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)
Patchett's latest book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, is a collection of essays that spans her 20-year career and covers a wide range of topics, including her attempt to get into the L.A. Police Academy and her love of opera. According to our reviewer, each chapter is "told in simple, appealing prose that feels like a phone conversation with a good friend." (Read the full review.)
We were curious about the books Patchett has been reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share:
My husband is a doctor, and so a lot of his friends are doctors. They work together in a hospital; they have their own lunchroom. When they get stuck trying to figure out what's wrong with a patient, they call each other to talk through the possibilities and get advice. It's not so different for writers. While we don't all work in the same place (unless we live in Brooklyn), we bounce ideas off one another. We seek solace and advice through letters, emails, phone calls and through reading one another's books. Three of my best friends have novels out now, and they've all been to my bookstore, Parnassus Books in Nashville, while on tour. It's no surprise my favorite books of late were written by my favorite people (listed in order of pub dates).
This is the sequel to the very successful The Apothecary. Maile wrote two novels and two collections of short stories for adults (all fantastic) before turning her considerable talents to middle school children. I have almost no ability to read fiction for young people, a shortcoming, I know, but I found these books riveting. Maile brings the full force of her extraordinary intelligence and imagination to bear on magical, scientific and geo-political themes. Plus the boy gets the girl.
People have a tendency to believe that the first book of yours they read was also the first book you wrote, so many readers who were introduced to Liz through Eat, Pray, Love (there were more than 8 million of them) neglected to notice that she had already written three other books before that, two of them fiction. So while it may come as a surprise to some that her new book is a complicated and brilliant novel about a 19th-century botanist who is devoted to moss, those of us who have read all her books always knew she had it in her. (Read our interview with Gilbert about The Signature of All Things.)
by Donna Tartt
Donna once told me the reason her books take so long to write (her last one, The Little Friend, was published 12 years ago) is that they are about as long as three regular novels. They are certainly three times as complex as a regular novel, and about 10 times as ambitious (and maybe 20 times as beautiful). David Copperfield as nothing on her hero, Theo, who is spun out into the world by a terrorist attack with nothing but one perfect painting to hold himself together. It's a classic.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage or any of Patchett’s recommended books?