One of the abiding benefits serious readers derive from literature, whether well-made fiction or poetry, is the ability to participate in other worlds. Indeed, the mind-meld between a good writer and his/her ideal reader is deeper and richer than any Metaverse could hope to be.
The reader not only gains new understanding and perspectives from a successful novel, but also a vacation of sorts from the “real” world. I don’t mean a relaxing beach resort getaway, but a vacation from one’s usual preoccupations and concerns. In dangerous, stressful times like these, such a respite is invaluable in its own right and also conducive to a more balanced outlook.
Here, in the order in which I read them, are three engrossing ways to take a break.
Kim Stanley Robinson is an acclaimed science fiction writer, noted especially for his Mars trilogy. His latest book is something different—a fictional account, drawing on real-life scientific scenarios, of how we might save ourselves from the ravages of climate change.
The Ministry for the Future has been criticized on a few counts: it can be a bit didactic in places, the plot is somewhat thin and its conclusions could be viewed as overly optimistic. It is a gripping read nonetheless—here is an intelligent, engaged writer offering carefully researched solutions for mankind’s salvation. Even though accelerating climate change is anxiety-provoking in real life, reading this book will expand your horizons and possibly offer some comfort as well.
Hervé Le Tellier’s The Anomaly was a breakout success in Europe and has enjoyed good sales in the U.S. as well. It is extremely well-written; the translation by Adriana Hunter is outstanding. The book deftly blends a number of individual stories in a narrative that mixes crime, sci-fi and thriller—the result is a real page-turner.
The anomaly in the book’s title is the arrival of more than one Paris-New York flight, months apart, in which the plane, its crew and its passengers are identical. The idea of “the double,” an individual who is exactly like you but whom you have never meant, is not new in literature, but Le Tellier makes exceptionally good use of it here: The Anomaly won France’s Prix Goncourt. This is a novel that will engross you and also set you to pondering.
Dana Spiotta should be better-known than she is; she is a truly excellent writer, accurate, funny and insightful—a very distinctive voice. Wayward is her fifth novel and like the previous four it has received very strong reviews (it was one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2021). In many ways this is the most traditional novel on my mini list, and it operates on a smaller and more intimate scale than the other two. But I believe it is also wider and deeper, and further removed from the headlines, despite its heroine’s revulsion at the election of Donald Trump (the novel is set in 2017).
Samantha Raymond is confronting the changes of middle age (perimenopause) and the shifting mental and emotional ground that comes with them. On impulse, she buys a ramshackle house, once beautiful, on a hill above Syracuse, NY. She moves there without her husband or teenage daughter to try to come to terms with things, including her ailing mother, her willful daughter and how she herself should live. In the process she offers piercing observations on American life, its inequality and brutality as well as its promise, and on mortality and the cycle of life. Highly recommended.