30 Women Novelists You Should Know – #12 Lily King

As I count down the days to the launch of my novel Her Own Vietnam, I’m writing about wonderful women novelists.

Gorgeous writing and powerful emotional pull, if you like that sort of thing

I’ve now read three of Lily King’s four novels, and I still can’t say exactly what it is that stamps a novel as a work of Lily King. The books are so different, set in different times and places with characters who share little in common, united only by the gorgeous writing and the powerful emotional pull of each novel.

The Pleasing Hour is about a young American woman who goes to Paris to work as an au pair and escape a tragedy in her past, only to find that the past is more alive in Europe than anywhere, and that tragedy shadows us all.

In The English Teacher, a high school English teacher with a teenaged son marries a man with teenagers of his own, and her world begins to unravel. Once you read this book, you’ll never think of Tess of the D’Ubervilles the same way again.

Euphoria

Her latest book, Euphoria, is about three anthropologists in the 1930s, studying and living among tribes in Papua New Guinea. The three scientists – an American woman who has written a shocking and best-selling book about the sex lives of a tribe, her Australian husband and an English man they know only slightly – plunge into a love triangle that’s a vortex of passion, intellectual zeal, rivalry, ambition, and perhaps a dash of madness.

The novel immediately creates an atmosphere of peril and strangeness. By the time I read the first five sentences, I was hooked: I had to know what had happened and what would happen next, even though I suspected it would be harrowing. And it was – harrowing, and uplifting and most of all, fascinating. The details about how anthropologists conduct their work and their lives were astounding.

A growing sense of dread

As I read, I was gripped by a growing sense of dread, both that something awful was about to happen and that the book was coming to an end. You know that feeling of grief you have when you finish a beloved book? Well, authors feel that too, as Lily King wrote here.

On my bookshelf, Lily King’s Euphoria stands next to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. It seems fitting.

Lily King

Lily King

30 Novelists You Should Know – #11 Dara Horn

Dara Horn writes exuberant, brainy novels about slices of Jewish life that might surprise you. For example, her 2009 novel All Other Nights is about a Jewish woman who served as a spy during the Civil War – for the Confederacy.

Race, class and the pull of conflicting loyalties

On one level of this multi-layered novel, the book is a thriller, with a driving plot about spies conducting their high-stakes activities on opposite sides of a war that split families as well as the nation. At another level, the novel is an exploration of race, class and the pull of conflicting loyalties, and a brilliant depiction of a society poised for extinction. Yet another layer examines a marriage that starts out as an act of espionage and evolves into something else.

Horn’s descriptions of the daily challenges and compromises that faced Jewish families in the South during the 19th century were eye-opening. I was particularly struck by a detail that has stayed with me in the years since I read the book: On Sunday mornings, all the Jewish families in Richmond, Virginia strolled the streets, finally able to breathe freely and relax because for a few hours all the Christian families – who normally judged them and worse – were in church.

 A thriller stuffed with ideas

Her latest novel, A Guide for the Perplexed, is a roller-coaster ride that hurtles you from the present day to the 19th century to the 12th century, all in search of answers to compelling questions about memory, history, identity and loyalty.

It sounds heady, but there is a gripping plot to propel you through the story. An American software genius has created an app that records every moment of users’ lives. She is abducted in Egypt, and her sister, always jealous of her success, must decide if and how to save her. And why did the Egyptians kidnap the genius? Not for the reasons you might expect.

All of this is tied up, in ways both wildly imaginative and practical, with the discovery of a rare manuscript more than 100 years ago, and a book written by the 12th century rabbi and philosopher Maimonides. The novel is stuffed with ideas and incidents, and you can feel the author’s glee as she knits together strands of history and philosophy.

Giddy with intellectual delight

Dara Horn’s four novels aren’t beach reads. But if you enjoy fiction that’s packed with historical detail and giddy with intellectual delight, Horn is a writer for you.

Dara Horn

Dara Horn

 

30 Women Novelists You Should Know – #10 Elliott Holt

Only 29 days until my novel, Her Own Vietnam, is released, and we’re on #10 in my countdown of 30 women novelists.

The power of the particular

Elliott Holt’s first novel, You Are One of Them, came out in 2013. Her website describes it as “A novel about secrets, betrayal and the friend who got away.”

This is a compelling tagline, but it could apply to a lot of books. It also misses the particularity of this novel, which in my opinion is the source of the book’s power. All of the secrecy, betrayal and unraveling of friendship in the novel take place in the shadows of two titanic historical forces: the Cold War and the global reshuffling that followed its conclusion.

A many-layered novel

In 1982, two 10-year-old girls growing up in Washington, DC write letters to the Soviet premier to advocate for peace. Jennifer’s letter gets published in the newspaper to great acclaim, and she is invited to travel to Moscow with her family to meet Yuri Andropov. Sarah’s letter seems to get lost.

The close friendship between the two girls also gets lost, as Jennifer becomes a celebrity while Sarah becomes an awkward and lonely teenager. Three year later, Jennifer and her family are killed in a plane crash.

Sarah grows into adulthood still obsessed by what happened to their friendship and by the Cold War that overshadowed both their childhoods. She decides to visit Russia – no longer the ominous Soviet Union – to learn the truth about Jennifer’s fate and the demise of their friendship.

I enjoyed this adroit novel on a number of levels. I love novels in which regular people recognize that politics and current events have a profound impact on their personal lives. Also, much of the book takes place in familiar Washington locales. Other sections are based in Moscow, as Russia and its citizens try to find their identities in a world that has radically shifted its shape.

A writer to watch

Holt is an interesting writer whose career has already taken intriguing turns. In 2007, New York magazine called her “one of the stars of tomorrow.” In 2010, she wrote a mystery story – on Twitter, 140 characters at a time. Her short stories have been widely published and praised, including this one, published in Guernica.

I’m looking forward to Elliott Holt’s next novel. In the meantime, take a look at You Are One of Them. Both the title and the novel will send a chill skittering up your spine.

Elliott Holt

Elliott Holt

It’s Egg Heaven Day!

Egg Heaven cover

Today, October 1, 2014, two exciting things are happening. First, the nation’s newest feminist publishing house – Shade Mountain Press – is bursting onto the literary scene with its first book.

Second, Shade Mountain’s first book – the short story collection Egg Heaven, by Robin Parks – is finally available.

The critics love it!

In Foreword Reviews, Sara Budzik wrote, “Strong characters immersed in gentle moments of great significance set against a backdrop of struggling diners and restaurants along the southwest coast give Egg Heaven a flavor of its own. Robin Parks has carefully caressed each detail of her writing into focused visions of some of the most complex human emotions—grief, love, resentment, redemption… Parks is a master of the short story.”

In Booklist, Ellen Loughran said, “This engaging collection, with its predominance of female characters, appeals most strongly to women but will reward any short fiction reader who picks it up.”

Now it’s your turn.

Both of these are influential journals read and respected by booksellers. So the fact that they love Egg Heaven is important. But not as important as what you think.

If you appreciate writing that shimmers with quiet beauty, want to immerse yourself in a Southern California no tourist will ever see, hope to understand all the different ways a human can hunger – then go to Egg Heaven.

I won’t even pretend to be objective

The author, Robin Parks – who won the Raymond Carver Short Story Award – is a long-time friend of mine. And Egg Heaven is the first book published by Shade Mountain Press, which in one month will publish my novel.

So no, I won’t even pretend to objective. But it no longer matters what I think about the book. Egg Heaven has been born.

You can order Egg Heaven here. Savor the nine stories. Then let me know what you think.