So now it’s time to move on to fiction. Since most of what I read is fiction, and I read a lot, I’m going to organize it (sort of) by genre. This edition will feature all the fiction that isn’t mystery/suspense or romance. Some titles are more highbrow than others, of course, but this is just what I’m doing. Try to roll with it.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
This is a book of short stories, all about Indian immigrants and their children in the United States. (At least I think they’re all in the United States. Well, one is in England. They’re not in India, that much I can tell you.) I really don’t have that much to say about it except that the writing is beautiful and the stories are interesting. (Not all beautifully written stories are interesting.) If you enjoyed Lahiri’s The Namesake (which I did), you will enjoy these stories too. 5/5 stars

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
I think one reviewer called this book The Crimson Petal and the White meets Fight Club. Actually, that’s what it says on Amazon. I knew I’d seen it somewhere. Anyway, they had me at “nineteenth century lady pugilist.” The story begins with young Ruth, who is plucked from the obscurity of her mother’s brothel to enter the glamorous world of professional boxing. The story is narrated by several characters, who seem only tangentially related to each other at first, but over the course of the book, their stories all come together. I found this book very difficult to put down, and I loved the two main female characters. The fight scenes and the brothel scenes got a little gnarly, but if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, I highly recommend this one. 5/5 stars

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
I was not particularly interested in this Pulitzer Prize winner until I learned the story behind it, which intrigued me. Toole died young and unpublished; his mother found this manuscript, written out longhand, among his effects, and asked a publisher friend (Walker Percy, actually) to look at it. Percy reluctantly agreed, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a brilliant novel. So it got published and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. How crazy is that? So I read it, and I agree that the author’s mom did the right thing. The main character is not loveable. He’s a pompous, gluttonous, inconsiderate, slothful guy in his thirties who lives with his mother and is forced by life’s circumstances to finally seek employment. As he goes from one job to the next, he meets a number of unsavory and/or crazy characters. It’s an absurd story, but a hilarious one. 5/5 stars

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
I saw The Exorcist, years ago, and I have to say that at the time, my reaction was “meh.” I realize it should not have been “meh,” that The Exorcist is a film classic and super freaky and whatnot, but nevertheless, that was how I felt about it. Maybe I’d been jaded by too many horror films. I don’t know. With the book, I think, I got a better sense of the themes of evil and faith and the nature thereof. It’s kind of slow-paced, as I remember the movie being, but not in a bad way. It definitely held my interest. But in case you’ve never seen the movie, I’ll warn you: it gets absolutely revolting. In case you have seen the movie but haven’t read the book, I’ll warn you: it’s even worse than the movie. I think Blatty overdid it in that department, frankly, but it’s still a good story. Not one to be read over breakfast, though. 4/5 stars

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
This is another Pulitzer Prize-winner, though I probably would never have picked it up if it hadn’t been on sale for $1.99 on the Kindle. It’s about two American professors, a woman (Vinnie) and a man (Fred) from the same university who each take a sabbatical to England to work on their scholarly pursuits and end up having love affairs. (Affairs, separately, not an affair together. Despite being colleagues, they don’t know each other well, and though their paths seldom cross during the story, the rare crossing thereof is consequential to the story.) Its Pulitzer-Prizeness notwithstanding, this book is fairly understated. I don’t imagine it will change anyone’s life, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. There was humor, but also pathos. I found Vinnie’s story more compelling than Fred’s, but Fred’s was sort of a necessary contrast. The ending is poignant. 4/5 stars

After Dark by Wilkie Collins
I’d read Collins’ The Woman in White and also Basil, both of which I greatly enjoyed, so I expected somewhat more from this book of stories, some of which were interesting and entertaining, and some of which were “meh.” I read the free Kindle edition, and I’m pretty sure that the first story was missing a few pages in the middle–like the part where something happens to somebody. Kind of important. That story might have been awesome, for all I know, but heavily abridged as it was, it was worse than “meh.” So if you decide to read this one, spring for the non-free edition, as I assume it probably has all the words. 3/5 stars

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carole Rifka Brunt
Fourteen-year-old June, who is mourning the passing of favorite uncle (possibly her only uncle, but nevertheless, her favorite) from AIDS, strikes up an unlikely friendship with the uncle’s surviving boyfriend, who had heretofore been kept a secret. Not that the uncle’s gayness was secret, but the boyfriend’s existence was hidden from June because June’s mother, sister of the aforementioned uncle, hated him (the boyfriend) and would only let her brother see her daughters on the condition that they never, ever meet the boyfriend. But June does meet him and embarks on a secret friendship with him. It has to be a secret because June’s mother would freak out if she knew. So–intrigue. It sounds like something of an after-school special, the way I describe it, but it’s much better than that. (More of an Oprah’s Book Club type book, only also better than that. Actually, it looks like it was an Oprah selection. Well, so were Song of Solomon and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Not that this is necessarily in that category. NOT THAT IT’S NOT. I’m just saying.) It’s a coming of age story for June, but it’s also about her relationship with her family, particularly her sister (who is going through her own crap). I liked it mucho. 4/5 stars

Native Son by Richard Wright
So I’d never read Native Son before this (obvs, or I wouldn’t be including it in my January-February 2016 edition), nor Black Boy. No Richard Wright whatsoever, as far as I know. I probably would not have gotten around to it, except that–wait for it–it was $1.99 on the Kindle. Still, I was sort of putting off reading it because last year I went through a period where I was reading The Souls of Black Folk, Up from Slavery, and Invisible Man, all in maybe a two week period, and I sort of overdosed on black oppression. I know, that’s quite a confession for a middle-aged white woman from the suburbs to make, but there it is. (All three of the aforementioned books are quite good, incidentally, though Invisible Man is long and sort of an acquired taste. I think it helps to have read T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.) Anyway, I enjoyed Native Son much more than I expected to. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a young black man who accidentally kills a young white woman (the daughter of his new employer, as it happens–long story), and let’s just say it gets more complicated from there. The main character is not especially sympathetic. In fact, he’s kind of a brute. Despite that, his story is very compelling (I had a hard time putting the book down, actually–I know I say that a lot, but it happens to me a lot, okay?), and in the end I did end up sympathizing with him, despite everything. A very thought-provoking book. (High praise from a middle-aged white woman from the suburbs. I’m sure Richard Wright is posthumously flattered.) 5/5 stars

And that wraps it up for the highbrow portion of Mad’s Book Club: Multi-Episodic Edition. Next time: genre novels, including some fairly trashy ones. Stay tuned!

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