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The Gathering by Anne Enright (2007, M) – Liam commits suicide and his surviving siblings gather for his funeral. Veronica, the sister closest to him, goes back to their family’s history to understand what led Liam to take his own life. As she discovers ugly truths about her family, she also discovers many truths about herself. I consider Veronica as one of the most unreliable narrators ever, but at least she arrived at some truth.
Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1957, H) – Gimpel is a baker. The town calls him a fool because of the things that his wife makes her do and believe. More stories in this collection also talk of characters with modest professions. Some stories have religious overtones in them, so one shouldn’t be surprised if angels and demons appear to interact with the characters.
God of Carnage (Le Dieu du carnage) by Yasmina Reza (2008, H) – Two kids have a fight in the park. Their parents decide to discuss the matter like civilized people must do. However, their talk does not resolve anything. They instead devolve into puerile beings, even worse than their children. At once dark and humorous, the play shows us how tension can create chaos not without the irrational arguments that people can trap themselves into.
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler (1992, H) – If you’ve never been to Vietnam or if you simply want to read beautiful short stories about the immigrant experience, this is one book to pick up. The main story tells the life of a dying grandfather summoning visions of his home country, not without touching on the topic of the Vietnam War. A lot has been written about it, but what makes this book different is that the refugees are the ones who are given voices.
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo) by José Saramago (1991, M) – Jesus Christ tells his own gospel in this reverse retelling. Instead of a savior, he is depicted as a human full of shortcomings. Instead of the source of all evil, the devil is depicted as his mentor. And instead of the creator, God is depicted as an autocrat. Dismissing it for all its blasphemies means that you’ll miss a deeply provocative work. Still, it is not for the faint-of-heart.
The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing (1950, H) – A murder is being investigated: Mary is killed by her black servant. The initial assessment is for money. But is it really that? Why didn’t Moses run away then? The reader takes a look back at Mary’s life and read about the complex politics and relationship among white farmers and black servants. The tone is matter-of-fact, which only makes it grittier.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1940, L) – Two deaf mutes, also best friends, are separated because of one’s mental illness. Singer, the stable one, moves to another town where he becomes the confidant of four characters, all of them sharing their struggles and passions with him. They find solace in the Singer’s presence, but where does the lonely Singer find his? McCullers’s musical acumen is clearly demonstrated in some parts of this lyric novel and her writing makes it sing despite the muteness of the protagonist.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005, L) – A literary sensation about the power of words, history, and love, this book has multiple plots intersecting against each other with full control. The past and the present mingle seamlessly in the stories of Leo, haunted by his first love and estranged son, and Alma, obsessed with the mysteries behind a novel with the same title.
Home by Marilynne Robinson (2008, H) – This is a novel that runs concurrently with Gilead, making them perfect companions of each other. It is as tender and miraculous as Gilead. Rev. Ames has taken the focus in the first novel. In Home, the center shifts to the Boughton family, particularly Rev. Boughton, Glory, and Jack, Rev. Ames’s namesake. Some mysterious matters about Jack left in Gilead can be illuminated in Home.
The Homecoming by Harold Pinter (1965, H) – Teddy , now living in the United States for many years, decides to go home to London and introduce his kids and wife, Ruth, to his family. Sexual tension takes over when Teddy’s father and brothers meet Ruth. The family members become rivals of each other as they battle it all out for Ruth’s attention. This is one surprising and cryptic homecoming.
Stay tuned for Part 4.
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This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).