Book Club Best Bets from 2011
They say in life you can only be sure of two things: death and taxes. With book clubs the only two certainties (I’m aware of) are: groups of people read the same book over the same span of time and they then get together afterwards to (maybe) discuss said book.
All the rest is conjecture, but probably not a stretch to assume that most book clubs read a fair amount of fiction, are generally more interested in the original Pride and Prejudice than its latest zombie incarnation, and that a good story that isn’t overly offensive probably hits most of the bases. If it be literary and a little challenging, okay, so long as it isn’t boring or incomprehensible.
Below are three standout books from last year’s bumper crop of literary fiction that should more than fit the bill.
When I sold books at Indigo not so long ago, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex was the novel I most often recommended. This was because like John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, it managed that rare feat of being both a book about something of weight (ie. thematically resonant) while also being a big, epic story you could sink your teeth into, with characters you come to care deeply about. Eugenides’ follow up to Middlesex, The Marriage Plot is again just such a book. In other words, it’s not only the kind of book you can curl up with on a cold winter’s night, but also one that provides plenty to discuss when the cake and tea (or chicken wings and beer?) are brought out.
Set in the 1980s on the campus of an Ivy League university (Brown, Eugenides’ alma mater), the story is about three students caught in a love triangle. What raises this book above the average fare is that each of the three characters is as compelling as the next and all three get their own weighty sections of the book devoted to them. Madeleine is caught between the two men and her love of 19th century literature in an academic world of post-modern interest (we can easily imagine her graduating and later joining a book club). Leonard is the post-modern hyper-intelligent and rather sexual soul Madeleine falls for (who wouldn’t be caught dead in a book club for all his literary snobbery). But Leonard, brilliant and arrogant as he may be, is weighted with his own rather tragic problem: he suffers from bipolar disorder. Finally there is Mitchell, the Catholic character, deeply in love with Madeline, the character who in another writer’s hands would be the rather dull ‘good guy’ (in 1990s film parlance he would be the Bill Pullman of the cast) were it not for his spiritual quest to India that takes the book to a whole other level.
The love story is compelling, the characters are authentic, complex and engaging and the novel, which is anything but academic-dry, brings up enough issues to fill any number of book club chatting hours.
Click Book Club Best Bets 2011 for the full article available on Chapters-Indigo's Fiction blog.