Vermont Studio Center asked us writers to share with the community the five books we love the most. I thought some of you might want some new reads. This was tough, but these are the ones that carry the most weight for me right now:
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
This book is a breathless and devastating account of the late '60s. Roth's gift is character, plotting, and surprise. Every time, I felt settled, he would push me on a side road. It's really about the American Dream/Way, which is an idea of progress, but so many are rooted in the "pastoral" and terrified of change.
How To Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
Orringer's characters are often children or teenagers thrust too soon into predicaments they are not prepared for, but what's really captivating is Orringer's choice to focus on them in the throes of it all, never even close to the finish line. There is no certainty of a happy ending in any of these stories but there is so much strength in these fumbling protagonists. This collection is a real accomplishment and brain food, as it's always the hard middle of the struggle that haunts us, or at least, me.
Housekeeping by Marlilynne Robinson
A seductive, quiet novel about female drifters, the tethers of family, and weather. This book isn't carried by plot, but rather atmosphere, lyricism, and character. God, it could conjure a good painting.
The New Valley by Josh Weil
A collection of novellas, this book explores the hill country between West Virginia and Virginia. These characters are separated by miles in hardscrabble loneliness and the danger of the wild. Think of those road trips you've taken through tiny towns, Weil gets to know those gas station attendants and side-of-the-road repairmen. Their hunger for connection is shockingly tender and beautiful.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eugenidies story, in turns romantic and creepy, tackles the those guilty in the forgery of happiness, the horror found in the mundane, and the backlash of repression. Eugenidies loads everything with meaning particularly time, saints, and the Parks Department sweeping of the ancient neighborhood trees---the quietest way I've ever encountered a writer nod to gentrification.