During early January I’ve read three works of historical fiction that I liked well enough to recommend. My favorite of the trio is by Katy Simpson Smith, who has the distinction of holding both a PhD in History and an MFA. Her debut novel is The Story of Land and Sea, a slender, elegant story set near the end of the American Revolution along the North Carolina coast. The war doesn’t take center stage, but it is–along with slavery–an integral part of the story. Smith poignantly examines the love between parents and their children, and how loss shapes actions. It’s a quiet yet powerful story.
I also liked Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us, set in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. It’s also about family, but the kind that is acquired. Bloom assembles a cast of quirky yet likable characters who are drawn to sisters Iris and Eva, who have run away from their unreliable father. Beautiful Iris is determined to become a movie star, but when things fall apart in Hollywood, the siblings have to scramble for a plan B. I really liked Bloom’s episodic style with its shifting points of view. One of the plot lines didn’t really work for me, and I thought the book ended rather abruptly, but I still enjoyed it.
Rounding out the trio is Helen Dunmore’s novel of World War I and its aftermath, The Lie. Alternating between the killing fields of the western front and quiet Cornwall, Dunmore tells the story of Daniel Branwell, who survived the war only to return home lost and alone. The story may be a bit familiar, but Dunmore’s depictions of the war are especially vivid, and the individual characters are so finely drawn that the book was hard to put down.
All in all, a great start to the reading year.