Stradal’s novel-in-stories spans more than thirty years and takes us to half as many kitchens, introducing us to fancy chefs and Lutheran church ladies, portraying the food of a region and the unlikely threads that bind us, with a satisfying, full-circle ending. We got to talk with Stradal in MMD Book Club, and we asked a bunch of questions about his writing process, the structure of the novel, and his Midwestern ties. Gracious and charming, he revealed his literary inspirations and a sweet story about his grandmother. You can watch the video replay in our library with your Book Club membership.
I loved this so much. This Pulitzer winner manages to be serious and seriously funny. The hero is Arthur Less, who is facing his 50th birthday, his ex-boyfriend of nine year's wedding to another, and his publisher's rejection of his latest manuscript, all at the same time. He decides to hit the road—and on this trip, everything that can go wrong, does. Nonstop puns on the author's name, an arch sense of humor, and an interesting narrative structure keep this book filled with sad things from feeling downcast.
I was a little skeptical when I first picked this up: I mean, a tell-all “documentary” about a fictional 1970s band? It took Taylor Jenkins Reid about three pages to win me over, with her fast-moving storyline and characters so convincing I had to google again to make sure the band wasn’t really real. The plot revolves around Billy Dunne, the tortured, talented lead singer for the Six, and Daisy Jones, the beautiful, soulful girl with a troubled past who catapults the Six to fame when she begins singing—and writing—their songs. Daisy and Billy’s chemistry is electric, and fans can’t get enough of it. We know from the beginning that the story is about why the band broke up, and the reasons are both expected and hold a big surprise, unfurled in an engrossing story of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.
Makkai's prize-winning novel asks what it means to be family to one another, as the characters navigate heavy grief and loss within their tight knit communities. In 1985, Yale Tishman loves his job working in the fundraising department of a Chicago art gallery. But as his career takes off, the 1980s AIDS crisis wreaks havoc on his world, devastating his chosen family. Between chapters about Yale's life, we learn his friend Fiona's story, as she travels to Paris 30 years later in search of her estranged daughter. Both timelines kept me glued to the page, and they came together in such a brilliant way at the end of the book. Amy Poehler optioned this one for a "major television event."
- by Lily King
A young writer turns her life around in this 2020 novel from the author of Euphoria. Casey Peabody’s life is a catastrophe: she’s grieving her mother, buried in debt, floundering in her love life, and fed up with waiting tables while she labors to finish the novel she’s been working on for six years. But then slowly, slowly, she starts to pull it together. This novel has it all, while never feeling weighed down: a story of growing up, finding love, grieving loss, and a tribute to the writing life. This book was slow to hook me, but once I was in, I was IN. It also has one of the most exuberant, satisfying endings I've read in ages.
The Poet X author Acevedo dedicates her new novel in verse to the memory of the lives lost on American Airlines flight 587, the passenger flight that crashed en route to Santo Domingo from JFK on November 12, 2001. Taking this historical event as her leaping off point, Acevedo tells the story of two teenage girls—one in New York, one in Santo Domingo—who are shocked to discover they are sisters in the aftermath of the crash, when the truth of their father’s double life was unceremoniously revealed. The girls tentatively bond as they explore the love—and pain—they share. A lyrical, heartfelt exploration of what it means to discover secrets, to find family, and to discover your own hidden resources in the face of great loss, and surprising joy.
The story begins with a shooting: it's 1969, in the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn; a beloved drunk deacon named Sportcoat wanders into the courtyard and shoots the drug dealer he'd once treated like a son point-blank, in front of everyone. After this jolting beginning, McBride zooms out to show the reader how this violent act came to take place, exploring the lives of the shooter and the victim, the victim's bumbling friends, the residents who witnessed it, the neighbors who heard about it, the cops assigned to investigate, the members of the church where Sportcoat was a deacon, the neighborhood's mobsters (and their families). All these people's lives overlap in ways that few understand in the beginning, and McBride's gentle teasing out of these unlikely but deeply meaningful connections—and the humor and warmth with which he does it—is what captured me.
The Modern Library Torchbearers series celebrates "women who wrote on their own terms, with boldness, creativity, and a spirit of resistance." I never would have heard about Harlem Renaissance author Jessie Redmon Fauset if they hadn't brought her sweeping family saga back into print. The story follows three Black childhood friends into adulthood as they navigate love, marriage, careers, and the pressures and pitfalls of early 1900's society. Fauset has an Austen-like gift for social critique, and she writes a surprising full-circle ending that leaves readers with much to think about.
- by Quan Barry
Readers, this book is weird. But if you love novels told in interconnected short stories, unique prose, and 80's nostalgia, it might work for you. Because it's written in first person plural, the narration takes some getting used to. The novel follows the 1989 Danvers field hockey team as the girls perform a witchy ritual in order to guarantee a winning season for their senior year. While they win on the field, the players experience the trials of nearing adulthood, like exploring their identities, dealing with family drama, and combatting rumors at school. The ending comes as a delightful surprise and strikes an empowering tone. Though the characters are teenagers, this not a YA novel.
- by Wally Lamb
You all kept telling me amazing things, and I finally finished my first Wally Lamb novel. At nearly 900 pages, I feel like I earned it (which makes this a perfect candidate for an ereader). Lamb wrote one of the best endings I've read in a long time This is the story of two brothers born into a big, messy, complicated family. One is trying to keep his own life together as he attempts to watch over his schizophrenic twin. It's an emotional and challenging read, on many levels, but I thought it was so well done. From the Associated Press: "Every now and then a book comes along that sets new standards for writers and readers alike. Wally Lamb's latest novel is stunning and even that might be an understatement...this is a masterpiece."