Adult Literary Fiction

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Article in Adult Fiction

The topics, concerns, and quality of literary novels raise them above the level of novels written and consumed mostly for entertainment. Written artfully, and with what sometimes qualifies as actual genius, they tend to be serious novels, though they may be humorous as well, capturing something readers recognize as universal, and therefore of more lasting significance.

This historical novel of Una's bright life and love for Ahab pays tribute to Melville.
This compelling family story has a surprise ending.
Relationships develop as hostages are held.
Nazneen, building a life for herself in London, corresponds with her sister Hasina who is still in Bangladesh -- an immigrant experience novel.
The protagonist is a young prostitute, named Sugar, in Victorian London.
The narrator is an autistic fifteen-year-old boy solving a mystery and honing his coping skills.
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.
What do we owe others versus ourselves? Carrie flees Wisconsin after her friend is paralyzed in a diving accident.
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 annual migration south.
Solomon the elephant and his mahout Subhro travel from Lisbon to Vienna in the 16th century, providing the first person (but timeless and apparently omniscient) narrator an opportunity to share observations on language, social customs, history, morals, and religion, but especially on character in humans and in elephants. Short, fun, and often deeply moving.
Interested in the workings of men's minds? Read this conversation between two friends of 41 years, set in a castle at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains.
Read about African-American society on Martha's Vineyard and at Yale Law School.
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.
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
Reverend John Ames writes a letter to his son detailing the development of his faith in his solitary life.</p>
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.
These varied short stories deal with the lives of Indians in the US and at home.
Jones writes of the "little known" world of African-American slave owners set in our area of Virginia.
This is a lyrical, beautiful, and mesmerizing prose poem built from the least promising materials: the story of two orphaned children set against a wartime massacre of innocent civilians and a major flood along the Kanawha River. The book is the achievement of a great soul. A helpful reading guide is available at Amazon.
Like Ulysses, set in New York, August 7, 1974. While the Bronx burned, Nixon considered resignation, and the war in Vietnam wound down, Philippe Petit walked between the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope and affirmed the possibility of hope and joy. "We stumble on...bring a little noise into the silence, find in others the ongoing of ourselves. It is almost enough." Colum McCann received the 2009 National Book Award.
Follow Pi, the zookeeper's son, in his adventures after his ship sinks.
A major tome heavily promoted by English teachers. This is a challenging read because of the antiquated style of writing and many arcane historical and cultural references, but ultimately it is worth it. It is the sometimes sad, but also often very humorous, story of the residents of a rural town in Victorian England. The story centers around two mistakes made in the form of hasty marriages to the wrong people and the way the individuals involved go on with their lives and make the best of things in a time when divorce was not an option. Other subplots and characters abound, all dealing with themes that are as relevant today as when they were written. If you're willing to skip over a few sentences in every chapter of impenetrable structure and meaning, you will enjoy the rest of the book, which features writing so deeply understanding of the human condition, and at the same time so originally and beautifully expressed that you will come away with the certain conviction that George Eliot was a literary genius.
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, narrates 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.
Calliope is a hermaphrodite and that's just the beginning.
Hans, a native of the Netherlands, and his family have been displaced from their Manhattan apartment to the Chelsea Hotel. After his wife and son move back to England, Hans' cricket playing friends become his channel for adapting to and becoming at home in the US. Trinidad native Chuck Ramkissoon, entrepreneur, cricket promoter, and rogue becomes a close and diverting friend to Hans.
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.
  • 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.
Six short stories by a UVa professor recently (10/2009) awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant, and deservedly. The writing is so precise and flexible that she can create "private jokes" in a few pages, introduce multiple unreliable points of view without confusion, and even use comic touches to underscore the bleak world she creates. Most of the stories take place in New York City and concern the lives of well-educated and privileged people, though she also feelingly portrays the poor and criminal in "Window." Her characters are not people I particularly like, and the beauty of this book was how readily she was made me emphathize with them. --Bob Bjoring 10:51, 13 October 2009 (EDT)
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.
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.
An adolescent boy, miserable at his third school, St. Oswalds in East Anglia Britain, a watery world on the sinking coast of Britain where Roman forts failed at staving off the advances of Saxons and Viking hordes, meets an enigmatic boy during a training run with his classmates. Finn lives self-sufficiently alone in a small hut on the causeway, accessible only at low tide. Our narrator falls in love with the person he would like to be. A completely beguiling novel told in perfect voice.
Balram Halwai narrates The White Tiger via letters addressed to the Chinese Premier who is slated to visit India. In essence the story is Balram's autobiography moving from his school days to his employment as a chauffeur for a wealthy family and on to his success as an entrepreneur in Bangalore. Balram's criminal activities and low caste status are the dark side and give insight into India's social and political turmoil. Adiga won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for this title.