Irvine and Houston live on opposite sides of the continental divide separated by the San Juan Mountains. A sense of place has always played an integral part in both of their writings. In late March (as a project for Orion magazine) they began writing letters back and forth about the pandemic. They started as admiring strangers and by the beginning of May they were sisters in arms. The pandemic brought into sharp focus just how much our patriarchal system has threatened the health and environment. Air Mail is a really powerful indictment of greed and power while still offering the possibility of hope in our relationships to each other and the environment.
Mengiste gives us many different points of view in this novel about women soldiers in Ethiopia’s war against Italy. We mainly see the conflict through the eyes of two women. One was kept in a state of near slavery by the other before the war. Now, they are warriors fighting side by side. Mengiste also writes of an Italian soldier who has brought his camera to the battles and ends up taking photos of atrocities. The Shadow King is an ode to never giving up against a seemingly implacable foe.
LaLa gives up her dream of being a vet and begins robbing houses to raise money for her father's criminal defense. It's a skill she learned from her father when she was a girl. LaLa is also an animal empath and to alleviate the guilt of what she's doing, she only robs houses where she senses animals are suffering. She turns the heat up for a freezing parrot, gives a hurting dog a massage before she rifles through the jewelry. In this heartfelt novel, you can't help rooting for LaLa and falling in love with the animals she cares for.
Virgil Wounded Horse makes his living by settling scores on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He's the enforcer when the white federal agents have neglected their duty and let a rape or a robbery go without prosecution. Virgil is asked by a tribal council member to look into who is bringing in heroin onto the reservation. The investigation imperils all those around Victor including his nephew and girlfriend. Weiden's depiction of the reservations are stark, but he manages to find hope and humor in the resilience of the people enduring such difficult circumstances.
In this delightful absurdist Spanish novel, our narrator Damian finds himself trapped in an antique wardrobe as he tries to elude a mall security guard who has witnessed him shoplifting. Waiting to make his escape, Damian imagines that he is being interviewed for a talk show. The escape never comes. Damian shut in the wardrobe is carried off to a suburban home where he chooses to stay and haunt the residents.
Best, an unknown in her native France, is a revelation as a writer of descriptive, impressionistic prose. She sensitively describes a teenager's sexual coming of age in rural 1950s France, and she beautifully creates the world of Camille's chaotic small town with its quirky characters and petty jealousies. As Camille's desire grows, she begins to confront what it means to be gay in a small, provincial French town.
Pam Houston’s writing is both brutally honesty and beautifully lyrical in this memoir of life on her ranch in the Colorado high country. Lucky to escape her violent childhood home with her life, Houston found a place where she can sit still with herself and her animals. However, that quiet has led to the realization that there is no haven from the dangers of climate change.
In this surrealistic collection of stories brides are abandoned at a highway rest stop, a teenage girl only eats live birds, and a murdered wife’s body is considered high art. Schweblin examines the intersection of violence, gender and art in these dreamlike tales that constantly surprise us and challenge our assumptions of storytelling.
Two girlhood friends grow estranged over the course of this novel. Messud does a mesmerizing job capturing their pre-adolescent love for each other. We are captivated by their secret adventures in the crumbling insane asylum, and the rain-filled quarry that borders their town. How quickly things change between them is all too painfully true as we watch one girl spiral into misery while the other cannot help.
No one is at fault in Tayari Jones' portrait of a marriage in crisis. Roy and Celestial are already experiences some rough patches in their marriage, but when Roy is jailed for a crime he did not commit, the strain becomes unbearable. In beautiful prose that expresses tenderness to all of her characters, Jones evokes the real life consequences of America's mass incarceration of black men.
Andrei, a struggling academic, moves to Moscow to take care of his 90-year old grandmother. She’s suffering from dementia and Andrei is having trouble reconciling his own memories of Moscow with the contemporary kleptocracy. Slowly, Andrei draws closer to his grandmother and discovers that there are some wonderful people in the terrible country.
Vale returns home from New Orleans to search for her mother after Hurricane Irene has swept her away. We get the stories of three generation of Vermont women as the novel fill us in on how we came to the moment that Vale's mother was wandering alone in the streets when the hurricane hit. I loved how MacArthur weaves music into almost every scene giving the book an emotional soundtrack.
This powerful depiction of the life of a woman born into slavery who lives to see the Civil Rights movement is a remarkable feat in storytelling. Miss Jane Pittman survives the depredations of violent Rebel soldiers, white supremacists and plantation owners to become a beacon for her community as they fight against segregation. Through it all, she knows her own mind and refuses to live in fear.
A chorus of voices tells the story of a dying New England town in this expertly crafted novel. A billionaire who moved to town after the 9/11 attacks has taken over as mayor. He abolishes all taxes, finances the tiny government himself, but the motives of his benevolence come under scrutiny by the town's conspiracy theorist. The story illuminates the struggles of America that are playing out in our public life.
Improvement is a wide ranging novel told in stories that connects disparate people through time and place to one tragic accident. Kiki, a free-spirited young adult of the 1970s turned wised woman, is the novel's lodestar. Silber masterfully pulls together the threads of lives in places as remote as rural Turkey and as common as New York City like a finely made Persian rug.
In this deeply emotional and sensual novel, Pritchett reminds us that even in dark moments there are sparks of joy and renewal. Each character gets their own chapter, and together their stories form a tapestry of a community blessed with love and humanity. Pritchett’s book will let you forget the turmoil in the world around us, and luxuriate in what it means to be simply and beautifully human.