Five books that deliver life – with the boring parts edited out.
The adventures of a mostly normal life – and why they make the best kind of books.
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If there was ever a book to convert anti-short-story extremists, "How to Breathe Underwater" is it. Julie Orringer’s ability to flush out emotional truths is rare, and frankly, a bit disconcerting. Her stories are stark and at times painful, but manage to disguise themselves behind the camouflage of things like tenderness, beauty, and transcendence. She draws out what it means to have ties that bind, moments of insurmountable difficulty, and a beating heart, and captures the experience with photographic clarity. She is a brilliant writer, and will likely go down as one of the great chroniclers of our time.Skip to next paragraph
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"The Unnamed," by Joshua Ferris
OK, so maybe "The Unnamed" leans a little bit more heavily on the “mostly” component of Adventures of a Mostly Normal Life, but trust me, it earns its spot on this list. The main character of the novel is leading an entirely normal life until he develops a mysterious and unaccountable condition that causes him to have fits of uncontrollable (and unstoppable) walking. Tim Farnsworth is a well-respected litigation lawyer with a wife (whom he refers to endearingly as Banana) and a teenage daughter, who is content with his place in the world until he is seized by this mysterious condition which throws his whole life into crisis. Ferris achieves a remarkable duality: "The Unnamed" functions as both a realistic narrative – complete with medical, psychological, and familial tensions – and an allegory. I read this book six months ago and I still get goose bumps when I think about it.
"Who Will Run the Frog Hospital," by Lorrie Moore
Lorrie Moore’s trademark acerbic wit and perfect pitch are all over this brisk gem of a novel. Berie has gone with her husband to Paris. The couple has in recent years cultivated a quiet disdain for each other that both Berie and Moore handle with emotional distance and uproarious and heartbreaking humor. It is from this moment in time that Berie looks back on a teenage friendship she had with a young woman named Sils over the course of one summer. Though you will laugh until you embarrass yourself in public places, to quote Michio Kakutani of The New York Times, “[T]he book is, at heart, an elegy, reminiscent at times of Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited," for the passage of innocence and youth, and the fading of expectations and dreams.”
So there you have it: life – albeit a smarter, funnier, more interesting, sadder, and better-plotted version – distilled to fit between two cover boards. Don’t say I didn’t warn you/You can thank me later. Happy reading.