I feel as though I haven’t read anything new in ages, but I have to admit that it’s because I’m still rereading Robertson Davies, this time his Cornish Trilogy. Thank goodness for my abysmal literary memory, which allows me to enjoy it as if for the first time. Davies’ What’s Bred in the Bone, which I’ve just finished, is a truly masterful and surprisingly suspenseful portrait of a life, spanning much of the 20th century. More particularly, it’s an intimate and quietly thrilling portrait of an unusual life in art. Young Francis Cornish teaches himself to sketch in an embalming parlor, a strange beginning to a strange career. I cannot say enough about the charm of Davies’ prose and his gift for inventing delightful dialogue; those elements are here, as ever, but this is not one of his lighter novels. Rather, it is an exemplary specimen of his insight into the attitudes of different times and places, human nature in general and the ways in which small, often private experiences coalesce over time to make an individual who he is. If my recommendation this month leans toward adoration, I’m not alone. Our editors are particularly effusive about their own choices for this list. If you’re looking for a book to love, read on.
Fiction Co-Editor Suzanne Kamata is particularly smitten: “Kelly Luce. Remember that name. Having just read her debut short story collection, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, I’m convinced that you’ll be hearing a lot more from this young writer. As the title suggests, many of these stories are deeply strange. For instance, the opening tale features an oracular toaster. In ‘The Blue Demon of Ikumi,’ a man tries to broach the subject of starting a family with his much younger wife, a fanciful woman who loves debris and claims that she once had a tail. In ‘Ash,’ a young expatriate mother in Japan is arrested for a seemingly trivial reason. Strangeness aside, this book is full of heart, and Luce has a poet’s sensitivity to language. I love this book.” (N.B. This title has not yet been released, but watch for it in the coming months!)
Caroline Grant, Editor-in-Chief, has also been reading about lives in art: “I just finished Whitney Otto’s wonderful novel, Eight Girls Taking Pictures. Inspired by the lives of real photographers — Imogen Cunningham, Tina Modotti, Grete Stern, Lee Miller, Ruth Orkin, and others — Otto’s work offers occasionally overlapping portraits of eight 20th-century artists who take different paths to photography and face unique challenges in their work. Each offers a meditation on pursuing a creative life while raising a family. I think Otto’s beautiful writing and these women’s stories will resonate with Literary Mama readers.”
Reviews Editor Camille-Yvette Welsch suggests another stealthily stunning work: “I am reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, and after the very first story, I had to stop and catch my breath. The stories are quiet and well-structured and the prose lucid, but they sneak up on you with an emotional impact that can be simply devastating (see ‘A Temporary Matter,’ that first story). A wonderful book to dip in and out of, the collection is also wonderful for its insightful view of Indian and Indian-American culture and experience.”
Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle is revisiting a favorite of her own: “I’m (re)reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, a novel that’s poignant, funny, endearing and thoughtful. It ranges from modern-day Hollywood to the set of Cleopatra in the 60s to a forgotten “whore’s crack” of a town near Cinque Terre called Porto Vergogna. On this second reading, I can see in advance how all these seemingly disparate puzzle pieces will click together, and it’s making my second reading just as much fun as the first. On top of all of the book’s charm, the quality of the writing is superior, so it’s an embarrassment of riches.”