Ten Political Novels for Trying Times

These are trying times politically and the divide in the U.S. has never been greater. But as the campaign season gets into full swing, we can all agree on: Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. But what about fiction with a strong political theme? Can it help us understand and make sense of the world around us? You bet it can, and I’ve got just the list to prove it.

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Fiction is at its most powerful when it lets us walk in someone else’s shoes, teaching us to empathize with the kind of people who might otherwise never cross our paths. In An American Marriage, Tayari Jones does this while exploring one of the most disturbing and seemingly intractable issues in America: the incFiction is at its most powerful when it lets us walk in someone else’s shoes, teaching us to empathize arceration of innocent people, especially people of color, by a justice system with inherent biases.

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Great War Novels for Veterans’ Day

There are many ways to honor the men and women who put on a uniform and risk it all for the nations that send them into war in the name of duty and patriotism. One obvious way is to put their stories in writing—fiction or nonfiction—so that others can read and remember the sacrifices they made. As we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, I’d like to offer a very personal list of 11 great war novels to commemorate the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

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I’ve never been eager to see movies based on books, mostly because they never live up to the original, but I’m willing to make an exception when Emma Thompson is the star. That’s how I found myself at a showing this week of The Children Act, an almost-excellent film based on the novel of that name by Ian McEwan.

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’ve made it a rule to avoid politics on my author website and I don’t plan on breaking that dictum now, but the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh prompted one reader to ask whether I would make any changes if I were writing Hawke’s Return now. The question hit home because I’ve been thinking about it a lot myself.

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Back on the Radio After All These Years

I had a great time this month talking to Stephanie Fowler and Tony Russo about the release of Hawke’s Discovery on Maryland public radio. You can hear the interview here. Let me know what you think.

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Miriam Toews Keeps Getting Better

Miriam Toews has managed to do the seemingly impossible: Write a novel about depression and suicide that is funny, loving, witty, heartbreaking, clever, and insightful, all while contributing to the public debate over an individual’s right to die with dignity. Toews has long been a best-selling, award-winning author in her native Canada, but readers south of the border have been slow to discover her. All My Puny Sorrows, her sixth and arguably best novel, should change that.

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Ali Smith—Scottish, 55, fearless—has already made a reputation as one of most ambitious, offbeat, and mesmerizing novelists of our time. Now she’s pushing it a step further with an unusual “seasonal” quartet. The first two volumes, Autumn and Winter, are already out, and you better hurry up and read them because you want to be ready when Spring arrives. And it won’t be long.

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Richard Russo’s Take on Academia

I don’t normally use this space to review twenty-year-old books, but for Richard Russo, I’ll make an exception. Regular readers know I’m a huge Russo fan. He’s been a big influence on my own writing, and I thought I’d read everything he wrote. But last month a friend recommended one of his novels that I’d missed: Straight Man, published in 1997. It’s the funniest serious novel I’ve ever read.

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Let’s face it. For struggling authors, marketing and selling a published novel is at best a necessary evil—about as much fun as reading the Congressional Record (which, thankfully, I no longer have to do for work). We all tackle the marketing chores in whatever way we can because we know we have to, all the while hoping we’re not badgering and offending those on the receiving end of our too-frequent pitches.

But there’s one part of the process that is wonderful: Being a guest at a book club.

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Mark Willen