“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” – Joyce Carol Oates
While 2020 may not have been a banner year for many of us, it did introduce some standout, prizewinning literary fiction. Read on to discover what might just be your new favorite novel.
“Luster” by Raven Leilani won not just one, but two prestigious 2020 prizes: the Kirkus Prize and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. The protagonist of this unique coming-of-age novel is Edie, a Black woman in her early twenties searching for connection, art, and meaning. A series of bad decisions leads Edie, unemployed and isolated, into a romantic relationship with an older man – as well as a tenuous, complicated friendship with his wife and their 12 year old daughter. As Edie sinks deeper into a life of dependence, she slowly comes to terms with the meaning behind her obsessions.
“Hamnet: a Novel of the Plague” by Maggie O’Farrell won the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. This historical fiction novel delves into the life and death of William Shakespeare’s young son, who succumbed to the bubonic plague in 1596 at age 11. While the bard is largely absent in this story, Shakespeare’s grieving wife, their surviving children, and their daily life in Stratford are described in lyrical, visually haunting detail. “Hamnet” is sure to stay on your mind long after putting it down.
“The Discomfort of Evening” by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated from the original Dutch by Michele Hutchison, was the winner of the 2020 Man Booker International Prize. Rijneveld, who is a poet as well as a writer of fiction, describes the life of a farming family in the Netherlands in jarring, disturbing detail. The story is told from the point of view of ten-year-old Jas, an anxious child whose thoughts tend to drift toward the grotesque. The brutal realities of farm life combine with a stark examination of an unhappy family on a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral. While this is not what one would call a feel-good read (in fact, a trigger warning seems necessary – read at your own risk and be prepared to cringe), it is eloquently written and strangely lovely.
These and many other works of literary fiction are available at A. K. Smiley Library. We are open to the public again, so drop by to browse during our open hours, or make use of our popular Books to Go program.