Book clubs: Making their mark
Roxane Gay’s collection Difficult Women is a perceptive group of short stories that probes the female experience and the quest for fulfillment that shapes nearly every woman’s life. Over the course of the collection, Gay explores a range of narrative forms and devices. As the title suggests, the women in the stories are—in different ways—difficult. In “Florida,” Gay tracks the lives of affluent, directionless wives, while in “La Negra Blanca,” she tells the story of a young stripper of mixed race who crosses paths with a dangerous white man. With “Bad Priest,” she presents a poignant chronicle of a priest who has an affair. In the inventive story “The Sacrifice for Darkness,” Gay writes about the love that develops between two young people in a world where the sun has vanished. Gay slips between voices and modes with incredible ease in these bold portrayals of the contemporary experience. This is an intense and rewarding collection that amply demonstrates the range of her talent.
A FAMILY TORN APART
The tale Beth Macy tells in her much-praised book Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South sounds like the stuff of fiction. Macy offers a fascinating account of black albino brothers George and Willie Muse, who were kidnapped as children in 1899 while working on a Virginia tobacco farm and forced to work as sideshow freaks. Because of their unusual features—light skin, red dreadlocks—they were displayed to audiences under a variety of exotic and outlandish names. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus made them famous as Eko and Iko, the Ecuadorian Savages. Meanwhile, the boys were led to believe that their mother, Harriett Muse, was dead. In reality, Harriett was looking for her sons. She spent years searching for them, and after almost three decades, they were reunited as a family. As Macy chronicles this dark chapter in Southern history, she proves herself to be a skilled storyteller, bringing the right amount of drama and sensitivity to this unforgettable narrative.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
An all-too-apt exploration of the nature of news and celebrity, The Boat Rocker, the latest novel from National Book Award winner Ha Jin, is set in the early 2000s and narrated by a reporter named Feng Danlin. Feng lives in New York, where he’s employed by a Chinese news organization that serves an international audience. Feng is an uncompromising journalist whose stories have brought him to the attention of Communist leaders. When he’s asked to write about his ex-wife, Yan Haili, an ambitious author in search of fame who allows herself to be used by the Chinese government, Feng faces an unexpected challenge. Yan goes against everything he believes in, but if Feng reveals the truth about her, he may jeopardize his livelihood—and his personal wellbeing. Jin brings intelligence, wit and insight to this deftly crafted narrative. It’s a timely novel that’s sure to get book groups talking.