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Books in the Bag

Books in the Bag

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

Little Marek, the abused and delusional son of the village shepherd, never knew his mother; his father told him she died in childbirth. One of life’s few consolations for Marek is his enduring bond with the blind village midwife, Ina, who suckled him when he was a baby, as she did so many of the village’s children. Ina’s gifts extend beyond childcare: she possesses a unique ability to communicate with the natural world. Her gift often brings her the transmission of sacred knowledge on levels far beyond those available to other villagers, however religious they might be. For some people, Ina’s home in the woods outside of the village is a place to fear and to avoid, a godless place.

Among their number is Father Barnabas, the town priest and lackey for the depraved lord and governor, Villiam, whose hilltop manor contains a secret embarrassment of riches. The people’s desperate need to believe that there are powers that be who have their best interests at heart is put to a cruel test by Villiam and the priest, especially in this year of record drought and famine. But when fate brings Marek into violent proximity to the lord’s family, new and occult forces upset the old order. By year’s end, the veil between blindness and sight, life and death, the natural world and the spirit world, will prove to be very thin indeed.

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

There is one every generation, a seer who keeps the stories.

Luz “Little Light” Lopez, a tea leaf reader and laundress, is left to fend for herself after her older brother, Diego, a snake charmer and factory worker, is run out of town by a violent white mob. As Luz navigates 1930s Denver, she begins to have visions that transport her to her Indigenous homeland in the nearby Lost Territory. Luz recollects her ancestors’ origins, how her family flourished, and how they were threatened. She bears witness to the sinister forces that have devastated her people and their homelands for generations. In the end, it is up to Luz to save her family stories from disappearing into oblivion.

Written in Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s singular voice, the wildly entertaining and complex lives of the Lopez family fill the pages of this multigenerational western saga. Woman of Light is a transfixing novel about survival, family secrets, and love — filled with an unforgettable cast of characters, all of whom are just as special, memorable, and complicated as our beloved heroine, Luz.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.

New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.

Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse — one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.

Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.

The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Latecomer follows the story of the wealthy, New York City-based Oppenheimer family, from the first meeting of parents Salo and Johanna, under tragic circumstances, to their triplets born during the early days of IVF. As children, the three siblings – Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally – feel no strong familial bond and cannot wait to go their separate ways, even as their father becomes more distanced and their mother more desperate. When the triplets leave for college, Johanna, faced with being truly alone, makes the decision to have a fourth child. What role will the “latecomer” play in this fractured family?

A complex novel that builds slowly and deliberately, The Latecomer touches on the topics of grief and guilt, generational trauma, privilege and race, traditions and religion, and family dynamics. It is a profound and witty family story from an accomplished author, known for the depth of her character studies, expertly woven storylines, and plot twists.

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice’s life isn’t terrible. She likes her job, even if it isn’t exactly the one she expected. She’s happy with her apartment, her romantic status, her independence, and she adores her lifelong best friend. But her father is ailing, and it feels to her as if something is missing. When she wakes up the next morning she finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. But it isn’t just her adolescent body that shocks her, or seeing her high school crush, it’s her dad: the vital, charming, 40-something version of her father with whom she is reunited. Now armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, some past events take on new meaning. Is there anything that she would change if she could?

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh

For almost a decade, Claudia has counseled patients at Mercy Street, a clinic in the heart of the city. The work is consuming, the unending dramas of women in crisis. For its patients, Mercy Street offers more than health care; for many, it is a second chance.

But outside the clinic, the reality is different. Anonymous threats are frequent. A small, determined group of anti-abortion demonstrators appears each morning at its door. As the protests intensify, fear creeps into Claudia’s days, a humming anxiety she manages with frequent visits to Timmy, an affable pot dealer in the midst of his own existential crisis. At Timmy’s, she encounters a random assortment of customers, including Anthony, a lost soul who spends most of his life online, chatting with the mysterious Excelsior11—the screenname of Victor Prine, an anti-abortion crusader who has set his sights on Mercy Street and is ready to risk it all for his beliefs.

