I’m always on the hunt for a good literary genre-bender — a book that challenges me with its literary style and engages me with a thrilling story that takes place in a world where much is at stake.
As an author who writes novels that leave so-called reality only in my characters’ neuroses, I am surprised by my craving for these novels that dance across the boundaries of genre labels, whether they be sci-fi, thriller, horror, or dystopian, but I’m addicted to the surprising and inevitable satisfaction I feel when an author’s use of the extraordinary — a ghost, a plague, an Orwellian reformatory — makes me recall moments in my everyday life when, in an instance of heightened emotion, my ordinary feels extraordinary.
My most memorable genre-defying read of 2014 was Siobhan Adcock’s literary ghost story, The Barter. Adcock’s debut novel is both a psychological thriller (tiptoeing with grace into fantasy) and a thought-provoking commentary on being a woman, a wife, and a mother. The Barter alternates between two equally fascinating protagonists — Bridget, who, after sacrificing her career for the tedium of contemporary parenthood, is haunted by a ghost, and Rebecca, who is, more than a century earlier, similarly struggling with female identity.
It’s rare that a book inspires me as both a writer and a reader, and The Barter did just that, while exploring, with refreshing honesty, the internal and external demands that women continue to face. At different points in the novel, and hundreds of years between, both Bridget and Rebecca struggle with the pressure to conform as wives and mothers. They ask themselves a question that has at times echoed through my mind as well: “Oh God, this can’t be me. Who am I?”
This year offered a treasure of literary genre-benders, many of which I listened to in audiobook form late night while knitting (a Godsend for a literary insomniac): Jeff Vandermeer’s New York Times-bestselling Southern Reach trilogy; Peyton Marshall’s Goodhouse, a dystopian thriller inspired by 19th-century boys reform schools; Kate Maruyama’s gothic, yet relevant-to-modern-parenting thriller, Harrowgate; Emily St. John Mandel’s hopeful post-plague masterpiece, Station Eleven; and Graham Joyce’s heartbreaking The Silent Land, part fantasy and, wholeheartedly, a love story.
I’m excited to see where 2015 transports me, with so many genre-defying novels to look forward to, such as Emily Schultz’s darkly satirical novel, The Blondes; Find Me, the literary dystopian debut by critically acclaimed short story writer Laura van der Berg; and City of Mirrors, the third book in Justin Cronin’s sprawling post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy. I have a lot of late night knitting and audiobook listening to look forward to.
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