Reading Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s new novel, The Evolution of Love, I remembered what it means to fall in love with a novel—to race through its pages, then slow down as I see the climax coming; to set the book down to spend more time with the characters in my own imagination; to delay the inevitable ending as the stack of pages left dwindles in my hands.
When Lily is unable to reach her sister Vicky in Berkeley, California after the bay area has been hit by a big earthquake, she boards a plane to Sacramento and makes her way to Berkeley by hired car and then by foot to find her sister. Lily’s quest is compelling from page one. Bledsoe deftly sketches out a motley crew of characters who grapple with big questions: What is love? What is community? What is family? Why do any of these ideas matter to humans?
The Evolution of Love reminded me of reading Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver for the first time in the early 1990s. Bledsoe’s characters, like Kingsolver’s, are strong, independent women; Lily in The Evolution of Love and Codi and Hallie in Animal Dreams all live and love passionately while confiding their insecurities and human fallibilities. Both writers engage the messiness of life in their plots and characters. Both writers concern themselves with politics, the environment, human relationships with nature, nature’s relationship with humans, feminism, and explorations that take seriously the lives of women. What results are novels that inspire and awaken readers to the joy and pain of what it means to be human.
Where Bledsoe creates an expansive world in the post-catastrophe bay area, Nicola Griffith creates a taut, contracting world for Mara Tagarelli in her new novel So Lucky. As it opens, everything is falling apart for Mara: she loses her wife, her job and her health with a new diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. The ensuring, carefully shaped novel follows Mara as she grapples with her life as a disabled woman—filled with rage, humor and different kinds of love. So Lucky is feminist fiction at its best: powerful storytelling informed by politics with a memorable plot and protagonist. This thriller is a fantastic afternoon read—and once you pick it up, you’ll read all the way to the end.
Leesa Cross-Smith’s debut novel Whiskey & Ribbons explores similar questions of love and family. “My husband Eamon was shot and killed in the line of duty while I was sleeping,” protagonist Evangeline “Evi” Royce, who was also in her last month of pregnancy when Eamon died, explains in the first sentence. In the voices of Evangeline, Eamon and Dalton, Eamon’s brother, Whiskey & Ribbons tells the story of these characters lives in moving ways. Cross-Smith’s novel pairs well with Tayari Jones’s best-selling An American Marriage.
More adventurous readers with a penchant for prose that overlaps with poetry and writing that takes bold experimental risks should dash off to spend time with Quintan Ana Wikswo’s novel A Long Curing Scar Where the Hearth Should Be. This book combines luminous prose with haunting photographs, amd Wikswo’s writing is erotic and evocative—perfect for the last of these languid summer days spent lounging with a book.