Welcome to “Front-to-Backlist,” my attempt as a book reviewer to help you find more titles to love. The concept is simple: I’ll take one or more present-day titles (sometimes bestsellers/buzzed about, sometimes not) and tell you why they’re terrific — then tell you about another book from the past that you might enjoy as well.
For this first column, let me be blunt: Everyone is looking for this year’s Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn’s third novel set beach blankets ablaze last year with her incredibly suspenseful tale of a marriage gone wrong. Is there an equivalent for 2013?
I think I’ve got it — but you probably haven’t heard of it yet, and that is in no small part because Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls, lives in South Africa. We’re notoriously bad in the U.S. at promoting authors who live outside of our own borders (the few exceptions, like Helen Fielding, Stieg Larsson, and Oliver Poetzsch, just prove the rule), and even though this novel of Depression-era Chicago and a time-traveling serial killer is about as fast-paced a thriller as you’ll meet, you might miss it if you’re too busy gazing at the bestseller rack. Peel your eyes away from there and feast them on this mashup of noir, sci-fi, and historical–I guarantee you’ll be fascinated.
Beukes has woven a singular tale in The Shining Girls, but her foremother in fiction isn’t difficult to pinpoint. Where would Beukes be without Margaret Atwood? If you do love The Shining Girls, I highly recommend you turn back a decade and pick up The Blind Assassin, the lauded Canadian’s novel-within-a-novel about a purported 1945 death woven together with a science-fiction story that will challenge all of your assumptions about narrative.
Your best option? Buy both of these books and settle in for a long, Labor Day weekend’s worth of great fiction choices.