The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier
I became a lover of Jorge Luis Borges’ writing in college. If you’re not familiar, he was an Argentinian writer who trafficked mostly in short stories that evoked magic realism and played with the ideas of authorship, fiction, and meta-reality. Brockmeier doesn’t get as deeply academic as Borges would, but still touches upon the same ideas. The Truth About Celia begins with the mysterious disappearance of the title character, the daughter of science fiction author Christopher Brooks. The book’s structure is that of a collection of short stories written in the seven years since she vanished that revolve around that tragedy. Some are directly about Celia other opt to explore more fantastical spaces.
At one point, Brooks latches onto the medieval legend of the green children of Woolpit, a supposedly true event where two strange green-skinned children showed up in a village speaking an unknown language and only consuming particular foods. The fictional author Brooks composes a story where his Celia is one of these lost children, tossed through time into the past. Another story involves the toy phone in her bedroom ringing one night and Brooks engaging in a series of conversations with her.
Celia is a very sad story, but a very rewarding one. It’s not a novel about the investigation of a child’s disappearance and very little closure ever comes in the book. It is a story about how people cope with tragedy, particularly parents when they lose their children. Brooks’ fiction becomes his tool to his heal his pain and invent infinite lives for his daughter.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I picked this novel off the shelf at a bookstore my sophomore year of college knowing absolutely nothing about it. Over a decade and a dozen books later I consider Japanese author Haruki Murakami one of our greatest living writers. Murakami is unlike anyone else you will ever read and has always felt more like film than literature. He’s about setting a mood and examining characters in their spaces. He’s about hinting at mystery and fantasy but never letting the lens explore it too closely.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle begins with protagonist Toru Okada’s cat running away. Okada begins searching his neighborhood and discovers the boarded up house next door and it’s well. Poking around the property leads him into encounters with a psychic prostitute, a teenage girl obsessed with the macabre, a veteran of World War II, and a truly evil politician. The novel operates as a series of interconnected vignettes and has a lot of Murakami’s common tropes. His main characters are wanderers and observers, they are passive to the point of frustration at many moments. But within that passivity is a sense of peace and stillness. Characters exist in the moment, conversations become the chief action of the story.
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
I was in the dorms the summer between my sophomore and junior year when I read this novel. I was blown away. It was my first encounter with Cormac McCarthy and I knew I had read one of the great American works of literature. Surprisingly, this is a variation on the story of Davy Crockett. That is never clear but if you are familiar with some of the tropes you begin to see them underneath the surface. The story follows a character known only as The Kid born under mysterious signs who encounter a powerful figure known as Judge Holden. Holden becomes a recurring figure throughout the novel and might possibly the Devil. The Kid ends up working to help expand America into the west by exterminating Apaches. The landscape becomes a surreal nightmare plane seen through the eyes of the Kid. Blood Meridian is one of those pieces of literature that you must imagine nearly killed the author to write. It is supremely intense, violent, and sprawling. It outright spits in the face of the romantic Western genre by making us seeing the horrible brutality and biblical horror of a lost time.