Five Books That Mix the Everyday with the Supernatural

Curtis Sittenfeld's Sisterland

Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest, Sisterland, follows a pair of twin psychics whose joint prediction of a coming earthquake has life-changing results—but it’s equally invested in the more universal experience of sisterhood, and the ordinary magic of family ties. Sittenfeld isn’t the only one blurring the lines between literary and genre fiction: supernatural elements add a depth charge to books that are otherwise set in a recognizable world, and there’s no time like summer to settle down with a good work of uncanny fiction. Here are some of my favorites:

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. The earth’s axis slows without warning or reason in this fantastic work of speculative fiction, which focuses on the global catastrophe’s effects on a school-age girl and her parents. As days and nights lengthen, plants wither, and people go off the grid, the young protagonist undergoes her own, more quiet traumas: losing a best friend, falling in love, and clocking the ebb and flow of her parents’ foundering marriage.

The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta. In Perrotta’s imagining, the Rapture arrives with a whimper, not a bang. One day, millions of people all over the world simply vanish—not in groups, but at random, disappearing before the eyes of the “leftovers”: everyone too lucky or cursed to be taken away. Perrotta never tries to explain the event, or to speculate whether it’s rooted in religion, instead exploring the traumatized lives of the leftovers, who variously tune in, drop out, join cults, or descend into depression or worse.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. As a little girl, Bender’s protagonist discovers her ability to taste people’s emotions—and even divine snippets of their lives—from the food that they make. There are intimations that she comes from a magical family (her brother is a reclusive genius with a supernatural secret, her father refuses to go into hospitals for a reason he won’t divulge), but the story primarily covers its narrator’s emotional journey from food refugee to embracer of her questionable gift.

Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson. Alif is the pseudonym of a powerful hacker living in an unnamed emirate, accustomed to living his life online. But when the woman he loves is promised in marriage to a powerful man, high up in the city’s ruthless security branch, Alif becomes a target. While on the run, he slips unwillingly into a twilight city lying alongside his own: a city of supernatural magic and djinns, where Wilson seamlessly fuses Alif’s technological marvels with magic of a more ancient kind.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Ursula Todd is stillborn, dead before she takes her first breath. Ursula Todd is a little girl, killed off by scarlet fever. Ursula Todd is a woman, crushed in the London Blitz. She lives and dies, again and again, and in each life accretes a bit more knowledge, a bit more second sight, that will shadow her lifetimes to come and even determine the way she chooses to live or die. Atkinson’s gorgeous book attempts no explanation for why Ursula is chosen for this constant rebirth without reincarnation, instead using it as a template to explore the changing destinies of one woman and the unchangeable fate of her age.

  • Heather Scott-Penselin

    You have the title wrong of one of the books – it is the particular sadness of lemon cake not peculiar sadness.

    • Melissa Albert

      *facepalm* Thanks for the catch; it’s been updated!

  • Ana Berkovich

    I absolutely loved Life After Life! I can’t wait to read it again. I’ll have to look into some of the other books; I have been looking for something similar to Life After Life since I finished it. The Age of Miracles sounds fabulous!

  • ProgressiveVoice

    It would be so cool if I could click a button and put all of these books on my wish list. sigh

    • Melinda Colos

      like Jimmy answered I’m blown away that a mom able to profit $4080 in 4 weeks on the internet. did you see this website w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

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