LJ Best Books 2017

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Librarians’ Best Books of 2011: T√©a Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Yannick Murphy’s The Call

Maura Deedy, head of Reference and Adult Services, Weymouth Public Libraries, MA, loves The Tiger’s Wife (Random) by Téa Obreht and The Call (HarperPerennial) by Yannick Murphy, both linked by the roles animals play in our lives.

What We Said About The Tiger’s Wife:

Demanding one’s full attention, this complex, humbling, and beautifully crafted debut from one of The New Yorker‘s 20 Under 40 is highly recommended for anyone seriously interested in contemporary fiction.

What She Says:

A nominee for the National Book Award for fiction, Téa Obreht’s stunning debut will most likely find its way onto many best-of lists, and deservedly so. It couples rich, emotional storytelling about love and loss‚ and their intersection‚ with superstitions and folk tales that are shared in the face of grief and destruction.

Many have pointed out Obreht’s bewitching use of language. It truly has the air of the mystical, gently weaving a world that is both strange and familiar. Our guide to the parallel narratives of the present and past is Natalia, a young woman trying to deal with the death of her beloved M.D. grandfather while on a mission to inoculate orphans. Her search for answers into his disappearance (it seems he chose to die away from home, but why?) leads to memories of his taking her to the local zoo to admire the tiger and coming of age in a small town in the midst of controversy involving a different tiger, a butcher, his deaf-mute wife, and a hunter.

The value and veracity of oral narrative come through, even as long-form spoken storytelling is being lost today in all of our text messages and tweets. Reading the passages about Natalia and her grandfather visiting the zoo made me wish I had listened more carefully to the stories of my grandmother and father. Oral history, of course, has the unique advantage of being muted over time, twisted and turned to serve our interests. But can it still offer clarify in its imperfection? Seeing no other way, Natalia seeks to solve the mysteries of her grandfather’s life by turning back to the stories he told her about the deathless man‚ another recurring figure‚ and the tiger’s wife, the name given to the butcher’s wife owing to her affinity with the tiger.

Not only do readers experience the rich folklore, but they also find themselves at the center of a culture besieged by war, in almost every generation. Clearly, violence has affected all the characters, even the tigers, but Obreht shies away from editorializing, instead positioning her modern narrator at the intersection of the old and the new. It’s familiar and fresh storytelling in the most comforting ways, the kind of enveloping fiction I love to read, with characters that lure and linger. With appeal to YAs.

Maura’s Favorite Passage:

The sound‚ the only sound he ever heard her make, when she had made no sound over broken bones and bruises that spread like continents over her body‚ went through him like a rifle report and left him there, left him paralyzed. She was naked, furious, and he knew suddenly that she had learned to make that sound mimicking a face that wasn’t human.

What We Said About The Call:

Murphy’s eye for small-town detail and human/animal relations makes for a complex, delicate story line, and the novel as a whole carries a very real human velocity and gravity. The domestic focus and unexpected intrusions recall fiction by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. Engaging and acutely modern, this work will appeal to many readers.

What She Says:

I picked up The Call on a whim, maybe because I just moved to Boston, and the New England setting appealed to me. Or maybe it was the cow on the cover or the blurb on IndieBound.

Spanning a year, and told in a series of call reports, it is the story of a New England veterinarian, his wife, their children, and their animal friends. Their family is immediately familiar in their rhythm and routines, which are shattered when the son is shot in a hunting accident. The veterinarian searches for the person responsible, just as he starts to hear messages from spacemen and sees UFOs. He’s trying to hold himself and his family together.

Murphy has a knack for reproducing the patterns of domestic life and capturing the small moments that make a home. It’s a sweet, funny, and completely inventive story. Murphy is most elegant in her simple writing, focusing on the emotions and actions of this family.

As a newlywed, I found the novel also to be about the intimacy and complexity of marriage. I thought I would tire of the call report narrative style, but I loved it‚ a direct line into the conscious of the vet. I would recommend it to readers who like popular fiction about domestic life and relationships with a slight twist and a little edge.

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Heather McCormack About Heather McCormack

Heather McCormack (hmccormack@mediasourceinc.com, HuisceBeatha on Twitter) is Editor, Book Review for Library Journal.