Posted by Jen B.
Literary fiction doesn’t have to be difficult, sad, or highbrow, but finding stellar writing, intriguing characterization and whip-smart wit in popular fiction is a needle-in-a-haystack hunt. Here are four great picks (plus their read-alike cousins) that are thought-provoking, good for discussion and just plain fun to read.
The World to Come by Dara Horn
There’s a lot going on in this short novel about Benjamin Ziskind, a quiz show question writer turned art thief. Stories-within-stories take readers back to Soviet Russia in the 1920s, the influence of Marc Chagall on a young boy and a Yiddish storyteller’s desperate attempt to save his art. You might also like The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Father of the Rain by Lily King
This book should be heart-wrenchingly sad. But it’s not. Even though Dailey’s alcoholic dad is completely dysfunctional and her family is breaking up, her story, told in first person narrative, is witty, fresh and ultimately upbeat. If you enjoy King’s novel, you might also like Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Brunt, Thank You for All Things by Sandra Kring, The Misfortunates by Dimitri Verhulst and The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson.
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman
Henry Archer never expected to see his much-beloved stepdaughter again, but after a hilarious set of circumstances this lonely gay father re-acquires a zany family and perhaps more. Lipman’s smart humor and incisive sense of the socially absurd is irresistible. If you like this book, you might also enjoy The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos and Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin.
Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff
I liked this book so much I only read a little bit each day so that it would last longer! In a complex, witty story set in Seattle, Ruff postulates the problems that occur when a man with multiple personality disorder meets and falls for Penny, a young woman with a similar chorus of voices in her head. If stories told from this kind of unique perspective appeal to you, also try The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, Addition by Toni Jordan and Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem.