It happens every fall. The fall is when the big books come out—your established, award-winning, glowingly reviewed Major Writers. And the next few months seem particularly choked with them. Salman Rushdie, JK Rowling, Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Michael Chabon, the list continues. The unintentional consequence is that if you are a less prominent writer, not yet a Pulitzer Prize winner or a zeitgeist defining bestseller, it can be a struggle to get a little attention.
So here are four books that have either been overlooked or that are in danger of being under-read, as everyone struggles to get through that 650 page Rushdie memoir.
Learn more about Banned Book Week as Bookslut talks to author Robie H. Harris.
May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
Homes works with darker hues on her palette than most. Perhaps that's why it was the more feel-good but mediocre This Book Will Save Your Life that garnered her the most praise, rather than the flaying-alive-toned The End of Alice, about a child murderer corresponding with a 19-year-old girl from prison. She finds a path somewhere between these two books with her latest, May We Be Forgiven, as a series of shattering, violent deaths open the book, while the next couple hundred pages deal with everyone slowly climbing back to normal.
And that is what perhaps makes Forgiven so remarkable. Rather than focusing on the lead-up to the act of a man murdering his wife—and by doing so working to make that act understandable and relatable somehow—Homes’s priority is the aftermath: What it takes in our fragmented, hyper-wired but under-humanized society to create a community and make a connection with the people around you, including the people you hurt. It’s a stunner, one of Homes’ best.
All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen
Perhaps it makes sense that a book that tells the story of three forgotten women of the early 20th century would be overlooked itself, but it is still a shame that the book seemed to disappear so quickly. Cohen tells the interlocking stories of Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta and Madge Garland—women who were influential in their day but never quite famous.
It’s more than just a biography of three women you’ve never heard of, however. It’s a meditation on failure, on failing to live up to your potential, on these American ideals of success, fame and ambition, and how, if you don’t play along, you’ll be left in the margins. It’s also about how having to keep your love life silent—all three women had love affairs with women, although all three also married men—can stifle your voice in other arenas as well. It’s a warm portrait of these three remarkable women.
This is Life by Dan Rhodes
An art student in Paris decides for her final project she will walk into a crowded street, randomly throw a stone and whomever the stone hits will be the subject of an installation. Except her stone hits a baby. In the face. And the mother responds by handing the baby over to the student and letting her take care of it for a week. There’s another artist, who lives naked on a stage for a span of time, jarring and cataloging his every bit of output—his hair, his feces, his spit, his tears. Then there is the art critic, the toast of the town, who is handsomely paid for his work and who is universally accepted as a genius.
In the hands of any other writer in the world, a setup like this would dissolve into a sugary quirk-fest, an overpoweringly twitchy and adorable story where everyone learns an important lesson about life. In Rhodes’s hands, though, the tale seems (almost) perfectly reasonable and readers become willing to suspend disbelief just to see where the hell he’s taking them. If you’ve read any of his other novels, like Gold or Anthropology, the only thing about the book that isn’t a surprise is that somehow poignancy is achieved.
The Address Book by Sophie Calle
Available in English for the first time, The Address Book brings together a column the artist Sophie Calle wrote for the newspaper Libération about finding an address book on the street. Rather than contacting the owner, she decided to get to know who he was by contacting the people found in the book’s pages, and asking for their descriptions and stories of the mysterious man. She speaks with lovers, with business associates, with people who can’t remember who she’s talking about. And through it, we do get to know this man, even if our view is ultimately warped.
It will probably seem like a less shocking experiment than it did when the column was originally published in the ‘70s, now that we live in an age when anyone can recreate this experiment with any other person, thanks to public Friends lists on Facebook. (The project ended in a lawsuit, as the address book’s owner felt his privacy had been deeply invaded.) But the power of the piece, building from how incredibly differently a series of people can see the same person, how we are being interpreted by the people we interact with, how our identities and personalities can shift subtly based on who we’re talking to, is still incredibly potent.
Jessa Crispin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bookslut.