Lowell’s Pollard Library has everything on Sean’s hot list.
Seven years after the plague that erases civilization as we know it, a man named Hig pilots a plane over the remains of the world. Hig’s tale chugs forth in short bursts of poetic beauty. Any post-apocalyptic narrator that risks his life to go back to his house to get the poetry books he left behind shows me a determination to remain human. Of course, there are shoot-outs and resource wars and all that kinda end of days excitement as well.
This one will keep you up at night. This was on many “best of 2012” lists for good reason. Nick and Amy have a normal-ish joyous yet challenging marriage until one day Amy disappears. The novel alternates chapters between the pairs as the implications of Amy’s disappearance sinuously unfurl around Nick. In addition to the deft plot twists, Flynn’s major achievement her ability to imbue each of her main characters with a distinctive voice.
Winner of the National Book Award, this novel has a lot of heart and determination. It follows an adolescent Ojibwe boy in the aftermath of a senseless attack on his mother. The novel follows him as he tries to unearth the perpetrator of the heinous crime and come to terms with the adult world. The subject matter wasn’t exactly pleasant but I felt entranced by Erdrich’s storytelling ability.
This sprawling hip number was billed right on the dust jacket as The Great American novel. You can’t get any bigger expectations from a promotional blurb but Chabon might just have lived up to them. The novel centers on Brokeland Records, a vintage vinyl store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkely, CA which is being threatened by a proposed mega-shopping center. In the living heart of the novel are Brokeland’s two owners and their families as they try to come to terms with the shattering of the familiar. There is so much heart in this book and Chabon writes with so much elan that I don’t see how anyone could fail to get caught up.
Junot Diaz is a bastard but he has a heart three times the size of America. This collection is how you get to know that beating menace. Actually, I should be talking about Diaz’s alter-ego narrator, Yunior, (also narrator of the Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao). I hate to compare him to J.D. Salinger because I don’t think either author would appreciate the comparison, but I can’t think of a better example of two writers who manage to put their finger on the struggle between self and culture so seamlessly.
It was really hard to pick five titles so here’s my list of some stellar runner-ups that for one reason or another, didn’t make the top five but I would recommend without reservation (some of them I’ve even reviewed for HOWL):
Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal
Canada by Richard Ford
A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald by Errol Morris
Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death by Jill Lepore
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Magnificence by Lydia Millet
(This last one is the third in a trilogy so you’ll want to start with the first book, How the Dead Dream, 2008).
Sean Thibodeau lives in Lowell and is the community planning librarian at the Pollard Memorial Library. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.