Frances de Pontes Peebles was born in Recife, Brazil and raised in Miami, FL. Her debut novel, The Seamstress, recently won the Elle Grand Prix for Fiction in 2008. Her short stories have appeared in Zoetrope: All Story, Indiana Review, The Missouri Review, and The O. Henry Prize Stories Anthology 2005. She currently lives in Chicago. Read more about her at www.francesdepontespeebles.com
Some books easily slip from my mind – a few months after reading them, I can’t recall their titles or plots. This probably says more about my memory than the quality of the books. But there are stories that stay with me. Months pass and I will recall a character, or a particularly moving scene, or a vivid landscape. My favorite books always haunt me.
In 2008, I read the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker and can’t shake it from my memory. Barker’s interconnected novels – Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road – are inspired by actual accounts of WWI soldiers and their military psychiatrist, Dr. Rivers. The bulk of the trilogy takes place away from the war, where Dr. Rivers must treat severely shell-shocked soldiers in order to send them back to the trenches. He’s deeply conflicted about his work and the war, as are his patients. Barker doesn’t flinch from depicting the soldiers’ physical and emotional wounds, but her descriptions are never overwrought. The most heartbreaking scenes don’t take place on the front lines but at home, where Barker’s soldiers can’t cope with normal life. In all three books, the consequences of war are more terrifying than war itself.
Another great book is The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa. It consists of three novellas translated from the Japanese. Ogawa’s characters seem gentle and conventional, but their loneliness drives them into dark places (both real and psychological). These are modern-day scary stories with eerie and surprising outcomes. Ogawa’s prose is spare and lovely, which makes the novellas even more haunting.