Contemporary Fiction Times Two Plus One Speculative Fiction

Welcome to my world of recently-published, recently-read books that made me feel that life is great when there’s such talent in the world. The first two are both contemporary fiction, but the settings, characters, and themes are all very different.

The first is a debut novel by Anissa Gray, and if this is her first novel, may I just say that I can’t wait to read the second. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is set in a small town in Michigan and features the Butlers, a black family whose fortunes are tied to the fortunes of the town. The four siblings are now adults, and they are shadowed by tragic events from their childhood. Althea and her husband Proctor are in prison for fraud, their twin teenage daughters are living in Althea’s childhood home with her youngest sister Lillian, the middle sister Viola is in Chicago coping with her separation from her wife, and their brother Joe is living nearby with his wife and children. This story is remarkable in how it speaks to the emotional truth that grief and loss present themselves as anger in the way an individual responds to the world around them. The characters are compelling and real. It’s an impressive debut, and I look forward to more from this author.

In contrast, Lisa Lutz has published many books, and her latest is called The Swallows. It’s set in a posh Vermont boarding school and honestly it makes me recoil from ever wanting anybody to go to a boarding school ever. (yes, two “evers.” This school is that creepy.) It’s told from multiple points of view, which gives us-the-readers deeper understanding of the feelings and motivations that drive the plot. The two students, Gemma and Norman, and the one new teacher, Ms. Alex Witt, were terrific characters to follow. Everyone in this story is troubled and everyone has rage and watching these feelings translate into thought and action is both heady and disturbing. I think Lisa Lutz is a terrific writer and I am sort of amazed that she made me like this story so much, because dark and disturbing isn’t usually my thing. The writing is both sharp and humorous, and I think that helps. I’ve never read a book quite like this one.

I’m concluding with Margaret Atwood’s new novel The Testaments. This is speculative fiction with layers of suspense, set in Gilead, the world of The Handmaid’s TaleIt’s told from three varying points of view: the authoritarian Aunt Lydia, whom we all remember from the earlier book; Agnes, a Commander’s daughter who is growing up in that world; and Daisy, who lives in Canada and provides a view of Gilead from the outside. Like its predecessor, the book deals with themes of power, gender, and manipulation. It’s well-written, well-plotted, and the multiple points of view work very well together to advance the story. It was both fascinating and horrifying to see the distopian Gilead from different points of view. I don’t think reading this once is enough. I want to go back and read both Gilead books, again!

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