Fan Fiction

Each of author Amor Towles’ bestselling books, “The Lincoln Highway,” “A Gentleman in Moscow,” and “Rules of Civility,” is surprisingly different from the others, and each has earned a spot on my highly recommended list.

Published April 13, 2024 12:59 AM
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Each of author Amor Towles’ bestselling books, “The Lincoln Highway,” “A Gentleman in Moscow,” and “Rules of Civility,” is surprisingly different from the others, and each has earned a spot on my highly recommended list. His latest addition, “Table for Two,” is another unexpected read, this time with a collection of wide-ranging stories within the same book.

Towles presents a sophisticated set of short stories, written in the last 10 years, in his characteristically transportive style. Six bicoastal stories set in New York, most around the year 2000, and a novella set in Hollywood’s golden era. It’s wonderful fiction that explores class, the lure of status, marriage, and love.

Meet a Russian couple whose lives are defined by waiting on interminable lines, a husband with an embarrassing secret that threatens his marriage, a wife whose husband has a condition that tests the power of true commitment, a struggling writer who turns to dangerous activities in the pursuit of the high life.

The second half features a noirish novella following the spirited character of Evelyn Ross from “Rules of Civility.” She leaves New York for home, but makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to instead train to California. The story is set in the 1920s, and Evelyn is determined to make it in the heyday of the studio system, amid a colorful mix of movie moguls, famous Hollywood actresses, and old- school gumshoe detectives.

This clever collection showcases Towles’ artful approach to setting, tone, and character. As Towles notes in his letter to readers, many of these stories illustrate how “lives can often change materially because of a single conversation at a table for two.”

Having been an admirer of Anna Quindlen since her early days as an opinion columnist for The New York Times, I’ve always appreciated her unique female perspective on life and family. Over the years, I’ve read many of her intelligent and emotionally resonant books, and her latest work, “After Annie,” is another example.

In this story, Quindlen explores the struggle of transcending the heartbreak of a devastating loss. The sudden death of a vibrant and beloved wife, mother, and friend shatters the lives of those left behind. They are thrust into a journey of grief — all trying to navigate life without the central figure who anchored them.

Quindlen has written poignantly before on the subject of loss in her semi-autobiographical “One True Thing,” about a young woman putting her life on hold to care for her mother who is dying of cancer (made into a movie that earned Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination). Her characters strive to find strength to move forward and find hope. That earlier book was a standout. This one may hit home too for some fans.

“Huckleberry Finn,” dubbed “The Great American Novel” and recognized as “the book that shaped America” by the

Library of Congress, was originally perceived as merely a sequel to the popular children’s tale, “Tom Sawyer.” It elicited both outrage at the use of col- loquial American dialogue and praise as a masterpiece. Having read this remarkable novel as an adult many years ago, it still remains one of my favorite books.

Percival Everett’s new novel “James” is a modern take on this classic tale. Narrated from the perspective of the enslaved Jim, this is a daring reimagining of the story of the journey of Huck’s and Jim’s escape. The focus is on James (Jim) and a portrayal of his life as a self-educated man who disguises his intellect with “slave speak” (“my massa”) to avoid appearing threatening to whites.

There are satirical scenes and characters that echo the original story, but the author intensifies the brutality and violence within the slave society; the trauma of a young woman raped by her owner, a slave hanged for stealing a pencil. Everett endows Jim with agency and a new voice, allowing imaginary discussions with Voltaire on literature and philosophy.

This bold work comes from an audacious author whom I have now learned also wrote the source material (“Erasure”) for the hilarious Oscar- nominated film “American Fiction,” a biting commentary on racial stereotypes. Mark Twain’s beloved novel has fortuitously led me to discover a new-to-me writer and his innovative literary fiction.

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