Genre: Literary Fiction
- Literary style is important. Elegant, often poetic language.
- Structure of novel may be more complex/experimental.
- Characters more important than story lines.
- Philosophical questions often explored through characters
- Even secondary characters are multi-dimensional.
- Story lines are provocative.
- Pacing is slower with complex characters and story lines, and more description than dialogue.
- Tone is bleaker and darker and reflects the seriousness of the subject matter.
(Saricks, Guide to Genre Fiction, 127.)
The author does more than 1 or 2 things well; in fact, the author does many things well and does them often with changing narrative structure and a use of language that is hard to compare. Some authors get character right, some get character & setting, but few can blend all appeal aspects well enough to produce that satisfactory sigh. The language lingers on the palate–and the the thematic content resonates with the reader.
Nanci Hill’s Notes from the Meeting:
lyrical & descriptive language; character-driven not plot-driven; plot is underneath the story–character motivations & feelings.
You can empathize & identify w/characters motivations, reactions & feelings
A few people didn’t get into the character because reader could not identify with her.
Voice: instantly puts you in Arizona Southern setting; humor true to character. Not over the top. True Voice. Sets tone for story.
Character’s reactions is very acute–reaction to setting not setting itself.
Language descriptive w/out being flowery. It’s honest.
Thematic underplots: abuse/immigration/women traveling alone–journey book; very subversive politically–does not hit you over the head–subplots to story of Taylor&Turtle.
Not at all dated; resonates which is a test for literary fiction
Handles the child abuse subtly. You see it in Turtle’s reactions & nonreactions.
You trust the author to give you things you don’t need. Re: description of actual abuse
Other books like it: T.C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain for the immigration theme; Southern CA setting, character-driven; language Also Roy’s God of Small Things for similar appeal aspects; quality of writing; sense of place; character-driven
Click on above link to add the name of your Literary fiction title and add a short annotation stressing the appeal characteristics.
Nanci Hill’s summary of second Literary Title read:
Toni Morrison’s A Mercy Alternates between 5/6 characters. Each voice is distinct in each chapter.All about betrayal & the definition of love. Good companion to Beloved. Use of language.
S.J. Rozan’s Absent Friends Set around 9/11; two times mid to late 70s Staten Island & NYC 9/11 Not linear structure. Character-driven. Life about choices. Combo of story & characters. Mystery is secondary. Character’s reactions are more important.
Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees Plays with language; descriptive language; Dual perspectives; characters seemed flat. Leisurely-paced.
Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabel Strong story & setting. Descriptive. Characterization is the strongest. Told from alternating points of view. Moderate pacing.
Katherine Stockett’s The Help Wonderful characterizations; 1962 Mississippi. Three POV. Authentic voices. Racism is the hot button issue. Plot-driven; setting is very evocative, atmospheric, very Southern, does tone really well. Hard to put down.
Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book Wee-researched. Strangely linear. Alternating historical/contemporary chapters. Reader felt disconnect w/characters with the exception of one character, Lola. Historical characters had more depth. Loved the conservation aspect of the book. Descriptive about relationships: individual to God, religion, boos, each other. Mystery undertone.
Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
Julia Glass’s The Whole World Over Multiple characters; multiple POV; 9/11 backframe; descriptive language–poetic; about taking chances. Like a tapestry–interconnected stories. Also Strong Women’s Fiction.
Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups Self-reflection; mostly about characters; a do-over book Also strong Women’s Fiction
Morrison, Toni. A Mercy
I agree with my colleague in her summary that follows; but, I must add that no one does longing and heart-rendering pain as well as Toni Morrison. The three APPEAL characteristics I would say she embodies best are LANGUAGE; CHARACTER; FRAME:SETTING/TONE. Her language is evocative; dialects and language choice changes with each distinct narrative voice from uneducated to privleged; almost all female. Her themes run from betrayal, what constitutes love, slavery in Colonial America to the power of men and organized religion during that time. Tone was serious; suspense builds in the uncertainty of personal control of one’s life–tension between desire and reality. Places are indeliable and characters were so much a part or byproduct of their environment.
