Four Pieces of Fiction You Should Read Right Now
A couple of weeks ago Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Several days ago, George Saunders won the Man Booker Prize for Lincoln in the Bardo. MacArthur “genius” grants have been awarded, and the shortlist for the National Book Award is out. With all this literary excellence in the air, here are four works under 300 pages that will move you, inspire you, enrich you, and keep you on top of things in the literary world:
1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This book is a slow-burning, heartbreaking story that delves deeply into ideas of what it means to be human, the urgency of existence, and the stories we tell to cope with the reality of death. It follows Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, three schoolchildren, through their time at Hailsham, a school unlike any you’ve encountered, and the lives they lead after leaving Hailsham.
The novel imagines a world that, considering the trajectory of modern technology, seems, at times, eerily imminent.
2. A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
Why two entries from Ishiguro? The man won a Nobel Prize. You should read The Remains of the Day and An Artist of the Floating World, as well.
In A Pale View of Hills, Ishiguro dives into generational difference, both on a micro and a macro level. There’s the acute sense of unbridgeable difference between parents and children, which reminded me of the Yasujiro Ozu film, Tokyo Story. There’s also conflict between the older generation, which is viewed by the younger generation as being responsible for the war, and the young people, who are growing increasingly Westernized (or, more accurately perhaps, more Americanized) in the post-war years. The older generation sees this as an unfortunate and sad surrendering of traditional values and ideals, while the younger generation sees it as necessary cultural progression.
3. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
George Saunders’ Man Booker Prize-winning novel is part Dante, part Homer, wildly inventive, and deeply moving. It’s about death, loss, regret, and transformation.
Most of the action takes place in the bardo, which is a liminal state between death and rebirth in Buddhist traditions. Willie Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, falls ill and dies, which brings him to the bardo, where he encounters a fascinating cast of characters (called “shades”), some of whom “manifest” in punishments that would fit well in The Divine Comedy. Others are spared these painfully appropriate sentences and simply try to remain in the bardo because of fear that their rebirth experiences will be hellish.
Meanwhile, against the ever-present background of the ongoing Civil War, Abraham Lincoln mourns the loss of his son intensely.
“Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear.”
4. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
This novel is simply a tour de force. Jesmyn Ward was just awarded one of this year’s MacArthur “genius” grants, and Sing, Unburied, Sing has also been shortlisted for the National Book Award.
I don’t think I could do this work justice by trying to describe it. Instead, I’ll direct you to Tracy K. Smith’s New York Times review.
So there you go. Four outstanding novels to help get you up to speed in the literary world. In addition to these books, I also encourage you to check out the other finalists for the National Book Award and other works by each of the mentioned authors.
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