I recently read three terrific new novels. I’m not sure that they have much in common; they all have contemporary timelines, except one of them has the dual timeline plotline going on. Two of them are set in the United States; one of them is set in England. They’re all by women authors. And they all have this in common: when I finished reading them, I felt a profound sense of exalted satisfaction, the kind I experience when I’ve become totally immersed in the world of the novel, the kind that makes me want to count the days until I can read another book by the same author. Without further ado, here they are!
Meg Howrey’s novel, They’re Going to Love You, is a beautiful story told in first person by Carlisle, the daughter of a ballet manager and a ballerina. It’s part coming-of-age story and part looking back on the past. There are two timelines for Carlisle; in one, she’s a child / teen / young adult going to visit her divorced father and his boyfriend in the 1980s in New York City, and in the other, she’s in her late thirties and living in California, a ballet choreographer who is waiting for her first big break. There are a lot of hints about estrangement and the breaking of family bonds. I’m having trouble putting why I loved this into words. The story is just so tender and the yearning toward self-expression and belonging so poignant. But the story doesn’t take itself too seriously, either. And I like it that part of it is set in Ohio, too. I finished this, and then turned right around and read it again. This story about art, love, and relationships, and how they all impact each other is just that wonderful.
Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story, by Terri-Lynne Defino, is warm, tender, and funny. It’s also thoughtful and has great dialogue. Set in present-day New Jersey, it’s about Varina and her large, noisy, Italian-American extended family. Varina is widowed, lives with her eighty-plus-year-old mother, and actively resists all attempts by her mother, daughter, and anyone else to set her up with an eligible man. Varina follows her life’s dream and secretly books a riverboat trip in Europe, and this leads her into new relationships and adventures months before her planned excursion. It’s a joy to watch people of each generation find their truth and their path forward. A particularly fun feature is each chapter heading, which has an Italian-American word or expression, its definition and pronunciation, and how it differs from the original Italian. This feel-good novel is character-driven fiction at its best.
Finally, off we go to London in Clare Pooley’s novel Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting. Iona Iverson, a daily commuter on London’s underground, decides to break her own rules about commuting (“Never talk to strangers on the train!”) to connect with the people around her. Iona is in her late fifties, carries train treats such as cocktail ingredients in her handbag, and travels with her dog, Lulu. Every morning, she takes the same train, sitting in the same seat in the same carriage, to her job as an advice columnist for a popular women’s magazine. One day a fellow passenger nearly chokes on a grape and is saved by a nurse who is traveling in the same car. This is the start of conversations and connections that lead to caring and friendship. This story could easily be too sweet, but Iona’s over-the-top personality and the humor infused into the narrative keep the plot moving along. I truly enjoyed this and will probably choose it for a book club.
Other new contemporary fiction titles include:
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld
Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto