Alan Graebner’s beautiful historical novel KIN is a love story that begins before the Civil War and spans the next hundred years. The novel revolves around the son of a southern landholder and slaveholder who has left his family for the north and is reluctantly persuaded to return. Back in Tennessee he falls in love with his deaf sister’s caretaker, Carrie, a slave in his father’s household. Race is the central theme of the novel but it is also an extended meditation on how history is constructed in its telling and of the brave and complex ways in which we recover our past. Kin is and intelligent and realist historical fiction, both treatise and romance.
Set in both 1963 and 60 years later, Absolution revolves around Tricia and Charlene. The two met in Saigon when both were young and newly married to military men. Sixty years later, Charlene has died and her daughter reaches out to Tricia and learns of long-buried aspects of their life in Saigon. This is a masterful novel surrounding history, politics and class. Tricia and Charlene are from very different backgrounds and have much to learn from each other as they navigate the foreign and complex landscape of 1963 Vietnam.
Michael Cunningham’s first novel in a decade consists of three sections which each takes place on the same day, April 5, in three consecutive years: 2019, 2020 and 2021. It is therefore a pandemic novel told through the eyes of a family in Brooklyn. Dan and Isabel are the parents of Nathan and Violet, ages 10 and 5. Their marriage is facing strains before the pandemic, which of course expand in lockdown. Nathan and Violet have very different reactions to that lockdown, and all four are emotionally tied to Isobel’s brother, Robbie. I found it to be his strongest novel since The Hours. Cunningham’s prose is seductive and clear and his take on this strange time we all have had to live through is unforgettable.
This epic, historical novel moves between the lives of Marian Graves who, along with her twin brother, was virtually orphaned after having been rescued from a sinking ocean liner in 1914 and Hadley Baxter, a troubled young actress in Hollywood in 2014. At fourteen Marian becomes obsessed with flying and against all odds pursues her dream of aviation and world travel. A century later, Hadley is chosen to portray her in film - a role which ultimately changes her sense of both herself and the world. This stunning, impeccably researched saga feels like it could only have been told by Maggie Shipstead whose uncanny sense of character is in thrall to her large vision and her own experience as traveller and travel-writer. It is proof that gender role-defying women— both historical and contemporary - have much to tell us of bravery and perception in relation to the human and to the natural world. Coming at a time when we all need something to expand our vision, “Great Circle,” is a novel to both relish and devour.
These spare, sometimes lyric essays explore the legacy of race in America, artfully revealing in intimate detail how families, schools, and neighborhoods participate in preserving racial privilege. Faced with a disturbing past and an unsettling present, Biss still remains hopeful about the possibilities of American diversity, "not the sun-shininess of it, or the quota-making politics of it, but the real complexity of it."
Ever since her daughter rescued a fledgling rook, Esther Woolfson has been fascinated with corvids, the bird group that includes crows, rooks, magpies, and ravens. Today, the rook, named Chicken, is a member of the Woolfson family along with other winged creatures. From their elaborate bathing rituals to their springtime broodiness and tendency to cache food in the most unlikely places, these corvids each share a bond with Woolfson that would have been considered rare if not impossible before this collection of essays.
Letting her experience speak for itself, Woolfson takes into account the science of bird intelligence, evolution, song, and flight. It is through this intimate lens that Woolfson invites us to reconsider the kind of creature capable of being man's best friend.