I would categorize this book as historical fiction first and foremost, though it is touted as magical realism. I had this in the back of my mind as I read, but other than Beulah’s mysterious arrival in town and her omnipresence for most of the rest of the book, the “magical realism” elements weren’t obvious—until the end. This is where Graham’s gift of storytelling shines through
Obviously Robin Gregory is a well-read writer. Not only does she mimic Homer’s “wine dark sea” with the novel’s opening of “dories…and spider crabs flood[ing] the beach like a ghostly pink tide,” but also refers back to great YA series like A Series of Unfortunate Events through her grim imaginativeness. Gritty magical realism is in vogue, if we account for the non-YA St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell and Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi beside which The Improbable Wonders holds its own.
Every story told in the book is written as a past memory and Lucy intertwines her own reflections as she tells her story. The story is told through the narrator’s point of view in the same fashion one would write a memoir about his or her own life. What Elizabeth Strout has done so brilliantly is convinced readers that Lucy’s life is real and we are a part of it.
The A to Z of Normal, by British author Helen Barbour, is a “relationship novel,” but has more to say than a romance, or a “chick lit” book. Readers like to learn while being entertained, and in this novel, Ms. Barbour gently educates us about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and deserves praise for recognizing the dramatic potential in a subject seldom-explored in fiction.
Solange’s journey is one that takes her into her own heart of darkness, where she finds her limitations, her humiliations and restrictions, and the cultural, political, gendered and racial stereotypes through which she has defined herself. Throughout the novel she begins to unravel these, unwinding herself slowly until she is temporarily removed altogether as subject.
It takes strength of character to pursue, and create, human wretchedness in all its shapes for 360 pages. Like many unreliable narrators before him, Norman K ranges from obnoxious to villainous in his pretension, and The Diary of Norman K shows how uniquely we puts on airs, down to a style of speech best described by his “friend” Russell as “an Elizabethan aristocrat who had just woken up from a two-hundred-year coma.
Beneath the fun, fast, and well-plotted story, is a deep poetic exploration of yearning, creativity, and the constrictions of poverty. The characters live between pulses of transcendence that take place as they struggle to create meaning from their hand-to-mouth lives.
Themes of identity and belonging disturb the calm surface of Wendy Brandmark’s collection of short stories, which are set in Denver, New York and Boston in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many of the stories concern characters who have been displaced geographically and emotionally: young or old, successful or unsuccessful, their lives have slipped their moorings.
Paul presents a solidly-written cast of characters who are relatable in their imperfections and sense of duty to both their blood and created families. Readers are sure to recognize at least a trace of their own family dynamic in these characters.
Readers who look for a novel well steeped in philosophy which takes the classic love scenario and turns it upside down will find much to relish in this evocative story of adventurers who seek to reinvent not just themselves and each other, but their worlds.