I’m switching to non-fiction now with a couple of biographies on my bedside table, but recently I have read four decidedly different works of fiction, each one with multiple things to recommend it.
Flight Behavior. I have loved many of Barbara Kingsolver’s (namely The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams, Pigs in Heaven, The Poisonwood Bible, and Prodigal Summer). I put Flight Behavior up there with the best of them. Some people may quibble that she has crossed the line into polemic with the climate change strand of the story, but I don’t think so. The story works for me as a compelling examination of what happens when cultures collide, and Kingsolver presents both the perspectives of members of a rural, Tennessee mountain community and scientists who arrive there with understanding and tenderness; there is no condescension toward the indigenous folk and no exaltation of the scientists. Dellarobia Turnbow is a woman who comes to have a foot in both worlds, and she is an exciting character, a woman who is meant to rise above her circumstances. I love this (completely believable) story of female empowerment.
The Round House. I’m not 100% sure I would have read Louise Erdrich’s latest book if it had not won the 2012 National Book Award. I read Love Medicine years ago and liked it, but I read another of her novels after that (Tales of Burning Love perhaps?), was disappointed, cannot remember why, and can’t remember if that is for certain the book I read. Whatever the source of my problems, none of them can be found in The Round House, which is a revelatory look at reservation life and a coming of age story for a 13-year-old boy whose mother is brutally attacked in 1988. There are extenuating circumstances and complicated legal issues of jurisdiction that Joe finds out about as he and his father, a judge, investigate the crime. Beautifully written and quite the page-turner.
Butter. Anne Panning’s novel is a softer, gentler coming of age story, but it is also well-written and evocative. Set in a small town in Minnesota in the 1970s, the details of Iris’s life remind me of my own tween and teen years because of some of the popular culture references. Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with the lack of family stability that she encounters. While the book is sad at times, there is a hopefulness that runs through the narrative, and the main character is brighter and stronger than she realizes.
This is How You Lose Her. Junot Diaz’s story collection was also a National Book Award nominee this year. Some of the stories work remarkably well for me, but others do not. There are overlapping themes and characters but not as much unity as one might expect from such a collection. Still, the final story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” is powerful and feels so true that I’m glad I read all of the stories to reach that point in the anthology.