Among my friend circle, literary fiction is all the rage, and we prefer it to popular or so-called commercial fiction. Literary fiction tends to be serious: there’s things like mental illness, cancer, war. Sometimes, there’s romance, but it’s usually a side story, not the main event. It’s less likely to make it to the NYT bestsellers list, less likely to be made into movies, and most of my bookish friends and I think it’s more fun than books by the likes of James Patterson or Danielle Steel. Here’s 3 literary novels I loved.
I thought The Quelling by Barbara Barrow was really good. Two “beautiful but hopelessly violent” sisters, Addie and Dorian, have spent most of their lives in a locked psych ward, diagnosed with a rare disorder called Reactive Attachment Disorder. Now that Addie’s older, she begins an illicit affair with a male nurse taking care of the sisters and gets pregnant, ostensibly to replace the family she lost. Meanwhile, Ellie, the other nurse charged with taking care of the sisters, seems to be the only person who cares about the sisters, and their psychiatrist is determined to try a controversial and potentially dangerous cure. Addie seemed like she was more intelligent and careful, while Dorian seemed wilder and more spontaneous. I found it fascinating reading about Reactive Attachment Disorder and how it might affect people; I’d heard about it in passing, but not much more than that, and always thought you mostly saw it in kids raised in orphanages in, say, Russia, from infancy, or occasionally, kids who grew up in foster care. New, $15.99
I liked The Green and the Red by Armand Chauvel. It’s the story of Lea and Mathieu. Lea owns La Dame Verte, a struggling vegan restaurant in a small town in Brittany and is an animal rights activist, while Mathieu works for the area’s leading pork producer and likes being a carnivore. During a company meeting, Mathieu proposes forcing Lea’s restaurant to close and opening a musuem for his company and locating it right where La Dame Verte is, because the restaurant occupies prime real estate. I found the setting completely charming because I enjoy books set in other countries. I quickly fell in love with Lea’s pet pig, Charlene, so I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of Charlene. Since I’m a sucker for underdog stories, I spent most of the story rooting for Lea and being rather unimpressed with Mathieu, but eventually he won me over. New, $4.99
Girls Like Me by Nina Packebush might be YA fiction, but I think it also qualifies as literary fiction. 16-year-old queer-identified Amanda, who prefers going by Banjo, discovers she’s pregnant. Not long after, Banjo wakes up in the psych ward, groggy, and realises her psychiatrist can’t help her deal with the suicide of Gray, her genderqueer paramour. While in the psych ward, she meets a manic queer girl adopted from Ethiopa and a shy, gay boy with homophobic Christian parents. After the three leave the psych ward and Banjo, they stay in touch and become really good friends. I especially liked the portrayal of poverty and genderqueer issues. I felt like the way LGBT+ issues and poverty were presented accurately. At first, it seemed strange that two queer teenagers would have to deal with pregnancy, but not so much once I thought about it. Banjo was a cisgender female, and while Gray was genderqueer, they also had working male parts. It’s apparently somewhat common for queer teenagers to assume they don’t need condoms or birth control when having sex. New, $8.99
Melissa lives in Baltimore with her cats, Stan Lee and Spencer. She likes historical fiction (especially if it's set during WWII or the Revolutionary War), sci fi/fantasy, and animals.