Adult Literary Fiction

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In this re-rendering of the Watson trilogy, Matthiessen combines Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone, re-writing substantial parts of each, to create a seamless story that mirrors the history of the south from the Civil War to World War II. Based on an actual pioneer of southwest Florida, Edgar J. Watson, Matthiessen creates a fictive context for the coming of age of the state of Florida and the dying of the south's old order through the life story of Mr. Watson who became a law unto himself in the sparsely populated Thousand Islands area of south Florida's Gulf coast. It's a bracing and tone-perfect account of life in pre-civil rights America. This book won the 2008 National Book Award.
Packer's first novel was a surprise best seller in 2002. It relates the story of Carrie Bell, who flees her ex-fiance, Mike, and her native Wisconsin after Mike suffers a broken neck in a freak accident - the dive. But Carrie is tortured by self-doubts and pressure from her family back home as she struggles to make a life in New York with the mysterious Kilroy. Closely observed, beautifully written, and deeply affecting, Packer's book is not so much like reading a story as it is like living vicariously another's life.
Occasionally a novel speaks to fundamental issues that transcend insight and enjoyment. This is one. Neither Sci-Fi nor fantasy, Carroll's story tears the fabric of reality and goes to one's unexpressible fear and longing to address primal concerns, not unlike the effect fairy tales have on children. Yet he does it in a world where the natural laws apply. Death is a character here and becomes frighteningly real, but, miraculously, we're offered a way to triumph over him, if only for a time. And the way is as simple as child's play... literally.
Appropriating the sweeping example of Moby Dick (the opening line is, Call me Smitty), Roth has produced one of the funniest books ever by an American novelist. It's certainly the funniest book about baseball ever written. Throwing in every literary reference he can find, Roth tells the sad, if hilarious, fate of the Port Rupert (NJ) Mundays, in the final season of the now forgotten Patriot League. The unscrupulous brothers who own the team sell the Munday's home ball park to the Army as an embarkation point for departing troops in WWII, so the Mundays must play their entire final season on the road. With the war on, most of the quality players are away fighting the war, so the Munday's have to resort to the oddest assortment of 'players' imaginable. Laugh out loud funny from start to finish.
Delillo's masterpiece and a history of the United States in the last half of the 20th century. From the famous 1951 'Shot Heard Round the World' -- Bobby Thompson's home run that gave the NY Giants the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers, the same day the Soviet's tested an atomic bomb -- through the Cold War, featuring the high and low points of cultural history, Delillo captures the spirit of America with his trademark crystalline prose. Including some personages as J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger, and Jackie Gleason.
An allegory of apartheid South Africa by arguably the greatest living writer working in English. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel prize for literature, creates great emotional tension with disarmingly simple language and clear imagery in works of novella length. This is a story of an elderly magistrate in a remote part of the empire whose life is turned upside down by an administrator from the capital come to question two 'barbarian' suspects. The magistrate finds himself siding with the native population which sets himself up for trouble with his empire's administrators. This is a work that will stay with you long after you finish the story. This book was chosen by Penguin for their 'Great Books of the 20th Century' series.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, this is a beautifully written, multi-generational saga of Callie Stephanides, born intersexed, who is raised as a girl until she realizes that she is actually a boy. What follows is his/her evolution into Cal, a man who, at 40, narratives the story in retrospect. But the hermaphrodite aspect is only the core around which a witty, warm, and totally engaging story is wound, encompassing colorful ancestors who came from Asia Minor at the end of Ottoman rule to Detroit during the Great Depression and following Cal to the uproarious 1960s. One of those books you slow down toward the end so as not to finish too soon, as the characters have become a part of your life and you want to hang onto them.
Queen Elizabeth's visit to the Bookmobile at Buckingham Palace leads to her becoming a voracious reader. The impact on her life and reign make a thought provoking short novel a worthy read.
  • Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Ka, the protagonist in Nobel Prize Winner Orhan Pamuk's novel, visits Kars in eastern Turkey. Ka's encounters with all manner of people produce a survey of the clash between radical Islam and western ideals in Kars. Ka is a poet, has lived in Germany, and hopes to return to Germany with Ipek.
Delillo, among contemporary novelists, seems always to be ahead of the curve of breaking events. This novel, published 25 years ago (1985), is the story of a middle-aged professor of Hitler Studies at a small mid-western college, who lives with his 5th wife and their 4 precocious children from previous marriages. Each character is fully alive and eccentric in ways endearing and prescient. The story could have come from today's headlines. An 'airborne toxic event' -- a railroad car carrying a poisonous substance is punctured causing a gaseous cloud to develop that forces the evacuation of the town -- is the focus around which this story revolves. Blending the absurd and the prosaic, it's basically a meditation on the fear of death in the form of a comedy. But what makes reading Delillo such a thrill is his way of tossing off piercing, aphoristic shards of insight about the seemingly mundane at every turn. The shocks of recognition they trigger stick in the mind and make rereading his work a great delight.
A mystery embedded in a novel of ideas. Powers -- winner of the MacArthur 'Genius' grant -- is a writer of deeply layered, scientifically astute works that many critics find emotionally remote. Not this one. A young man's truck overturns in rural Nebraska, leaving him in a coma. He comes out of it with a rare neurological condition wherein he remembers everything about his life except that he perceives everything that was dear to him -- his sister, his dog, even his house -- as imposters. A famous neuroscientist (no doubt fashioned on Oliver Sacks) is drawn to his case and becomes enmeshed in the mystery and his own mid-life crisis: What caused the accident? Was it an accident? A suicide attempt? What of the cryptic note found by his hospital bed? Is the famous scientist's life and reputation unraveling? The only witnesses to the crash are the sandhill cranes (the echo makers of the title) that stop over at the crash site on their migration south. A fine read that will stay in the mind long after you put the book aside.