Pre-Civil Rights Mississippi was a place where issues of race and class weighted down air already heavy with humidity. Jonathan Odell takes this complicated setting and throws two young mothers from widely different worlds together.
For me, the first act of writing historical fiction is resistance. There are tropes within the American imagination that pop up readily; it takes a slapping of your own hand to not reach for these tropes and recycle them.
Set in the early 20th century, poet Greer Macallister’s hauting first novel is a compelling mystery. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, the Amazing Arden, one of the first American female illusionists, mesmerizes her audience with the classic “saw through man in a box” trick. On this particular night, she decides to use a fire ax rather than a saw. Was she simply altering her illusion, or carrying out a murder?
The Civil War has been over for five years, but half a decade is not enough time to rid America of the demons the war left behind. Postbellum Philadelphia is populated by families mourning their lost sons, and streets full of men with missing limbs serves as a reminder that time does not heal all wounds. Such is the backdrop for Alan Finn’s Things Half in Shadow, full of spellbinding tales of the supernatural.
This exciting historical novel is about mountain man and trapper Hugh Glass, who is working for the newly formed American Fur Company, founded in 1823 and owned by Jacob Astor when beaver pelts were worth serious cash. For men like Glass, there’s serious pressure to produce pelts and a profit for the young business—even it if means entering the land of the hostile Ariakra tribe.
A moment can change everything. Nat Weary learns that in a hurry. One minute, he was a World War II veteran on bended knee, proposing to his sweetheart during a concert in their hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. The next, Weary spots several men armed with pipes heading toward the performer, his childhood friend Nat “King” Cole.
It’s easy to forget that by the time he was 41, F. Scott Fitzgerald was washed up. His books were out of print, magazines weren’t interested in his stories and his monthly royalties were down to pocket change. In 1937, he went to Hollywood, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays, barely staying one step ahead of his creditors. It is these lean years that Stewart O’Nan examines in his brilliant biographical novel West of Sunset.
Priya Parmar is a former freelance editor whose first novel, Exit the Actress, was based on the 17th-century actress (and royal mistress) Ellen "Nell" Gwyn. Her second novel, Vanessa and Her Sister, is based on the life of the artist Vanessa Bell. In this behind-the-book essay, Parmar explains how important—and how personal—choosing a historical fiction subject can be.
Priya Parmar’s second novel opens an intimate, witty and highly entertaining window into the early 20th-century circle of writers, philosophers and artists known as London’s Bloomsbury Group. They met several times a week at the homes of Vanessa and Clive Bell and Vanessa’s brother and sister, Adrian and Virginia Stephen (later Woolf). This erudite group also included the novelist E.M. Forster; biographer Lytton Strachey; artist Duncan Grant; art critic Roger Fry, curator of New York’s Metropolitan Museum; and economist John Maynard Keynes. The Stephen siblings—Vanessa, Virginia, Adrian and Thoby, the eldest brother— moved to the “bohemian hinterland” of Bloomsbury after their parents died, and Thoby’s Cambridge friends quickly adopted it as their favorite gathering place.
Three novels explore the deep influence human relationships can have on a life.