The five novels that rose to the top of my 2016 list are:
The best word to describe Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton is exquisite. What I love about Strout is her ability to dive right in to the heat of the moment without engaging in melodrama or explanation. The clarity of her vision is astonishing.
The book that made me laugh the hardest this year was Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool. I’ve waited years for this book – and if you read his Nobody’s Fool in the 1990s, you’ve been waiting with me. Russo knows how to make flawed people into heroes – not saints, but the sort of heroes you wish were your friends.
Binge-reading Jane Smiley’s The Last Hundred-Year Trilogy is an experience I’d recommend to anyone who would like to see how legacies are created and destroyed. The strongest character in this series was Time – sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes arbitrary, but always in control.
In other hands, the stories of dysfunction families can be, well, tiresome. However, Ann Patchet’s Commonwealth is a page-turner that is artful, engaging, masterful. I couldn’t put this book down. So much of it rings true – the way great revelations always are illuminating, regardless of the circumstances.
I can only imagine how much Shakespeare would have enjoyed seeing his play The Tempest reimagined by Margaret Atwood in the novel Hag-Seed. I have a feeling that he would have been delighted. This book sparkles with playfulness, which is why I’m looking forward to sharing it with my students this spring.