Debut Novels by Women Writers to Keep You Sane over Break

Winter break is long. Sure, seeing high school friends is nice the first few times, but there’s only so much you can hear about how your friend loves her Big (or, Seniors, lets be real here — there’s only one friend that you still talk to from high school and you are probably getting fairly sick of each other at this point). Even though I’m an English major and book lover, the idea of cracking open a book post-finals is a little bit daunting. At this point, your Netflix queue has been exhausted, you’ve drank all of your Mom’s cooking wine leftover from the holidays, and your brain has been on hiatus for so long that it’s beginning to flatline. These are perhaps signs that it’s time to dip your toes back into productivity and there’s no better way to do that than reading some of this past year’s bestsellers. 2015 was a banner year for women writers, particularly young up and comers such as Lauren Holmes and Alexandra Kleeman, both debut authors whose work received a great deal of critical acclaim. Kleeman and Holmes are just two amongst many of the many impressive women writers that left us excited and eager to see what 2016 and the coming years have in store for them. So, without further ado, six books to keep you sane over winter break:

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

New York Times’ journalist Stephanie Clifford’s first novel follows the members of New York City’s elite during the fervid period preceding the 2008 financial crisis. In many ways, Everybody Rise is a tale as old as time- the novel’s protagonist, Evelyn Beegan is a perpetual outsider. While she attended the prestigious Sheffield Academy, a fictional, elite New England Boarding school, she can’t seem to penetrate New York’s upper crust. However, a new job at a social media startup called “People Like Us,” promises exclusive access into the in-crowd. What ensues is a turbulent ride through Manhattan’s upper echelon, from debutant balls to weekends at her friend’s Adirondack camps. Clifford’s keen eye for the acid underneath New York’s social scene gives the novel a modern-day House of Mirth vibe while also paying homage to Whit Stillman’s 1990 film “Metropolitan.” 

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes

This is not your typical English professor-curated collection of short stories. The collection’s title says it all- all of the subjects of Holmes’s short stories are grappling with identity and loneliness. In the book’s title story, “Barbara the Slut,” a high school senior tries to balance her loves for sex, math, and her autistic younger brother. “Weekend with Beth, Kelly, Muscle and Pammy” is a modern take on “When Harry Met Sally,” about a feeble 20-something who is paid a visit by his college best friend, who he wonders why he’s never slept with.  Holmes’s writing is sharp but not scathing, and she captures her story’s sympathetic underdogs with humor, wit and heart.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

Admittedly, I was a little salty about July’s novel before I read it. Before her book’s release, July was already successful screenwriter, director and actress — and now that she’s a New York Times bestselling author, it really seems like there’s nothing that she can’t do. Naturally, a girl gets a bit jealous. However, reading July’s debut novel was an emotional experience. Its protagonist is Cheryl Glickman, an invisible woman (imagine Flax clothes, grey roots, and a pervasive lack of self-fulfillment) who is hopelessly in love with her co-worker, who craves her acceptance before he consummates his relationship with a much younger woman. Glickman has an inexplicable love for an imaginary baby named Kubelko Bondy, who appears to hear through the vessel of other people’s children. Being the accommodator that Cheryl is, she agrees to house her boss’s 20-year-old daughter, Klee. The two’s relationship begins violently, but takes a tender turn later in the novel. July touches more closely to the intensely human desire to be loved and needed than most writers even get close to, and her first novel is a must read.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll 

Gone Girl fans, rejoice. Jessica Knoll’s book will have you dragging her book everywhere from car rides to the bathroom — it is simply unputdownable.  The author’s debut novel begins with “I inspected the knife in my hand,” but the novel’s protagonist Ani hasn’t killed anyone (or has she?) she’s shopping at Williams Sonoma with her near-perfect, basically-a-Kennedy fiancee. Ani Fanelli has starved, manicured, and coiffed her way to the top after a mysterious accident in high school, and she will do anything to maintain her reinvented status. Knoll’s experience as a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan exerts a clear influence over her writing. She has a sharp eye for details, and fans of fashion and shameless indulgence will enjoy the impeccable detail afforded to character’s looks and dress. While the book topped summer beach read lists, it is great to fill unoccupied winter break hours. 

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

Try not to seethe with jealousy over 20-something Kleeman’s already envious resume — she has already been published in n+1, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and Guernica, amongst many. Her debut novel explores, of course, the body as a vessel for our fears, hopes, vices, amongst many. The books protagonist, A, subsists entirely on reality TV and orange slices. Her roommate, B, seemingly wants to possess A and wear her skin, and her boyfriend, C, seems kind of like an asshole. After C breaks up with A, A decides to join a cult, The Church of Conjoined Eaters, where the members wear startlingly KKK-like uniforms and eat only processed snack cakes. Kleeman’s style takes no shortcuts; it is existential and cerebral, and takes many dark turns: “Living wasn’t a matter of right or wrong or ethics or self-expression. There was no better way to live, or worse. It was all terrible, and you had to do it constantly.” 

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Okay, this one’s a bit of a cheat — Groff isn’t a newcomer, in fact she’s a literary veteran. But her fourth novel isn’t one to be missed. Obama chose Groff’s book as his 2015 pick of the year, and he is in good company —Amazon also chose it as their book of the year, and it received glowing reviews from both the LA Times and the Washington Post. Groff’s fourth novel tells the story of an epic marriage through first the husband and then the wife’s viewpoint. The title and themes throughout the novel evoke mythological influence, and the character’s pasts and unfolding presents lead us to question how in control we mere humans are and whether or not we really are at the mercy of Fate. While bracketed authorial input throughout the book lends to a self-important tone, the novel’s downsides also works in its favor; every sentence in this two-part novel feels unequivocally important. Groff has proved herself a master of epicurean details, hair is described as “leonine,” a bruise is a pair of “twin purple grapes.” Groff’s talent is inarguable, her writing even receiving praise from the notoriously-grumpy New Yorker critic James Wood. A particularly beautiful line, “Her loneliness was so huge it took the form of the upstairs hallway, dark and lines with locked doors.” 

Letter From the Editors

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