10 powerful works of literary fiction narrated by their authors

Lauren Groff has already written three bestselling novels (one of which Barack Obama chose as his favorite novel of the year in 2015). More than ten years ago she moved back to her home state of Florida, and many were surprised to hear that her Fates and Furies follow-up would be a collection of short stories centered around the history, ecosystem, and psyche of Florida through characters that are wives, mothers, homeless women. The publisher says, "the stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries. Storms, snakes, and sinkholes lurk at the edge of everyday life." Release date: June 5 2018.
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From the publisher: "Katherine O’Dell is an Irish theater legend. As her daughter, Norah, retraces her mother's celebrated career and bohemian life, she delves into long-kept secrets, both her mother’s and her own. Katherine began her career on Ireland's bus-and-truck circuit before making it to London's West End, Broadway, and finally Hollywood. Every moment of her life is a performance, with young Norah standing in the wings. But with age, alcohol, and dimming stardom, Katherine's grip on reality grows fitful. Fueled by a proud and long-simmering rage, she commits a bizarre crime. As Norah's role gradually changes to Katherine's protector, caregiver, and finally legacy-keeper, she revisits her mother's life of fiercely kept secrets; and Norah reveals in turn the secrets of her own sexual and emotional coming-of-age story. With virtuosic storytelling and in prose at turns lyrical and knife-sharp, Enright takes readers to the heart of the maddening yet tender love that binds a mother and daughter."
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A sad, wistful, reflective literary story about marriage, happiness, and family. Graham and Annie have a strong 30 year marriage. Graham owns a bookstore, and this is a fun thread throughout the novel because much of the couples' life revolves around bookstore events (they meet at an author event!). Early in the book—this is not a spoiler—Graham suddenly dies. This prompts Annie to reflect on their life together, and in the process she trips over new information about him and their life together, causing her to question the very foundations of their relationship.
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When we hosted Tayari Jones for our WSIRN 300th episode celebration, she raved about this 2020 Pulitzer winner, saying she wanted to give it a standing ovation. That comment nudged me to pick it up again, on audio this time. (Why have I not been listening to Erdrich narrate her own work all along? She's wonderful in that format.) The story is based on the life of her own grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and who traveled from rural North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to fight against Native dispossession of their tribal lands. The story is beautifully, lovingly drawn: I was enraptured, and rooting so hard for these characters.
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This moving and funny story portrays three generations of women trying to find love on their own terms. When nine year old Swiv is expelled from school for fighting, she starts spending her days with her frail grandmother who has an unconventional approach to at-home schooling. She tasks Swiv with writing letters to her absent father, who seems to have abandoned his daughter and pregnant wife—and in these letters, a book's worth of complex family history and present struggles is revealed. A bighearted novel with an undercurrent of sadness, with wisdom far beyond its 9-year-old narrator's years.
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The plot of Kingsolver's 2012 novel revolves around climate change, and a young Tennessee woman and a butterfly colony who both stray from their typical flight paths. When Dellarobia sees something inexplicable in nature, her experience stokes tension between religious leaders, scientists, politicians, and climate change experts with different views on what exactly she witnessed. Suspenseful and page-turning, I thought this finely crafted novel had many wonderful moments and an unsatisfying ending—which would make it perfect for a book club discussion. Though it's unusual for novelists to read their own work, Kingsolver's lyrical voice perfectly suits her prose.
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Many of you call this the best book you ever read. Hosseini's critically acclaimed, bestselling novel is about an unlikely friendship between two boys growing up in Afghanistan: one from a privileged family, one the son of that family's servant.
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The story begins with a murder, and the lonely, introspective narrator devotes the rest of the novel to telling the reader about his role in it, and how he seemingly got away with it. The setting is a small Vermont college, the characters members of an isolated, eccentric circle of classics majors, who murder one of their own. Strongly reminiscent of The Likeness in setting, Crime and Punishment in plot, and Brideshead Revisited in tone. I finally read this recently, and now I understand why opinions differ widely on Tartt's debut novel: it's a compelling—and chilling—tale, but there's not a single likable character.
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In Hamid's latest novel, a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, two young people meet and find love during a time of great political unrest in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. As violence simmers and then explodes into war, they survey their options and make the difficult decision to flee the city, perhaps taking advantage of the rumored doors that open almost magically into other lands, like Syria or San Francisco. An evocative story improved by the restrained element of magical realism, and strongly reminiscent of The Underground Railroad. I recommend this book to Laura Tremaine in episode 68 of What Should I Read Next.
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This isn't an easy book to read (and if you struggle through the first half, you're not alone), but persevering readers will be rewarded with one of the most important and beautifully written multicultural historical novels in the American canon. Sethe escaped slavery and fled to Ohio, but her memories stay with her, as does the ghost of her baby. Though she attempts to bury her past, Sethe is thwarted at every turn—most of all when a young woman shows up at her door, bearing the same name as the ghost baby's headstone: Beloved. I can't improve on the publisher's description, which says Beloved is "filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope." If you're interested in adding an iconic southern gothic novel to your TBR, look no further.
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