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Set in Alaska in the 1920s, Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child is a story of stark realism with a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure. Jack and Mabel struggle to eke out an existence on their farm as their marriage slowly disintegrates. She is lonely, and he is tired, and their prospects seem especially hopeless during the bleak winter season. One day, they build a child from snow—an act that changes their lives forever. The snow child disappears overnight, but Jack and Mabel soon catch sight of a young girl in the woods. Named Faina, the girl knows how to live on her own in the wild. Jack and Mabel are fascinated by the magical, otherworldly child, but there’s more to Faina than they realize, and her sudden appearance in their lives has remarkable consequences. This is Ivey’s debut, but she writes with the assurance of a seasoned novelist. Offering up breathtaking descriptions of the Alaskan landscape, she has created her own type of fairy tale—a story that’s compelling from start to finish.
Lydia Millet’s spellbinding Ghost Lights features an unlikely adventurer: an IRS employee named Hal. With a paraplegic daughter and an unfaithful wife, Hal—tired of work and life in Los Angeles—is ready for a change. When his wife’s boss, T., goes missing in Belize, Hal decides to find him. His quest turns out to be the trip of a lifetime—one that lands him in the wilds of Central America, where violence and political upheaval rule the day—and pulls Hal well out of his comfort zone. Millet’s book is a true page-turner. It’s dramatic and suspenseful, but it’s also a poignant portrait of a man in search of fulfillment. Exploring the ways in which growth and transformation can occur when they’re least expected, Millet has written an adventure novel that’s emotionally rich and psychologically penetrating. (Note: Millet’s latest novel, Magnificence, is reviewed in this month’s fiction section.)
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What happens to a novelist when fantasy and reality coalesce? Helen Oyeyemi explores this question in her fourth book, Mr. Fox, which features a novelist named St. James Fox. A British author working in the 1930s, Fox consistently kills the heroines in his books—a habit that upsets Mary Foxe, the imaginary young woman who serves as his muse. When she comes to life and pays Fox a visit in person, she issues a proposition: The two of them will cook up a series of stories in which they both have roles. It’s an adventuresome game that kindles a romance of sorts—a fact that disturbs Mr. Fox’s real-life wife, Daphne. Oyeyemi spins this complex tale with the greatest of ease, presenting the narrative in a fascinating series of interconnected stories set in varying eras and locales. This is a delightfully provocative book that’s sure to charm lovers of literary fiction.