Georgia, Charlie, and Alice are Harvard students with lofty dreams of the future. Just before graduation, a close friend and classmate is found murdered on campus, and the charismatic professor they cherish becomes a prime suspect. Robin Kirman takes readers through the next decade of these three deeply intertwined lives, as they cope with adulthood whilst witnessing the unraveling of a teacher’s previously picture-perfect life. Each one of them must reckon with their own deceits, searching for forgiveness and enlightenment.
Set in the fictitious town of bleak Starkfield, Massachusetts, this story is about an impoverished and gloomy individual named Ethan Frome, a failing farmer in a loveless marriage with his aging and ailing wife, Zeena. When Zeena’s young cousin Mattie is employed as a “hired girl” to help with daily chores, he begins to feel sensations of happiness awaken in him that have been dormant for years. As Ethan and Mattie’s love grows for one another, they are discovered by a bitter Zeena, who carries out a shocking and grim end to this complex story by the inimitable Edith Wharton.
Strout expertly weaves thirteen rich narratives through one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge. Olive is a retired schoolteacher, resisting change in the little town where she resides, as well as in the surrounding world. Though averse to change, she isn’t so keen to recognize when the people around her are experiencing changes of their own. We’re guided through multiple stories, such as the lounge musician haunted by a past romance and Olive’s own daughter, who feels suppressed by her irrationality. As people around her grapple with their problems, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life—sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty.
These books—all set in New England—each feature parts of the Northern coastal setting. Some have waves crashing along the rocky coastline, others feature protagonists walking along the cobblestone streets of Boston’s Cambridge, and others take place in the drafty rooms of a rural home. But what these books all have in common is their exploration of the evolving American family. In these titles, we see a variety of tribulations that families can face; coming to terms with flaws, the ever-evolving norms of marriage and love, the simultaneous ache of child-rearing, and growing old are all deeply dissected and explored by very different female writers who use New England as the serene, and at times turbulent, backdrop for the varied perceptions, stories, and experiences of what it means to be a family.
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