Dealing with weighty and surprising themes in innovative and engaging ways, the five works of popular fiction included in this roundup will all give readers pause for thought while also providing plenty of entertainment and escapism.
See Jane Snap
by Bethany Crandell
Montlake, 336 pages, $12.95
To the untrained eye, Jane Osborne probably appears to be living an almost ideal life. At thirty-nine years old, she’s been happily married to handsome and successful surgeon Dan for nearly two decades, has a perfectly charming child who is attending private school, and is dedicated to her voluntary work with the PTA. It’s no wonder that she always seems to be smiling. Of course, things are rarely exactly what they seem, not even in suburbia, and Jane’s life is no exception to that. In fact, Dan has recently informed her that he’s in love with another man, although due to wanting to maintain his current social status, he expects that Jane will keep that fact a secret and that the two of them will maintain the facade of a relationship. Fearing that both their livelihood and their lifestyle are on the line, Jane agrees to the pretense, maintaining a calm and cheerful outward demeanor while seething on the inside. It’s an act that she can’t hope to keep up for long, and when Jane finally gives in and makes her feelings known, the fallout is really quite spectacular. Bethany Crandell’s See Jane Snap offers a thought-provoking and often humorous examination of the myriad consequences decisions can have, particularly when strong emotions are involved.
Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash
by Tammy Pasterick
She Writes Press, 372 pages, $16.95
While the US construction boom of the early 1900s was viewed by many as ushering in an age of prosperity in the land of opportunity, Tammy Pasterick’s Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash makes it clear that not everyone benefited from the seemingly unrelenting march of progress. Janos and Karina Kovac emigrated to Pittsburgh from Eastern European in the hope of securing their own piece of the American dream, but things haven’t worked out how they hoped. Janos has been working twelve-hour shifts seven days a week at a local mill, leaving him demoralized and exhausted, while Karina has been warding off drunks during her shifts at a boarding house. Things appear to be looking up when Karina secures employment as a housekeeper for a mill manager, although she quickly comes to realize that the man is expecting much more than mere housekeeping services. Still, it initially seems better than working at the boarding house. Some little while later, Janos and Karina both reach crisis point on the same day: he witnesses a terrible accident at the mill and she is fired from her new job. As Karina descends into a kind of madness, Janos has to protect his family and save himself from retribution at the mill. Their story serves as a tribute to the struggles that immigrants have long had to endure while building a new life in their chosen homeland.
Love and Other Thought Experiments
by Sophie Ward
Vintage, 272 pages, $11.99
Blissfully happy couple Rachel and Eliza spend their evenings dreaming of the future and planning for the time when they will have a baby. Everything seems rosy and the pair are suffused with hope and positivity. However, life can change dramatically when you least expect it, which is exactly what happens to Rachel and Eliza. One terrible night, Rachel wakes up screaming, convinced that an ant has burrowed into her eye and is now trapped in there. It doesn’t seem very likely and, as a scientist, Eliza can’t believe that such a thing could happen. The couple have a terrible fight and their difference of opinion concerning the likelihood (or otherwise) of an ant inhabiting Rachel’s eye causes them both to question the future of their relationship. This surprising situation is the catalyst for ten interconnecting stories inspired by well-known thought experiments from the field of philosophy, which are told from the perspectives of different characters. Sophie Ward’s Love and Other Thought Experiments is an unexpected, genre-hopping collection of peculiar stories that combine to tell a delightfully modern love story. As the characters unwitting examine what exactly it means to be human, readers are provided with unforeseen and moving insights into life in all its wonderful varieties.
by Nikki May
Custom House, 384 pages, $27.99
Ronke, Boo, and Simi are three lifelong friends who are living very different lives in London. While they are united by their dual Nigerian/English heritage, they are increasing separated by the vastly different directions that their lives have taken. Ronke is focused on finding a husband, although none of the available Nigerian men seem able to live up to her expectations. Boo is just about coping with life as a stay-at-home mom, although she’s finding it ever more difficult not to feel that her identity is slipping away. As for Simi, she’s continuing to forge ahead with her fashion career, although she’s finding it increasingly hard to ignore the microaggressions coming from her boss and colleagues. When Isobel, a former friend of the trio who had disappeared from their lives, arrives back in town, the reunion seems to offer a reprieve from the mundanity of day-to-day living. However, it soon becomes clear that Isabel is pursuing a hidden agenda that might well be linked to a crime from their pasts, which threatens the futures of the three friends. Wahala by Nikki May offers an exciting and sometimes explosively shocking portrayal of modern female friendship and contemporary race relations. It’s a real thrill ride of a novel.
by Kiare Ladner
Custom House, 256 pages, $27.99
Twenty-three-year-old Meggie is far from satisfied with her secure yet humdrum existence, which is likely why her head is so easily turned when she encounters the bewitching Sabine. Beautiful, spontaneous, and carefree, nightshift worker Sabine seems to represent everything that Meggie wants to be. Following their meeting, Meggie dumps her steady boyfriend, ditches her day job, and generally eschews the trappings of normal diurnal life, instead opting to pursue the same nightshifts as Sabine. While life in the nocturnal world of the nightshift worker initially seems exciting and freeing, Meggie soon begins to lose herself in the unstructured and uncertain darkness of the night. Kiare Ladner’s Nightshift follows the sleep-deprived, intoxicated, and increasingly obsessed Meggie as she experiences nighttime urban London life in all its strangeness, encountering people and venturing to places that she would probably do better to avoid. As her life becomes ever more confusing and otherworldly, her obsession with Sabine continues to grow until it seems possible that Meggie herself might disappear altogether.