Here’s what I took to WBRC Fox 6 Good Day Alabama this month: three works of fiction that are pure escapism. Get even farther away on your next trip away.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
This fantasy book, published in 2014 and on my really long reading list since then, is a bit of a nightmare come to life. And it’s entirely compelling and unputdownable. The book spans lives, genres (from realism to fantasy), decades and the globe—beginning in 1980s Great Britain and ultimately ending in a dystopian, too-near future that really did keep me up at night. The book starts and ends with Holly Sykes. When we first meet Holly, she’s a 15-year-old girl who lives in London. As a small child, she heard voices in her head; she called them “the Radio People.” Turns out, Holly’s psychically sensitive and that attracts the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics. A lost weekend ends in a tragedy that forever scarred her family and follows Holly for the rest of her long life. And she unknowingly becomes an important participant in a war between two psychic factions. Each engrossing chapter is narrated by an intersecting character, five in all, and Mitchell does this brilliantly. This book, by the bestselling author of Cloud Atlas, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize (I generally love these picks) and named One of the Top Ten Fiction Books of the Year by Time, Entertainment Weekly, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Additionally, it was a New York Times Notable Book, an American Library Association Notable Book and Winner of the World Fantasy Award. It’s one of the best things I’ve read this year.
The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale
I listened to this debut novel (fairly new as it was published last December) while walking during the past few weeks, and it made me get my feet moving even on the hottest (and rainiest) days. That’s a great way to approach this novel, which is very much voice driven. It’s about three women—Delphine, Margaux and Lindsay—all brilliant ballerinas who met as students at the Paris Opera Ballet School. It’s a mystery-thriller at heart with an interesting, atmospheric view into the rarefied world of professional dance. Set mostly in Paris, the story centers around, and is narrated by, Delphine Léger who abandoned her soloist spot at the POB for a new life in St. Petersburg (she also was hoping to leave behind a haunting secret). But secrets have a way of following a person and most ultimately do not stay hidden. When Delphine returns 13 years later to choregraph a ballet that she hopes will right past wrongs, restart her career and reconnect her to her oldest friends, she finds that a lot has changed, and her memories of their childhood together are not altogether reliable. The story alternates between their teen years and the present. You realize pretty quickly that this book is going to be somewhat dark and plenty twisty. “Ballerinas are like pointe shoes,” Delphine tells us, “You have to break them down before they’re of any use.” Kapelke-Dale writes with insight: She spent years in intensive ballet training before receiving a BA from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She currently lives in Paris.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
This historical novel is about the thousands of orphan children sent to the American Midwest from New York and other Eastern cities to help populate rural parts of our country. It’s also about a mostly forgotten chapter in our country’s history. The “orphan trains” ran between 1854 and 1929, with thousands of abandoned children on board. What happened when they arrived in the mostly small farm towns was often a matter of luck. Some were adopted by loving families. Others were considered cheap labor and consigned to a life of servitude. This book tells the fictionalized story of Vivian, who as a young Irish immigrant, was on one of those trains. She returned back East later in life and now is an elderly woman living in a large home on the coast of Maine, her attic full of trunks full of memorabilia from a turbulent past. A 17-year-old girl named Molly is helping Vivian go through these trunks; it’s a community service project that will keep Molly out of juvenile hall. Molly also is an orphan who has been in and out of foster homes. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider who has been raised by strangers. And, like Vivian, Molly has unanswered questions about her past. The book moves between present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, and ultimately, it’s a story of resilience and second chances and friendship.
I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.