Best Books of the Month: Literature and Fiction

Erin Kodicek on June 08, 2018
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Here are a handful of our favorite fiction titles for June. See more of our literature and fiction picks, and all of the Best Books of the Month.

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Florida by Lauren Groff

Welcome to the captivating world of Lauren Groff’s Florida, where assumptions of sunshine state stories—smiling and sunburned children, relaxed parents, moments of unencumbered joy—are shattered and reassembled into a world of darkened forests, nighttime walks and ferocious storms. As Groff writes, Florida is “a damp, dense tangle. An Eden of dangerous things.” And, “Walk outside in Florida and a snake will be watching you.” There is a mythic quality to these eleven stories that explore the underbelly of life and the fury of nature. In spirit and in reality, mothers abandon their children, hurricanes and rainstorms ruin vacations--marooning children alone on islands--and as a reader you’re left to wonder if the destruction caused by humans is worse that the destruction caused by nature. Moody, rapturous and filled with crystalline prose, Florida is a menacing marvel of a collection. —Al Woodworth

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When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

In her latest novel, When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger drops Emily Charlton, Miranda Priestly’s uber catty assistant from The Devil Wears Prada, into the suburbs of Connecticut and the result is hilarious. Emily, now in her 30s, is living in Los Angeles with a husband and a career as an image consultant—a career that is suddenly floundering—when she gets a desperate summons to Greenwich, CT from her old friend, Miriam. Miriam’s pal Karolina is all over the media with a bogus drunk driving change and this Senator’s wife and former Victoria’s Secret model needs an image makeover, fast. The narrative is split between the three women as they uncover a major betrayal and in doing so form an enviable bond. The doings of the Greenwich housewives who are now shunning Karolina is uproariously funny, and even jaded Emily is shocked by the scandalous behavior going on behind oversized doors. It feels like Weisberger wrote her novel yesterday, peppering the story with real life celebrity misconduct. When Life Gives You Lululemons is a laugh-out-loud funny look at rich people behaving badly and the steel bonds of true female friendship. --Seira Wilson

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Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt

In Invitation to a Bonfire, Adrienne Celt draws on the story of Vera and Vladimir Nabokov’s marriage to create an ominous literary thriller that’s as tricky as a chess match between grand masters. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Zoya, a young working-class orphan, is smuggled out of Soviet Russia to become a charity-case boarder at a New Jersey boarding school. Isolated among the snooty girls there, she takes refuge in botany and in the novels of another émigré, Leo Orlov. When he’s hired to teach at the school, her admiration for his prose makes her any easy target for his ardor. Soon, Zoya is caught in a triangle with Leo and his controlling wife and amanuensis, Vera. Though the Orlovs seem like the powerful King and Queen of this particular game, Zoya has her own surprising moves to make. Celt, whose previous novel, The Daughters, won the PEN Southwest Book Award, brings unexpected plot twists to this gothic hothouse of a novel, which she tells through letters, recollections, and oral histories. —Sarah Harrison Smith

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There There by Tommy Orange

What does it really mean to be an Indian/Native American/American Indian/Native? Orange's vivid debut novel allows a unique cast—ranging from teenagers to elders—to pull this question apart even as they add a modern layer of complexity: They live in the urban landscape of Oakland, California. The thrust of Orange's cross-cut storytelling is not to force his characters onto a strict plot line but to explore the varied ways of being an Indian and, more important, of feeling like an Indian. Fractured families, Oakland itself, and detachment from tradition make an Indian identity seem even more elusive to the younger characters, but it's a feeling that they unknowingly share—and that Orange wants to expose. As an amateur filmmaker says to a teen he's interviewing, "When you hear stories from people like you, you feel less alone." Isolation and longing permeate the page, lifted briefly only as the characters intersect at the Big Oakland Powwow, with chaotic results. If I have any quibble about the book (and it could be a failure of mine, really), it's that there are a few too many characters for me to comfortably hold in my head. But then again, this isn't a comfortable novel, and therein lies its power and purpose. —Adrian Liang

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Kudos by Rachel Kusk

Do you wish you could have read Virginia Woolf in 1927? If so, you should be reading Rachel Cusk in 2018. With her new novel, Kudos, Cusk brings to a close a trilogy that’s the smartest, most nuanced of any fiction about the politics of sex and privilege written in decades. Readers of the two previous books in the trilogy have followed Faye, a writer and divorced mother of two sons, from a teaching stint in Athens, to London, where she undertakes a near-disastrous apartment renovation and begins a new romance. Now in Kudos, Faye, remarried, travels to a literary festival in an unnamed European country where misogyny seems especially entrenched. But plot lines don’t begin to describe Cusk’s rare intelligence, mean wit, and innovative style, which is what makes her writing so remarkable. Most evident is her method of narrating each novel through the voices of the people Faye encounters, so that Faye is revealed almost exclusively through her side of their conversations. The result? The reader stays continually hungry for Faye’s perspective, which is meted out slyly and parsimoniously. Though there is a feminist edge to Faye’s sensibility, we never feel drowned by it, perhaps because Faye’s sons, and her new marriage, suggest hope for the future. Kudos begins and ends with men behaving badly: in the final instance, Faye witnesses a gross, aggressive act with the patience of someone who knows such antics can’t last forever. “I looked into his cruel, merry eyes,” she says, “and waited for him to stop.” —Sarah Harrison Smith


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