This is a sad book but it celebrates life in a way that just makes you not want to take any of your own for granted. Breathtaking language and a final chapter that makes all your premises shatter and mend into new pieces.
I would definitely send this reader to Morrison’s Beloved if s/he had not read it yet. I would also ask if the reader had ever read Faulkner and recommend As I Lay Dying, for its language & tone. Another book that shatters your preconceptions. Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound also shares thematic material and the glowing writing with different voices for each character.
Written by Becky Rohr: A beautifully written book that takes place in 17th century America. I found this book incredibly touching and well written. I was astonished how much emotional and historical ground Morrison covered in less than 200 pages. The book not only encompasses universal themes of human love and longing but also describes historical events of this time and delivers compelling characters from a range of social situations: wealthy and not so wealthy landowners, slaves, native Americans and indentured servants.
This book would appeal to those who like literary fiction, and to those who want to read about life in very early colonial America.
It is worth noting that the audio is excellent–narrated by the author and she uses different voices for each character narration. APPEAL: CHARACTER; FRAME: SETTING; LANGUAGE
House of Widows – Askold Melnyczuk
At the beginning of The House of Widows, we meet James Pak who works at the American Embassy in Austria. When he’s given a dossier of atrocities committed during the Iraq War by American soldiers, James must decide his role in history. Will he leak them or file them away? His family history weighs on his conscience as he makes the decision and he takes us on a journey that he made prior to attending college. James tries to figure out what drove his father to commit suicide. Each character involved tells part of the story until layer by layer, James is able to piece together a partial version of the truth. His is a rich and complex family history tempered by war, violence and poverty. Even though his childhood on the North Shore of Massachusetts was turbulent, it pales in comparison to the rest of the tale he uncovers.
APPEAL FACTORS: CHARACTER, PACING, STORYLINE The characters in this book were all very interesting, not always likable, but each adds something to the story. It is hard to extricate the characters from the story, because the plot depends so much on their individual versions of the story to move it forward. Not all of the characters are reliable and the reader must wade through some psychological baggage to get to the truth. It’s a fascinating look at what people do in order to survive in adverse circumstances and what the trickle down effect those choices can have. Melnyczuk takes an ugly story and makes it beautiful with rich language and highly nuanced characters.
The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
Set in Provincetown MA, this is the story of Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree’s marriage. It is a contemplative examination of the depth of commitment. The story follows their marriage through an affair, abandonment by one spouse, and a reunion of sorts toward the end of their lives. Characters are not as important as setting and pace. Annie Dillard uses a poetic style of writing, at times bordering on histrionic.
APPEAL FACTORS: FRAME; CHARACTER; STORYLINE; PACING I would suggest this to a reader who appreciates a literary-style of writing with a leisurely pace. Enjoys words used as an art form.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator living in Australia, is given the chance to work on the celebrated Sarajevo Haggadah. What she discovers in and on the pages of the book unravels a history that spans centuries, countries, cultures and religions.
People of the Book is a layered, meticulously researched novel about relationships that also benefits from a mystery subplot. Readers who enjoy learning about book restoration, the history of religious texts, or who are partial to stories that alternate between contemporary times and historical interludes should be pointed in this book’s direction. The story itself is definitely the star here, though some of the historical characters are beautifully drawn, and the history is engaging if at times daunting to keep straight.
If you encounter a reader, like me, who thoroughly enjoys the rare book aspect of the novel as well as the mystery subplot, you might find success in pointing them towards John Dunning’s Bookman novels, or, if they like non-fiction, the Goldstone’s Slightly Chipped.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.
