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The King Is Always Above the People: Stories by Daniel AlarcónLonglisted for the 2017 National Book Award, this collection of literary short stories is loosely connected, with the same characters and neighborhoods appearing throughout. While author Daniel Alarcón plays with reality -- locations (and time periods) are not clearly defined -- his characters are superbly real and their situations all too familiar. With relationships a key theme, and love and loss not too far behind, these stories are "smart and understated" (Kirkus Reviews).
The End We Start From by Megan HunterThis post-apocalyptic debut is set in London, England -- though parts of the city itself are deep under water. After giving birth to a baby boy, our unnamed narrator flees north with her husband and son, seeking refuge first with family, then with the government, and finally on their own. With spare prose and a meditative style, this novel almost reads like poetry; with an equal emphasis on both motherhood and the perils of catastrophe, it can also be read as a warning for a world threatened by climate change.
Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibbenWhat if Vermont were to secede from the U.S., relying on a barter economy and the fruits of local labor? That's exactly what radio personality Vern Barclay aims to find out, as his attempts to sidestep big box stores and Coors beer in favor of shopping local and Vermont's microbreweries gets more and more out of hand. Branded a terrorist after a piece of mischief goes south, Vern goes underground, attracting a motley crew of revolutionaries. Offbeat and yet playfully provocative, this debut novel wrestles with questions of ethics and morality.
Heather, the Totality by Matthew WeinerMark and Karen Breakstone have a smart, kind, beautiful daughter who is the center of their lives; though they tend to compete for her attention, they are more or less happy. Their daughter Heather, however, is uncomfortable with their affluent lifestyle, when those who work in their building have so little. She chooses a construction worker, Bobby, to help -- unaware that she has also caught his eye, and his intentions aren't nearly so compassionate. While the book itself is short (more of a novella than a novel), the bleak tone and lack of dialogue create a compelling take on love and obsession.
Wintering by Peter GeyeIn and around the tiny town of Gunflint, Minnesota, the cold is nearly palpable; "winter" is a force to be reckoned with. Elderly Harry Eide has disappeared into the wilderness, mimicking a journey he took with his son decades earlier -- with useless maps and a nemesis to avoid back in town, that fraught trip gave birth to a secret that father and son still carry. Narrated by Harry's longtime lover, Wintering carries forward the story of the family who first appeared in The Lighthouse Road.
Pachinko by Min Jin LeeShortly after Japan annexes Korea in 1910, a fisherman and his wife -- having already lost three sons -- welcome a daughter, Sunja. At 16, Sunja becomes pregnant and, spurned by her married lover, reluctantly accepts a marriage proposal from the minister lodging at her family's boarding house. The newlyweds travel to Japan to begin their life together, setting the stage for a sweeping multi-generational family saga that spans decades and touches on pivotal events of the 20th century.
Commonwealth by Ann PatchettIt's at the christening for baby Franny Keating in Southern California that the implosion of two nuclear families begins -- when the dust clears, Franny and her sister have gained four step-siblings. Over the next few years, the Keatings and Cousins children are forced together by overwhelmed parents, growing "like a pack of feral dogs" during long summers in Virginia. Over the years, a fatal bee sting, long-held secrets, and the publication of a best-selling novel threaten their hard-won bonds. If you loved the complex family drama in Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere and yet somehow missed Commonwealth, consider this a nudge to rectify that.
Everfair by Nisi ShawlReaders eager for something a little different will likely want to consider this neo-Victorian alternate-history novel, which reimagines Belgium's destructive colonization of the Congo. In this version, missionaries and socialists together build a safe haven for the brutalized Congolese people, freed American slaves, and European settlers. Their independence protected by steam-powered inventions, the citizens of Everfair find their stronghold threatened by World War I. With a large cast and an inventive premise, this debut novel by James A. Tiptree Award-winning author Nisi Shawl is a good bet for fans of Octavia Butler.
Eligible by Curtis SittenfeldJane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has formed the basis for a number of re-tellings and adaptations, Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary possibly being the best known. And like that novel, this one features plucky, flawed characters, complex family dynamics, and the perils of modern life. It's all there -- the impending loss of a family home, embarrassing younger sisters, a haughty suitor, and a cousin's unwanted attentions. Just add some yoga, a former reality TV star, paleo diets, and an Ohio setting, and you have another enjoyable contemporary retelling of a beloved classic.
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