Summer is the time to read; in fact, anytime is the time to read, especially for avid readers who like fine stories and stylistic flourishes. One intriguing novel is Meg Wolitzer's THE INTERESTINGS, an involving story that begins with a group of teens at a free-thinking arts camp. Their summers in the wilds include any artsy projects they choose, including extra-curriculars. The main character is Jules Jacobson, a decidely middle class girl who wants to be special. She's witty and is quickly accepted into a group who dub themselves "the Interestings," because of their upper class creds as well as many talents. The novel follows these friends through the next 30 years. While Ethan Figman grows up to create a smash tv show (Think Simpsons) and marries the beautiful and sensitive Ash Wolf, the shy but talented Jonah Bay whose life is thwarted by his childhood experiences flounders as an adult. And there is Ash's charismatic brother Goodman Wolf. You symbol hunters can do wonders with that name. The group sticks together, despite the large differences in life styles and wealth, and Jules marries a good but ordinary man Dennis. No more specifics, folks, because these friends go through some rough times, and they discover that though they may be interesting they're not always so "special." Wolitzer's ability to make an obvious theme more than just interesting pulls the reader through a complex but always compelling story. Some go off the deep end and recover, and some just keep falling. It's a journey well worth taking.
Colum McCann's new novel TRANSATLANTIC is reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow's brilliant historical novel of 1975, in which the writer places an upper class white family, a Jewish immigrant and his daughter and a doomed black couple in the events from 1910 to the entrance into World War I, so that the fictional characters intermingle with the likes of Harry Houdini, Jacob Astor, Henry Ford, anarchist Emma Goldman, the girl in the red velvet swing Evelyn Nesbitt, and many more.
TRANSATLANTIC is far less fantastical but just as absorbing.
McCann links seemingly unrelated events with the trials of an
Irish maid and her descendants. We witness, along with a female reporter and her photographer daughter, the first transatlantc flight from Newfoundland to Ireland; the abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass' visit to Ireland just as the potato famine begins; and Sen. George Mitchell's trip to Ireland to conclude the Good Friday Accords. In a fascinating tour de force, McCann pulls all of this and more into a moving, transformative novel.
LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson is a tricky (in a good way) novel about a upper middle class family in the years from before the Great War until after World War II. Ursula Todd dies again and again but lives alternate lives until she is an old woman. Atkinson suggests that we have possible outcomes depending on our choices or elements beyond our control. The Todd family is an array of sympathetic (except for the oldest son) people with flaws that often define them. Ursula has always been the odd one out, since she seems to have a second sight about the future and others' fates, but rarely a clue about her own. Atkinson, who wrote the complex and entertaining Jackson Brodie mysteries, handles all of these themes with grace, empathy and wit.
I recommend all three, but TRANSATLANTIC is the top choice.