My cousin Moira just asked, on Facebook, for recommendations for "a good book. Maybe something historical, fiction, or non-fiction that reads like a great novel. Long." Since I hadn't posted yet today, I'm sharing those recommendations here.
These five novels are all at least 400 pages long, and all took me completely out of my real life and into their fictional worlds. It is an arbitrary list, and a short one, and on any given day, I could come up with five completely different books. Feel free to leave your own in the comments section.
Tana French, THE LIKENESS. 480 pages. Dublin detective Cassie Maddox investigates the murder of a college student who, mysteriously, looked just like her. Despite her misgivings, she agrees to pose as the murder victim, even moving into the house the victim shared with four other students. As Cassie's investigation continues, she discovers that the victim herself was not who she pretended to be, and that Cassie's understanding of her own identity may be shaky. Haunted, haunting, mesmerizing.
Laura Lippman, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW. 400 pages. I've recommended this book on this blog at least three times already, but it's been a year and a half since I mentioned it, and I don't think Moira's read it. After a car accident on the Baltimore Beltway, the woman responsible identifies herself as "one of the Bethany girls," who had disappeared from a shopping center 30 years earlier. The secrets of that disappearance, and its long-reaching repercussions, unfold over the course of the book.
George Pelecanos, HARD REVOLUTION. 400 pages. An epic story of the 1968 riots in Washington, DC, from the perspective of young African-American police officer Derek Strange. It's a book about loyalties — how you decide what's yours, and how you decide to defend it.
Richard Russo, EMPIRE FALLS. 496 pages. HBO's miniseries was pretty faithful to the book, but could not capture its breadth or depth. EMPIRE FALLS is the story of two families in my part of Maine — one working-class, one rich — and how their destinies are irrevocably intertwined. Miles Roby, oldest son of the working-class family, runs the Empire Grill for the Whitings, the wealthy family, but their connections run much deeper than business arrangements. I don't own a copy of this book, and I need to, because I find myself wanting to reread passages all the time.
Donna Tartt, THE LITTLE FRIEND. 640 pages. This long-awaited second novel from the author of THE SECRET HISTORY drew a lot of criticism, partly because it was so different from Tartt's first book, but mostly because it comes to no real resolution; it's a long, complicated slice of life that ultimately raises more questions than it answers. The lack of an ending frustrated me when I read it, but the book has lingered in my memory ever since. It is a compelling portrait of the South in the 1970s, full of details I never noticed as a child but remembered sharply once Tartt reminded me. Nine-year-old Robin Cleve Dusfresnes is found dead, hanging from a tree; years later, his 12-year-old sister, Harriet, vows to uncover his murderer. Tartt's point, I think, is that absolutes are never as important as the stories we tell ourselves. I'd like to read this book again.