Sometimes, when you really love a book, you think “man, I really like this book, I wish I had a million more like it.” I’ve had this feeling here recently with Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment. So good! But unfortunately, it seems to be uniquely good. It sort of defies comparison. One contributor has described it as Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs meets Herman Koch’s The Dinner. So far, I have found that to be very accurate. But unfortunately I have already read both of those books. So now what?
Well, in further discussion, we happened to consider Saturday, by Ian McEwan, which has elements of what made both The Dinner and The Woman Upstairs exceptional. For anyone who hasn’t read it, Saturday is one of McEwan’s lesser known novels. It follows an ordinary man through a Saturday whose high promise gradually turns nightmarish. Henry Perowne-a neurosurgeon, urbane, privileged, deeply in love with his wife and grown-up children-plans to play a game of squash, visit his elderly mother, and cook dinner for his family. But after a minor traffic accident leads to an unsettling confrontation, Perowne must set aside his plans and summon a strength greater than he knew he had in order to preserve the life that is dear to him. True elements and dark elements and things that, though crazy, you could easily see happening to you under the right or wrong set of circumstances.
The problem for me is that I have also read Saturday. Not to fear, I checked with our trusty magical library book recommender, and it had my back. If you liked Saturday, or, by extension, The Days of Abandonment, The Woman Upstairs, or The Dinner, then you might like these as well:
Agapé Agape by William Gaddis
“The late William Gaddis wrote four novels during his lifetime, immense and complex books that helped inaugurate a new movement in American letters. Now comes his final work of fiction, a subtle, concentrated culmination of his art and ideas. For more than fifty years Gaddis collected notes for a book about the mechanization of the arts, told via a social history of the player piano in America. In the years before his death in 1998, he distilled the whole mass into a fiction, a dramatic monologue by an elderly man with a terminal illness. This “man in the bed” lies dying, thinking anxiously about the book he still plans to write, grumbling about the deterioration of civilization and trying to explain his obsession to the world before he passes away or goes mad.
Agape- Agape continues Gaddis’s career-long reflection via the form of the novel on those aspects of the corporate technological culture that are uniquely destructive of the arts. It is a stunning achievement from one of the indisputable masters of postwar American fiction.”
Atonement also by Ian McEwan
When you’ve liked a book by a certain author, certainly no harm in trying another. Atonement, if you haven’t read it yet, is a safe next place to start. The book begins on a summer day in 1935,when thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century. It wasn’t exactly like these other books, but it was good. Warning: slow start to the book. But give it a chance. You’ll be glad you did.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
In this tale by the author of such critically praised works as The Magician’s Assistant, a terrorist takeover at an embassy party throws together an American diva and a Japanese CEO who is one of her biggest fans.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
If some authors are masters of suspense, others postmodern verbal acrobats, and still others complex-character pointillists, few excel in all three arenas. In his long-awaited third novel, Franzen does. In The Corrections, Alfred, once a rigid disciplinarian, flounders against Parkinson’s-induced dementia; Enid, his loyal and embittered wife, lusts for the perfect Midwestern Christmas; Denise, their daughter, launches the hippest restaurant in Philly; and Gary, their oldest son, grapples with depression, while Chip, his brother, attempts to shore his eroding self-confidence by joining forces with a self-mocking, Eastern-Bloc politician. As in his other novels, Franzen blends these personal dramas with expert technical cartwheels and savage commentary on larger social issues, such as the imbecility of laissez-faire parenting and the farcical nature of U.S.-Third World relations. The result is a book made of equal parts fury and humor, one that takes a dry-eyed look at our culture, at our pains and insecurities, while offering hope that, occasionally at least, we can reach some kind of understanding. This is, simply, a masterpiece.
Franzen is one of those polarizing authors many love to hate. But if you love him, which I do, despite the critics, then this is maybe him at his best.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
“In this droll, unsentimental, and occasionally hilarious novel, Richard Russo tells the story of a big-hearted man who becomes the unlikely hero of a small town with a glorious past but a dubious future. The one (barely) viable business in Empire Falls, Maine, is the diner where Miles Roby has worked for twenty years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self-respect. What keeps him there? It could be his bright, sensitive daughter, Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school. Or maybe it’s Janine, Miles’ soon-to-be ex-wife, who’s shed fifty pounds and taken up with the noxiously vain health-club proprietor. Or perhaps (most gallingly) it’s the imperious Francine Whiting, who owns everything in town — and believes that includes Miles himself. With Empire Falls Richard Russo cements his reputation as one of America’s most compelling and compassionate storytellers.”
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
“The story of the tragic decline of an Indian family whose members suffer the terrible consequences of forbidden love, The God of Small Things is set in the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India. Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, the twins Rahel and Esthappen fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family — their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt), and the ghost of an imperial entomologist’s moth (with unusually dense dorsal tufts). When their English cousin and her mother arrive on a Christmas visit, the twins learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever. The brilliantly plotted story uncoils with an agonizing sense of foreboding and inevitability. Yet nothing prepares you for what lies at the heart of it.”
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
“Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it. Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is. Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.”
I have been wanting to read this one for quite some time. I’ve seen the movie so I know the story, but still, it’s such a brilliant, fascinating idea, I would love to see it executed in writing. The book is always better.
So, for all you Abandonment, Dinner, Saturday fans out there, hopefully this gives you some delicious food for thought. I might also seek out some additional Ferrante in hopes that what I love about Abandonment will be present in her other books.
Happy summer reading! And if you have any suggestions along these lines, we’re all ears.