As COVID-19 has driven us indoors, let your mind explore with great storytelling. These ten novels are each a celebration and exploration of place in fiction.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Place: Savannah, Georgia
A gripping, entertaining, and lusciously atmospheric nonfiction novel following the story of an eccentric antiques dealer on trial for the murder of a male prostitute. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a smash hit best-seller in the mid-90s, becoming the longest-standing New York Times best-seller, with 216 weeks.
The Poisonwood Bible
Place: Belgian Congo
Barbara Kingsolver’s best-selling novel follows the Price family, a missionary family who, in 1959, move to the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo. Told by the matriarch and her four daughters, the novel is a vivid and epic family drama spanning three decades set in postcolonial Africa.
A biting satire of contemporary family life and academia, Don DeLillo’s break-out novel tells the story of Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler Studies at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. Jack and his fourth wife, along with their brood of children and stepchildren, are bound by an insatiable fear of death. When a toxic black cloud appears over the idyllic town, Gladney–along with his family and his colleagues–must confront their own mortality.
A Gentleman in Moscow
Place: Metropol Hotel, Moscow
An intoxicating and bewitching novel that follows Count Alexander Rostov, a thirty-year-old Russian aristocrat sentenced by the Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest in the grand Metropol Hotel. Confined to a cramped attic room, the Count soon uses his wit and ingenuity to discover a new way of life in unfamiliar surroundings. Soon, after forging friendships with hotel staff and other guests, the Count is caught up in a young girls fight for freedom.
Place: London, slums and aristocracy
Dickens’s most ambitious novel, Bleak House is an epic novel that explores the interconnections and relationships of a disparate and eclectic group of characters, drawn together by the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The novel is a panoramic view of the London metropolis during the Victorian era: from menacing lawyers, statesmen, and slumlords to destitute child-workers.
Place: Empire Falls, Maine
A masterpiece by one of America’s best storytellers, Richard Russo’s fifth novel–winner of the Pulitzer Prize–tells the story of Miles Roby, the proprietor of Empire Grill, a greasy-spoon diner that was once, twenty years ago, an opportunity of his youth. Now, years later, with a divorce pending, a troubled sibling, and a peculiar business partnership with the town’s matriarch–Miles must wrestle with the echoes of his past while he guides himself and his teenage daughter through a tumultuous year in Empire Falls.
Place: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia
Grady Tripp is a middle-aged pot head, a failed husband, a professor of English, and a once-successful novelist who’s struggling on his follow-up novel. A modern Homeric odyssey on the streets of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys is a rollicking, wickedly funny, and poignant story of friendship, past promise, and the virtue of letting go.
Queen of the Night
A dazzling and bewitching tale of past selves and the lengths we go to change our stories. Alexander Chee’s second novel is the story of Lilliet Berne, the jewel of the Paris Opera scene. When Lilliet is offered an original role in a new opera, she is alarmed to discover the opera is based on her own past–a secret past she’s been trying to outrun.
Place: Mississippi River
The classic tale–perhaps the Great American Novel–of Huck and Jim as they escape downriver toward freedom. A raucous, bittersweet, and deliciously eccentric novel about the perils of self-reinvention and the virtue of friendship.
A Sport and a Pastime
Place: Provincial France
Jame’s Salter’s classic novel is the story of the romance between a Yale dropout and a young French woman, set against the pastoral backdrop of provincial France. The novel is at once a lush, erotic fever dream and a voyeur’s confessional. Salter’s dazzling prose and the novel’s enigmatic narrator have bewitched readers since its publication in 1967.