Mercy Street is a novel for right now, a story of the polarized American present. Jennifer Haigh, “an expert natural storyteller with a keen sense of her characters’ humanity” (New York Times), has written a groundbreaking novel, a fearless examination of one of the most divisive issues of our time.

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Even through the roar and effervescence of the 1920s, everyone in New York has heard of Benjamin and Helen Rask. He is a legendary Wall Street tycoon; she is the daughter of eccentric aristocrats. Together, they have risen to the very top of a world of seemingly endless wealth — all as a decade of excess and speculation draws to an end. But at what cost have they acquired their immense fortune? This is the mystery at the center of Bonds, a successful 1937 novel that all of New York seems to have read. Yet there are other versions of this tale of privilege and deceit.

Hernan Diaz’s Trust elegantly puts these competing narratives into conversation with one another — and in tension with the perspective of one woman bent on disentangling fact from fiction. The result is a novel that spans over a century and becomes more exhilarating with each new revelation.

At once an immersive story and a brilliant literary puzzle, Trust engages the reader in a quest for the truth while confronting the deceptions that often live at the heart of personal relationships, the reality-warping force of capital, and the ease with which power can manipulate facts.

Love Marriage by Monica Ali

Yasmin Ghorami in twenty-six, in training to be a doctor (like her Indian-born father), and engaged to the charismatic, upper-class Joe Sangster, whose formidable mother, Harriet, is a famous feminist. The gulf between families is vast. So, too, is the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe.

As the wedding day draws near, misunderstandings, infidelities, and long-held secrets upend both Yasmin’s relationship and that of her parents, a “love marriage,” according to the family lore that Yasmin has believed all her life.

A gloriously acute observer of class, sexual mores, and the mysteries of the human heart, Monica Ali has written a captivating social comedy and a profoundly moving, revelatory story of two cultures, two families, and two people trying to understand one another.

Monica Ali’s Brick Lane was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was named a best book of the year by The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic.

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, whose company, Mandala, is so successful that he is “one of those tech demi-gods with whom we’re all on a first name basis.” Bix is 40, with four kids, restless, desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. It’s 2010. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious” — that allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share every memory in exchange for access to the memories of others — has seduced multitudes. But not everyone.

In spellbinding interlocking narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of Own Your Unconscious through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades. Intellectually dazzling, The Candy House is also extraordinarily moving, a testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for real connection, love, family, privacy and redemption. In the world of Egan’s spectacular imagination, there are “counters” who track and exploit desires and there are “eluders,” those who understand the price of taking a bite of the Candy House. Egan introduces these characters in an astonishing array of narrative styles — from omniscient to first person plural to a duet of voices, an epistolary chapter and a chapter of tweets.

If Goon Squad was organized like a concept album, The Candy House incorporates Electronic Dance Music’s more disjunctive approach. The parts are titled: Build, Break, Drop. With an emphasis on gaming, portals, and alternate worlds, its structure also suggests the experience of moving among dimensions in a role-playing game.

The Candy House is a bold, brilliant imagining of a world that is moments away. Egan takes to stunning new heights her “deeply intuitive forays into the darker aspects of our technology-driven, image-saturated culture” (Vogue). The Candy House delivers an absolutely extraordinary combination of fierce, exhilarating intelligence and heart.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal — an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

The Promise by Damon Galgut

The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for — not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang

The residents of Haven, Wisconsin, have dined on the Fine Chao restaurant’s delicious Americanized Chinese food for thirty-five years, content to ignore any unsavory whispers about the family owners. Whether or not Big Leo Chao is honest, or his wife, Winnie, is happy, their food tastes good and their three sons earned scholarships to respectable colleges. But when the brothers reunite in Haven, the Chao family’s secrets and simmering resentments erupt at last.

