The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis was the first book I read in 2007, mainly because more than one Millions contributors had celebrated it in 2006. This lovely novel, about the residents of a small New England town, opens with three girls coming across a dead man on the beach. One of the girls, Mees Kipp, uses her powers to coax him back to life. Davis writes this moment beautifully:
Like reaching your arm into a box you can’t see inside of except – guess what? – you’re already there. Like the man who put his arm in a jar of mosquitoes in the filmstrip about yellow fever to test his hypothesis, even though he knew he would die. So easy to die here, squashed under a landslide of fat and blood. Quick. Quick. Ship in a bottle. Harp strings.
A more traditional novelist might have centered the story on Mees’s powers, but not Davis, whose narrative eye follows many residents of the town, including a few dogs. Everyone’s consciousness is rich and distinct, even those of the animals, and the wisdom of this omniscient narrator is a thing to marvel.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy should not be read in high school. From my unscientific poll, I’ve learned that anyone who tried this book as a teenager found it unbearably boring. Thankfully, I read this novel as an adult (or, okay, as a twenty-six year old), and loved the story of Tess, a “pure woman” as the original subtitle asserts. It was not only deliciously tragic, it was also readable – I devoured this in less than a week, and mourned its end for twice that long. The narrator’s unrelenting compassion for Tess, his assertion that she is pure and moral, despite her society’s view of her as a “fallen woman,” felt quite bold, and the descriptions of nature, “…the seasons in their moods, mornings and evenings, night and noon, winds in their different tempers, waters and mists, shades and silences, and the voices of inanimate things,” made me want to go milk some cows in the English countryside.
The End of Vandalism, which depicts the lives of Midwesterners in fictional Grouse County, was one of three books by Tom Drury that I read this year. It was certainly the best of the three, although all were stunning in their comic yet compassionate treatment of their characters, and their crisp prose, not an extraneous word anywhere. Drury doesn’t write for plot, but it doesn’t matter – these characters’ lives are strange and mundane, hilarious and tragic. This was a book that made me slap my knee with laughter (really), and then, an hour later, weep. I’m so glad I discovered Tom Drury this year.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is a glorious, hilarious, heart-wrenching, and sometimes even terrifying novel, and Diaz’s exuberant prose, packed with Spanish and nerd-cult jargon and lines like “the sexy isthmus of her waist,” thrilled me again and again. I love the risky point of view here: the great authorial omniscience of a narrator who’s simply a guy who knew Oscar and his family, these chapters interspersed with sections narrated by Oscar’s sister. I loved the ranting footnotes about the Dominican Republic, the unflinching accounts of Trujillo’s cruelties, and the book’s focus on the corporeal – titties everywhere, and Oscar’s fatness never forgotten. What a novel!