A Prayer for Owen Meany


John Irving - 1989
    Owen doesn't believe in accidents; he believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.

Driftless


David Rhodes - 2008
    The setting is Words, Wisconsin, an anonymous town of only a few hundred people. But under its sleepy surface, life rages. Cora and Graham guard their dairy farm, and family, from the wicked schemes of their milk co-op. Lifelong paraplegic Olivia suddenly starts to walk, only to find herself crippled by her fury toward her sister and caretaker, Violet. Recently retired Rusty finds a cougar living in his haymow, dredging up haunting childhood memories. Winifred becomes pastor of the Friends church and stumbles on enlightenment in a very unlikely place. And Julia Montgomery, both private and gregarious, instigates a series of events that threatens the town's solitude and doggedly suspicious ways. Driftless finds the author's powers undiminished in this unforgettable story that evokes a small-town America previously unmapped, and the damaged denizens who must make their way through it.

Someone


Alice McDermott - 2013
    Scattered recollections - of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age - come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott's deft, lyrical voice. Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an "amadan," a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott's novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another. Marie's first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother's brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents' deaths; the births and lives of Marie's children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn - McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today.Membership

Crossing California


Adam Langer - 2004
    At the close of the 1970s, the Rovners, the Wasserstroms, and the Wills-Silvermans will have to shed their pasts to cross into that new, shining decade of hope: the 80s.

The Patron Saint of Liars


Ann Patchett - 1992
    Now comes a reissue of the best-selling debut novel that launched her remarkable career. St. Elizabeth's, a home for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky, usually harbors its residents for only a little while. Not so Rose Clinton, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed, and stays. She plans to give up her child, thinking she cannot be the mother it needs. But when Cecilia is born, Rose makes a place for herself and her daughter amid St. Elizabeth's extended family of nuns and an ever-changing collection of pregnant teenage girls. Rose's past won't be kept away, though, even by St. Elizabeth's; she cannot remain untouched by what she has left behind, even as she cannot change who she has become in the leaving.

Here I Am


Jonathan Safran Foer - 2016
    Unfolding over four tumultuous weeks in present-day Washington, D.C., Here I Am is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia Bloch and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a quickly escalating conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the meaning of home - and the fundamental question of how much aliveness one can bear. Showcasing the same high-energy inventiveness, hilarious irreverence, and emotional urgency that readers loved in his earlier work, Here I Am is Foer's most searching, hard-hitting, and grandly entertaining novel yet. It not only confirms Foer's stature as a dazzling literary talent but reveals a novelist who has fully come into his own as one of our most important writers.

The Middlesteins


Jami Attenberg - 2012
    But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie's enormous girth. She's obsessed with food--thinking about it, eating it--and if she doesn't stop, she won't have much longer to live. When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle-- a whippet thin perfectionist-- is intent on saving her mother-in-law's life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children's spectacular b'nai mitzvah party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie's devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too?With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.

The Interestings


Meg Wolitzer - 2013
    Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge. The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules's now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken. Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

Doxology


Nell Zink - 2019
    Struggling to scrape together enough cash and musical talent to make it, they are waylaid by surprising arrivals—a daughter for Pam and Daniel, a solo hit single for Joe. As the ‘90s wane, the three friends share in one another’s successes, working together to elevate Joe’s superstardom and raise baby Flora.On September 11, 2001, the city’s unfathomable devastation coincides with a shattering personal loss for the trio. In the aftermath, Flora comes of age, navigating a charged political landscape and discovering a love of the natural world. Joining the ranks of those fighting for ecological conservation, Flora works to bridge the wide gap between powerful strategists and ordinary Americans, becoming entangled ever more intimately with her fellow activists along the way. And when the country faces an astonishing new threat, Flora’s family will have no choice but to look to the past—both to examine wounds that have never healed, and to rediscover strengths they have long forgotten.At once an elegiac takedown of today’s political climate and a touching invocation of humanity’s goodness, Doxology offers daring revelations about America’s past and possible future that could only come from Nell Zink, one of the sharpest novelists of our time.

