Three works of historical fiction chosen by a master of the form.
Laura Moriarty’s extraordinary debut, The Center of Everything, was a tender coming-of-age novel that captured the complexities of a fraught mother-daughter relationship. Her most recent work of fiction, The Chaperone, is the story of fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks, who leaves Wichita en route to showbiz fame in New York City circa 1922. Along the way, she chafes under the watchful eye of her thirty-six-year-old companion Cora. This week, Moriarty points us to her “three favorite works of historical fiction published in the last ten years.”
By Amor Towles
“New York City in the 1930s — it’s the Great Depression, but some people still have lots of money, and they’re having a grand time. The narrator is Katey Kontent, a well-read daughter of Russian immigrants who gains entrance into this lush world with a mix of luck, charm, and her ability to spar on demand. The writing is relentlessly good — I could have underlined every other sentence, and the shrewd Katey dispenses pearls of wisdom that seem true for any decade. I listened to The Rules of Civility on headphones while taking daily walks in the woods in Kansas, but the prose was so effortlessly detailed and luscious, I could have been strolling down 5th Avenue on a crisp fall day in 1938.”
By Lauren Groff
“I originally called this a list of my favorite ‘historical novels’, but I love this short-story collection so much, I widened the field. A few of these mesmerizing stories are contemporary, but many of them pull you into a different time: one story is set in 1918 New York, another in WWII France, another in 1950s Pennsylvania. I’m amazed at how quickly Groff creates a world with each story, and then how easily the pages turn. I taught some of these stories for my creative writing class at the University of Kansas, and the students were just blown away.”
By Lucia Orth
“Set in the Philippines during the brutal Marcos regime, the novel follows Doming, the Filipino driver for a US diplomat. A peaceful person, he’s simply trying to survive the increasing violence, but then he finds himself drawn to his employer’s isolated American wife, Rue. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (remember Imelda had all those shoes?) make an actual appearance in the book. Before reading Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, I had only a vague understanding of the inspiring history of the Philippines, but Orth’s vivid writing and sharply drawn characters made it come to life.”