I read some brilliant books in September and October, and wanted to share them!
First up, Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Please read this interview with Robinson in the Times and then sit back, crack open Lila and prepare to be completely immersed in the character Lila’s consciousness. I read this book over the course of four days, unable to put it down. Lila was, oddly, my favorite character in Gilead,even though she appeared very little in the book. Lila is the third in Robinson’s series of novels that take place the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, and it is my favorite of all three books. Robinson’s prose has a kind of surgical precision, yet it never feels cold. Her explorations of loneliness, grace, and redemption make Lila a heartfelt and layered read. When I finished the book I wanted to turn back to the first page and start all over again.
Speaking of books I could not put down: Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall. A vividly imagined look into a dystopian future, where the sons of convicted felons are genetically tested for markers that might indicate their potential for being criminals themselves. The boys who test positive become part of the Goodhouse system–removed from their homes, given new identities, and made to live as wards of the state in reform schools. This book is a thriller with beautiful prose and sharp observations about freedom, social justice, and the idea of genetic destiny.
A really smart, funny, and thoroughly readable collection of essays about everything from Zora Neale Hurston’s writing, Liberia, Katherine Hepburn, to the two different kinds of novel writers. Smith is passionate and insightful, and each essay is a little gem.
My kind and really talented Iowa classmate (and friend) Kevin Clouther wrote an amazing short story collection. The stories in We Were Flying to Chicago are all meticulously crafted without feeling that way–you feel like you’re just going along for the ride with Kevin’s characters, whether they are in a plane, a car, or trapped in an airport. But after just a few pages you come to know these people and genuinely care for them. And who can resist a title story written in first-person plural? Not me.
An oldie, but a goodie. L.P. Hartley’s The Go Between has everything you could want in a great first-person novel: an unreliable narrator, innocence lost, a gloomy English country manor, and an illicit love affair. Oh, and the first line is magic.