There are all kinds of novels that build upon real-life events. Some borrow characters from everyday life, some are inspired by true events, and some turn fact into fiction. Here are five such titles, each spanning the real vs. imagined line in varying degrees.
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer (Houghton Mifflin). The literary friendship of real-life writers Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell serves as the jumping off point for Bauer’s quiet and luminous story of novelist Frances and poet Bernard, whose courtship through letters and their ultimately rocky relationship make evocative use of both literary and biographical references.
Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois (Random). Inspired by the real-life events of the Amanda Knox case, duBois tells the story of an American exchange student studying in Argentina. Like Knox, Lily Hayes is accused of murdering her roommate. While some of the book mirrors the actual case point by point, the novel itself is less sensationalized and far more concerned with character as it leisurely unwinds.
Hild by Nicola Griffith (Farrar). The tale of a young girl who will become St. Hilda of Whitby unfolds in vivid and lush prose as Griffith re-creates the ruthless and bloody landscape of seventh-century Britain from a decidedly female perspective. Hild, a determined young girl, boldly strides through these times, rising to guide a king and grow into her own power.
Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips (Scribner). The 1931 trial of a serial killer forms the borders of Phillips’s haunting novel in which Cornelius Pierson mesmerizes and lures Asta Eicher and her three children to his West Virginia home. None of the Eichers survives the encounter. Phillips’s literary blend of fiction and true crime also follows the happier plotline of Emily Thornhill, an intrepid reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who investigates Pierson and reports on the trial.
Guests on Earth by Lee Smith (Shannon Ravenel: Algonquin). A fictionalized version of Zelda Fitzgerald and the hospital in which she died are featured in Smith’s story of Evalina Toussaint, who, at the age of 13, is sent to Highland Hospital as a ward, rather than a patient. Slowly finding her feet in her new surroundings, Evalina makes the hospital her home, and her life intertwines with those of the hospital’s patients and staff, creating a touching story.