Fabulous Fiction Firsts #634 & #635


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #634

In Marlena * *, Julie Buntin's "(s)ensitive and smart and arrestingly beautiful debut" (Kirkus Reviews), 15 year-old Cathy (now calling herself Cat), arrived at Silver Lake, a small rural community in Northern Michigan with her newly divorced mother and older brother, determined to shed her good-girl image and reinvent herself, and was immediately drawn to the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena, her next door neighbor.

Over the course of the coming weeks, the girls turned the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground - skipping school, running feral as Marlena introduced Cat to a new world of drinking and pills and sex and also friendship, the depth of which neither girl has experienced before. Within the year, Marlena was dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby.

Decades later, Cat is married, and a New York City public librarian. She seemingly had move on, now enjoying a close relationship with her mother, until a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, forcing Cat to examine her role and "the pain at the utter core of me” for losing Marlena.

"The novel is poignant and unforgettable, a sustained eulogy for Marlena’s “glow... that lives in lost things, that sets apart the gone forever.” (Publishers Weekly)

"In this, Marlena joins a glut of recent novels that pair a retrospective female narrator with an extravagantly charismatic but troubled friend. Emma Cline’s novel The Girls loosely reimagines the Manson family murders from the perspective of a 14-year-old named Evie in 1969, who becomes besotted with an older teenager named Suzanne. Emily Bitto’s The Strays is recounted by Lily, a young Australian girl drawn into the 1930s bohemian family of her classmate, Eva. Like Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, these novels consider the fierce complexity of female friendship, and the particular agony of innocence that yearns to be shed. They examine the allure of danger from a space of safety: It’s inevitable which girl will careen toward catastrophe, and which girl will watch, wistfully, from the sidelines.” Read the full review in The Atlantic.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #635

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by Entertainment Weekly and The Chicago Review of Books, No One is Coming to Save Us * is the debut novel by Stephanie Powell Watts, who previous won a Whiting Award, Pushcart Prize; and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for her story collection.

Pinewood, North Carolina is the setting for this contemporary recast of The Great Gatsby, which delves into African American family life in a community in decline. As the major employer of the town shifts production overseas, former employees of the furniture plants are feeling unmoored and depressed. In stark contrast, is J.J. Ferguson, who has returned to Pinewood, rich and self-assured, to build his dream house high on the hill, and to pursue his high school sweetheart, Ava.

The narrative focuses mainly on Sylvia Ross, and her daughter Ava who, despite a shaky marriage to the unemployed Henry, is desperate to have a child. Sylvia, herself estranged from philandering husband Don, and missing her son Devon, is taking comfort in her relationship with a prison inmate. Moving back and forth in time and between all the players, it is clear that "(e)veryone was keeping the wrong secrets".

"The novel’s intricately plotted relationships pay off satisfyingly in its final chapters. When Gatsby didn’t get what he wanted, the story could only end with his death, but Watts’s characters are people who have seen generations of dreams stymied and thwarted — for their kin, their community and themselves. Rather than giving up if the game doesn’t go their way, they do what they’ve always done: Forget the rules, shake up the players and turn Gatsby’s green dock light gold." (New York Times review)

* = starred review

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