Thanksgiving is over, the family is (finally) gone, and yet we still feel like we’re wandering around in a Tryptophan-induced haze. That makes it oddly appropriate that this week we’ve found ourselves reaching for fiction to match our state of mind–bizarre, haunting, strange stories about family, love, and the fundamental strangeness of human relationships.
Alex P: Lee’s prose is a rare beast: astonishing, evocative, strangely beautiful, yet never ostentatious, never overshadowing the humanity of her characters of the realism of her narratives. Each story in Bobcat is a glimpse into a fully realized world, populated with characters at once unique and familiar. But it’s the writing that makes this one of my favorite recent reads. In one story, the male narrator at a Taliesin-esque artists colony contemplates his mentor: “He is wistful in my memory, staring off, imagining a building that might at last equal nature—generative and wild, but utterly organized at heart.” She might as well be describing her own prose.
Mallory: Nell Zink’s debut novel came to Scribd last week (our first novel from The Dorothy Project!) with a wealth of spectacular blurbs: The New York Times calling it “heady and rambunctious,” Harpers Bazaar declaring it “hilarious and utterly captivating,” Flavorwire naming it the best debut of the year from an American writer, and so on and so forth. It’s the kind of praise that can make you a little suspicious, and so I waded in cautiously.
The opening sections were challenging—brutally, painfully honest with a potent strangeness wafting around like a heavily-scented candle had just been snuffed out in the next room. But then the narrator came alive. “I couldn’t envy the birds. Their lives weren’t as simple as mine. My life was like falling off a log comfortably located somewhere light-years above the earth.” Suddenly, I couldn’t put the book down.
Nell Zink has written an often bizarre but deeply resonant novel about marriage, infidelity, gender roles, boredom, and self-actualization that completely, utterly earns the praise that’s been lavished on it. It’s both cathartic and cautionary. Every woman under the age of 35 should read it. Actually, every person under the age of 35 should read it. This weekend, I’ll be re-reading it, in tandem with Wild.
Alex K: I just loved The Rosie Project. I happened upon it in Australia (the author’s home country), and read it in a Balinese hammock over the course of two days. It’s charming, quirky, and so, so funny. The protagonist, Don, is an awkward, emotionally stunted professor on a quest to find a life partner using the same hyper-analytical approach he brings to his work. He devises a lengthy questionnaire for his potential mates, with questions like: How many drinks do you imbibe per week? What is an acceptable time to arrive to a meeting? Then he meets Rosie—a spunky grad student on her own mission to find her biological father—who happens to fail virtually all of Don’s criteria. And yet something sticks. What follows is a touching, hilarious story about people looking for love and love finding them instead.
Ashley: Forget about Google Glass or any other current technological advancement that supposedly makes us more “connected”—in the foreseeable future, at least according to Ramez Naam, an (outlawed) drug will link human minds. Text messages will pop up in your mind. You’ll feel each other’s emotions and see each other’s pasts. To some, this is the dawn of a new era for human understanding; to others, this is an existential threat to our humanity. At first, the whole idea sounded completely heinous to me. But Naam does an amazing job of exploring every side of the question in all its ideological, moral, and legal levels. But this isn’t just a series of angry chat logs and philosophical disquisitions—it’s also a fast-paced and surprisingly fun international spy thriller.
Niree: Recently, a yellowed first edition of Erich Segal’s Love Story appeared on my doorstep. The cover is very 70s, the letters themselves donning bellbottoms, the colors starting to brown like the interior of an old station wagon. It was a present from my boyfriend, which seemed sweet until I actually read the book.
Love Story is a slim volume, but that doesn’t stop it from punching you straight in the heart with a pair of brass knuckles. Basically, it’s about a young couple who falls in love. That’s it. But that’s not it. The first thing you notice is that this story is told with remarkable clarity. Its staccato styling and brisk pace have helped make this bestseller a modern classic. It’s tender and tragic. Sassy and sensitive. Much like love itself, it feels like a fever dream. And when that fever breaks and the story ends, you’ll cry. Oh, you’ll cry. But like any important experience—relationship or book—you’ll never regret having gone through it.