan living with relatives in 2001 Flushing—and that's just the first twist Park puts on her decidedly 21st-century, girl-power take on the beloved classic, which sends its heroine from Brooklyn to Gangam and back again. Park, a Korean-American who spent time in Seoul on a Fulbright scholarship and has studied under the novelist Ha Jin, expertly details the cultural divides facing her heroine, adding another dimension to a tale that might otherwise seem too familiar.
GIRL AT WAR
Random House • May 12
It's impossible for those who have not experienced civil war to truly know what it's like—and that's one of the themes of 28-year-old Sara Nović's sensitive debut novel, Girl at War. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, the story follows main character Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States. Nović's descriptions of Ana's wartime childhood convey how war can be both shocking and mundane as violence becomes part of everyday life. Girl at War was acquired and edited by Random House's David Ebershoff, who knows his talent: He was the editor of not one but two of the 2013 Pulitzer winners (The Orphan Master's Son and Embers of War).
Amistad • May 26
Novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez's 2010 debut, Wench, was a word-of-mouth hit with readers and explored a lesser-known corner of American history: the resorts where plantation owners would vacation with their enslaved mistresses. Her long-awaited second novel, Balm, takes an equally unflinching look at America's past and should bring this talented writer to an even bigger audience. Set in post-Civil War Chicago, it follows three strangers—a widowed white woman, a freeborn black woman from Tennessee and a former slave whose wife was sold away from him before the war—who move to the city for a chance to start over but are unable to completely shed their pasts.
THE BOOK OF SPECULATION
St. Martin's • June 23
Erika Swyler's debut, The Book of Speculation, is a bookish mystery with a supernatural twist. In a dilapidated house on Long Island Sound, librarian Simon Watson presides over a crumbling family legacy—until the day an old book arrives on his doorstep. It's the journal of a carnival owner, and it's connected to the drowning death of Simon's mother. Can he solve the mystery before his sister meets the same fate? Swyler, who has written short fiction and worked as a playwright, probes the bonds of sibling love and loyalty with the same authenticity she brings to the book's more magical elements, giving the novel surprising depth. Fans of family sagas with a touch of the fantastic should flock to it.
Harper • July 28
TV producer and author Lissa Evans is well known in her native England (fellow Brit Paula Hawkins is a fan), but this summer she's being published for the first time in the U.S. Crooked Heart is her fourth novel, and her second for an adult audience. Set during World War II, it follows a 10-year-old orphan who's a crime novel aficionado. He's evacuated during the Blitz and rehomed with Vera Sedge, a down-on-her-luck single mother with a penchant for money-making schemes, and the two form an unlikely bond. Their odd-couple friendship will appeal to readers of books like Lost & Found, and Evans' authentic period tone evokes the subtle charm of midcentury classics like I Capture the Castle.
Touchstone • August 18
Susan Barker made the 2008 longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize with her second novel, The Orientalist and the Ghost, but she's hovered just below most readers' radars. That just might change with the release of The Incarnations, a suspenseful tour through Chinese history and folklore that was described as "China's Midnight's Children" when it was published in the U.K. last year. In modern-day Beijing, Wang, a taxi driver, is being stalked by someone who claims to be his soul mate. As letters appear in his taxi telling the stories of their past lives over the last 1,000 years—all of which end in tragedy or betrayal—Wang's paranoia about his watcher's identity increases, and he begins to wonder if history will repeat itself.
St. Martin's • August 18
Celebrity authors may strike seven-figure deals without breaking a sweat, but for unknown writers, having a book snapped up at a price like that is a little less common. That is just one of the things that makes New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford's first novel, Everybody Rise, a standout. Set in 2006 New York City, the book plumbs the unfailingly popular literary trope of the young and privileged in Manhattan, as seen through the eyes of an imposter in their ranks. The film rights have been secured by Fox 2000.
FSG • October 6
OK, so maybe it's a little sneaky to put an author who's already a bestseller on a list like this. But Sloane Crosley (I Was Told There'd Be Cake) is making a transition from humorous essays to fiction—and I for one am intrigued about how she'll do it. The Clasp is described as "a comedy of manners," which is a novelistic genre that's a perfect match for Crosley's talents. Other intriguing elements include the exploration of how college friendships start to change in your late 20s, a madcap search for a missing family heirloom and a nod to Guy de Maupassant.
Check out our track record by viewing past women to watch lists here.