Three acclaimed novels focused on history and family dynamics are sure to spark discussion in your reading groups this month.
Surgeon-turned-author Gabriel Weston made her literary debut with a gripping medical memoir. In her first novel, Dirty Work, she again turns to medicine for inspiration, this time investigating one of its most morally fraught procedures: abortion. In a behind-the-book story, Weston explains why she felt drawn to explore this contentious issue, and why she believes the two sides may be closer together than we think.
“Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, we’ve all been there.” So says war correspondent Michael Herr on the persistent reality of a war curiously prone to re-examination. In The Lotus and the Storm, by Vietnamese-American author Lan Cao, this revisiting takes the form of a dialogue of sorts between a daughter and a father, lotuses swept to America’s shores by the storm of the American intervention.
In the summer of 1976, 19-year-old David Barwise takes a job at a holiday resort in the seaside town of Skegness, England, hoping to avoid spending the summer with his mother and stepfather. But there is something more sinister underlying David’s reasoning: The beach resort is where his biological father died 15 years earlier, and David feels strangely drawn to the area, despite the tension it causes within his family.
Though the “overnight success” story tends to make headlines, debut novels are more often the result of years of hard work and dedication. This month, we’re highlighting four debuts that deserve some time in the spotlight.
It’s 7 a.m. on December 23, and Madeleine Altimari is shimmying. In 30-second intervals, the girl attempts to perfect her moves, pausing in between for a quick drag from a cigarette. After each interval, she rates her work on a school-letter scale. She has yet to check off the day’s other rehearsal tasks: singing, scales, guitar.
Much like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin, best-selling author Haruki Murakami is the type of writer whose fans queue up at bookstores at midnight, clamoring to be the first to get their hands on his latest book. Unfortunately, people who do not read Japanese have had to wait quite some time to read Murakami’s latest, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which was published to acclaim in Japan in April 2013.
Rene Steinke, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award for her novel Holy Skirts, makes an awaited return with Friendswood. Located outside of Houston, the town of Friendswood, Texas, is definitely all-American. The citizens are high on religion, high school football and the oil business. But then a hurricane uncovers not just buried toxic chemicals, but secrets and moral ambiguities that are crippling the town.
Once you find true love, life is supposed to lead into a happily ever after—at least that’s what the fairy tales promise. But real life and love come with the risk of real loss, as Holly Jefferson learns just six months after her wedding. Since You’ve Been Gone is a truly bittersweet story about a second chance at love, a debut novel by turns charming, funny, inexpressibly sad, and finally, hopeful.
If a writer should follow Ernest Hemingway’s well-known dictum to write what he knows, then first-time novelist Jess Row just might be in the wrong business.