Looking back over my list of books read this year, I realized that there are quite a few books that I read and loved but, for whatever reason, did not review. I would hate to end the year without saying anything about these books, so I’ve written a small series of posts containing mini reviews of some of the books I didn’t write about in depth this year. This post includes mini reviews of books written by and about women.
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht When Natalia, a doctor, finds out that her grandfather has just died in a village near the war-torn Balkan town where she is temporarily working, she sets out to discover the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. She looks to the stories he told her of the Deathless Man for answers and discovers the story he never told her: the story of the Tiger’s Wife. This novel is deeply rooted in the Balkan story-telling tradition, and I loved the folklore aspect. Similar to magical realism, The Tiger’s Wife blurs the lines between myth and reality. I thought the writing was lovely and the story was intriguing. I look forward to reading whatever Obreht writes next!
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Probably Atwood’s most famous work of fiction, this novel takes place in a not-so-distant future in which a conservative Christian faction has taken over the U.S. government and drastically re-shaped society and women’s roles, stripping them of their right to read, their sexuality, and their autonomy. The Handmaid’s Tale is told from the perspective of Offred, a woman whose proven fertility lands her the role of handmaiden. In this capacity, she must sleep with her assigned (and married) Commander each month in the hope of conceiving a child. This book looks at women’s rights, gender equality, and freedom to vs. freedom from. I loved everything about this novel: the issues it discussed, the unreliable narrator, and the open ending.
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
This “novel in seven stories” tells the story of Brewster Place, an urban ghetto, and its inhabitants. Each story is about a different woman who lives in the project, including Mattie, a mother figure to many of the younger women; Kiswana Browne, a young college drop-out working for social change; and Lorraine and Theresa, a lesbian couple new to the neighborhood. These stories are beautiful and sad, and they explore the various, deep, and complex relationships between women. There are dark turns, aggressive, futile men, and a horrible rape, but what shines through these stories is the sense of love and support among the women.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
This was The Book Everyone Was Talking About this summer, and I somehow never got around to reviewing it. When Nick’s wife Amy disappears from their home on their fifth wedding anniversary, leaving bloody signs of a struggle, Nick is the prime suspect in the police investigation. The story is told in the alternating perspectives of Nick post-disappearance and Amy’s personal diary. Although Nick gives off plenty of guilty signals, we learn that Amy isn’t quite the peach everyone thinks she is. This thriller, which looks at relationships at their most toxic, has some great twists and turns to keep you guessing. It’s like watching a terrible car crash; everything is twisted and mangled, but you just can’t look away. It’s totally riveting.
Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Bergman’s debut short story collection contains stories about the complexities of human relationships. Each story is told from a woman’s perspective and deals with her relationship with her mother, father, partner, child, or animals. I’m having trouble remembering the individual stories now, but two still stand out to me. In one story, a population control activist finds out she is pregnant and is surprised to realize that she wants to keep the baby. In another, a single mother drives for hours with her son to visit her dead mother’s pet parrot, which can mimic her voice perfectly. This was a quiet, introspective read for me, and I enjoyed Bergman’s stories about relationships in their many forms.
EDIT: Although I didn’t read this in 2012, this post didn’t feel complete without the inclusion of this book:
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
One of my favorite books, The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel about Sylvia Plath’s mental breakdown following her summer spent as a college guest editor for a women’s magazine in New York City. Plath writes about the pressure she felt to succeed, the sexual double standards of her society, and her need to break free from the accepted gender roles of her time. The writing is stunning and evocative, and although this book sometimes gets flogged as a mopey college girl read, it is a great self-portrait of an incredible poet and contains interesting themes.