S. J. Rozan ~ Absent Friends
Absent Friends is very different in style and tone from S.J. Rozan’s usual mystery series featuring either Lydia Chin or Bill Smith. For one thing there are multiple voices and multiple time tracks – the most important the today of 9/11 and the yesterday of the childhood of seven friends from Staten Island. Short chapters are interspersed with newspaper articles. A close group of friends is horrified by the hero’s death of Jimmy McCaffrey, a firefighter lost in the fall of the towers, especially when news reports begin to pick at Jimmy’s hero status, implying that he was involved with the mob and the shooting of one of the friends many years ago. All is not what it had seemed to be. The death of the reporter off the Verranzano Narrows Bridge is the flashpoint for the reflection and introspection. Did the reporter fall, jump, or was he pushed?
The story is non linear and therefore more challenging for readers. It is character driven, and spends time on the life choices people made. The novel is a combination of story and characters; the mystery about Jimmy and the death of the reporter are really secondary to the evolution of the characters and their life choices. The specter of 9/11 is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, affecting everyone in the novel and those reading it. The characters and reader experience uncertainty about who and what they thought they knew and the dependability of the world around them.
APPEAL: Frame (especially Tone and novel structure), Character, Story. For readers who enjoy challenges and different types of novels.
Kingsolver, Barbara – Pigs in Heaven
“Pigs” is the sequel to The Bean Trees. Turtle is now 6 years old and witnesses an accident at the Hoover Dam. The resulting rescue and media frenzy alerts social services to some oddities in Turtle’s adoption. Taylor, Turtle’s adoptive mother, makes some impulsive decisions in her panic that Turtle may be taken from her.
The same aspects that appeal to readers of The Bean Trees appeal here: LANGUAGE, CHARACTER and SETTING. There isn’t quite as much interaction among the characters – most is between Taylor, Turtle, and Taylor’s fears for their future. Could be used as Literary Fiction or Women’s Fiction.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help is the story of three women, two black and one white, in Mississippi in the early 1960s. It is 1962 and 22-yr-old Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan has just graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in journalism and aspirations to be a writer. She is, however, perpetually single, to the chagrin of her traditional, proper Southern mother. Aibileen and Minny are best friends and maids of two of Skeeter’s closest childhood friends. The 3 women come together for a secret project that puts all of their lives at risk. Told vividly in the first person, from 3 different viewpoints.
This book’s greatest strength is its characters. They are richly drawn, each have their own distinct voices, and are very authentic. The book is somewhat like a Jodi Picoult book in that it is told from several different viewpoints (and in the sense that is it about the “hot-button issue” of racism), but I believe it is better done here. There was quite a bit of dialogue, with the plot moving along at a good clip to a dramatic conclusion. This was a layered story with several interesting characters. There were also a few subplots, but there weren’t so many subplots and characters that you couldn’t keep them all straight. Part of the joy of the novel was watching the same events unfold through different sets of eyes. The novel was very atmospheric and evocative of the Civil Rights Movement era and the early 1960s in general, the beginning of the hippie period, etc.
Amy and Isabelle: Elizabeth Strout
Strout crafts a novel set in a small New England mill town, Shirley Falls, set in the early 1970’s. The story begins in the summer where 16 year –old Amy begins a job in the mill where her mother is office manager. Amy is bemoaning the fact that her math teacher Mr. Robertson left town. Through observations from other characters Amy keeps to herself and doesn’t talk. From the beginning of the story there is an unspoken tension between mother and daughter. Strong in narrative voice, the story is told from alternating points of view from Amy and Isabelle. Amy reflects on the events that ultimately resulted in her relationship with her math teacher and her mother’s reaction when discovering it. Strout expertly unfolds the character of Isabelle who at first appears aloof to the reader and a bit of a mystery. Also the setting of a small town lends itself to a variety of subplots: Amy’s friend is pregnant, marital infidelity, and child abduction. A rich array of characters are presented that resonate the social divide in Shirley Falls, from the office workers in the mill, and the women of the church, Strout captures a variety of human qualities.