Before long, brash, charismatic, and tyrannical patriarch Leo is found dead ― presumed murdered ― and his sons find they’ve drawn the exacting gaze of the entire town. The ensuing trial brings to light potential motives for all three brothers: Dagou, the restaurant’s reckless head chef; Ming, financially successful but personally tortured; and the youngest, gentle but lost college student James. As the spotlight on the brothers tightens ― and the family dog meets an unexpected fate ― Dagou, Ming, and James must reckon with the legacy of their father’s outsized appetites and their own future survival.

Brimming with heartbreak, comedy, and suspense, The Family Chao offers a kaleidoscopic, highly entertaining portrait of a Chinese American family grappling with the dark undercurrents of a seemingly pleasant small town.

French Braid by Anne Tyler

The Garretts take their first and last family vacation in the summer of 1959. They hardly ever leave home, but in some ways they have never been farther apart. Mercy has trouble resisting the siren call of her aspirations to be a painter, which means less time keeping house for her husband, Robin. Their teenage daughters, steady Alice and boy-crazy Lily, could not have less in common. Their youngest, David, is already intent on escaping his family’s orbit, for reasons none of them understand. Yet, as these lives advance across decades, the Garretts’ influences on one another ripple ineffably but unmistakably through each generation.

Full of heartbreak and hilarity, French Braid is classic Anne Tyler: a stirring, uncannily insightful novel of tremendous warmth and humor that illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close — yet how unknowable — every family is to itself.

Mecca by Susan Straight

Johnny Frías has California in his blood. A descendant of the state’s Indigenous people and Mexican settlers, he has Southern California’s forgotten towns and canyons in his soul. He spends his days as a highway patrolman pulling over speeders, ignoring their racist insults, and pushing past the trauma of his rookie year, when he killed a man assaulting a young woman named Bunny, who ran from the scene, leaving Johnny without a witness. But like the Santa Ana winds that every year bring the risk of fire, Johnny’s moment of action twenty years ago sparked a slow-burning chain of connections that unites a vibrant, complex cast of characters in ways they never see coming.

In Mecca, the celebrated novelist Susan Straight crafts an unforgettable American epic, examining race, history, family, and destiny through the interlocking stories of a group of native Californians all gasping for air. With sensitivity, furor, and a cinematic scope that captures California in all its injustice, history, and glory, she tells a story of the American West through the eyes of the people who built it ― and continue to sustain it. As the stakes get higher and the intertwined characters in Mecca slam against barrier after barrier, they find that when push comes to shove, it’s always better to push back.

Free Love by Tessa Hadley

1967. While London comes alive with the new youth revolution, the suburban Fischer family seems to belong to an older world of conventional stability: pretty, dutiful homemaker Phyllis is married to Roger, a devoted father with a career in the Foreign Office. Their children are Colette, a bookish teenager, and Hugh, the golden boy.

But when the twenty-something son of an old friend pays the Fischers a visit one hot summer evening, and kisses Phyllis in the dark garden after dinner, something in her catches fire. Newly awake to the world, Phyllis makes a choice that defies all expectations of her as a wife and a mother. Nothing in these ordinary lives is so ordinary after all, it turns out, as the family’s upheaval mirrors the dramatic transformation of the society around them.

With scalpel-sharp insight, Tessa Hadley explores her characters’ inner worlds, laying bare their fears and longings. Daring and sensual, Free Love is an irresistible exploration of romantic love, sexual freedom and living out the truest and most meaningful version of our selves – a novel that showcases Hadley’s unrivaled ability to “put on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own” (Lily King, author of Euphoria).

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

It’s 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, are boldfaced names in their hometown of New York. Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn, while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan’s power brokers.

Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1 percent but she can’t seem to find her own. . . until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets.

Olga and Prieto’s mother, Blanca, a Young Lord turned radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother. Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Blanca has come barreling back into their lives.

Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife, and the very notion of the American dream ― all while asking what it really means to weather a storm.

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