Hope: A Tragedy


Shalom Auslander - 2012
    To start anew. But it isn’t quite working out that way for Kugel…His ailing mother stubbornly holds on to life, and won’t stop reminiscing about the Nazi concentration camps she never actually suffered through. To complicate matters further, some lunatic is burning down farmhouses just like the one Kugel bought, and when, one night, he discovers history—a living, breathing, thought-to-be-dead specimen of history—hiding upstairs in his attic, bad quickly becomes worse.Hope: A Tragedy is a hilarious and haunting examination of the burdens and abuse of history, propelled with unstoppable rhythm and filled with existential musings and mordant wit. It is a comic and compelling story of the hopeless longing to be free of those pasts that haunt our every present.

The Nix


Nathan Hill - 2016
    He hasn't seen his mother, Faye, since she walked out when he was a child. But then one day there she is, all over the news, throwing rocks at a presidential candidate. The media paints Faye as a militant radical with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother never left her small Iowa town. Which version of his mother is the true one? Determined to solve the puzzle--and finally have something to deliver to his publisher--Samuel decides to capitalize on his mother's new fame by writing a tell-all biography, a book that will savage her intimately, publicly. But first, he has to locate her; and second, to talk to her without bursting into tears. As Samuel begins to excavate her history, the story moves from the rural Midwest of the 1960s to New York City during the Great Recession and Occupy Wall Street to the infamous riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention, and finally to Norway, home of the mysterious Nix that his mother told him about as a child. And in these places, Samuel will unexpectedly find that he has to rethink everything he ever knew about his mother--a woman with an epic story of her own, a story she kept hidden from the world.

The Interrogative Mood


Padgett Powell - 2009
    Did they?) it might look something like this remarkable little book of Padgett Powell’s.”—Richard FordThe Interrogative Mood is a wildly inventive, jazzy meditation on life and language by the novelist that Ian Frazier hails as “one of the best writers in America, and one of the funniest, too.” A novel composed entirely of questions, it is perhaps the most audacious literary high-wire act since Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine or David Foster Wallace’s stories; a playful and profound book that, as Jonathan Safran Foer says, “will sear the unlucky volumes shelved on either side of it. How it doesn’t, itself, combust in flames is a mystery to me.”

The Topeka School


Ben Lerner - 2019
    His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting "lost boys" to open up. They both work at the Foundation, a well-known psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is also one of the seniors who brings the loner Darren Eberheart--who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father's patient--into the social scene, with disastrous effects.This is the story of a family's struggles and strengths: Jane's reckoning with the legacy of an abusive father, Jonathan's marital transgressions, the challenge of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity. It is also a riveting prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the trolls and tyrants of the new right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men.

Bee Season


Myla Goldberg - 2000
    But when Eliza sweeps her school and district spelling bees in quick succession, Saul takes it as a sign that she is destined for greatness. In this altered reality, Saul inducts her into his hallowed study and lavishes upon her the attention previously reserved for Aaron, who in his displacement embarks upon a lone quest for spiritual fulfillment. When Miriam's secret life triggers a familial explosion, it is Eliza who must order the chaos.Myla Goldberg's keen eye for detail brings Eliza's journey to three-dimensional life. As she rises from classroom obscurity to the blinding lights and outsized expectations of the National Bee, Eliza's small pains and large joys are finely wrought and deeply felt.Not merely a coming-of-age story, Goldberg's first novel delicately examines the unraveling fabric of one family. The outcome of this tale is as startling and unconventional as her prose, which wields its metaphors sharply and rings with maturity. The work of a lyrical and gifted storyteller, Bee Season marks the arrival of an extraordinarily talented new writer.

The Other


David Guterson - 2008
    From the author of the bestselling Snow Falling on Cedars comes a compelling new novel about youth and idealism, adulthood and its compromises, and two powerfully different visions of what it means to live a good life.