Fiction for the Road
Here in D.C., we know traffic. Consistently ranking in the top 10 cities for worst traffic congestion, it is not uncommon for Washingtonians to sit in their cars for hours on end just to get to work every day.
My commute is no different, but nothing makes me forget that I'm going 5 miles per hour on I-66 along with hundreds of other cranky commuters quite as fast as a good story. So I have compiled a list of some of the more entertaining, fast-moving, dazzling plotlines that might just have you looking forward to that morning grind.
Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet
While on their honeymoon, Deb and Chip befriend a Marine Biologist who discovers mermaids in a coral reef just off the coast of their Caribbean resort. They lead an expedition to film the mermaids in their natural habitat and start making plans to go public with conservation efforts.
All is well until the resort’s “parent company” steps in, paying off members of the crew and making plans of their own for an elaborate tourist attraction. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lydia Millet leads this satirical tale through twists and turns with a commanding group of colorful characters, toward an ending you won’t soon forget.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
When Park So-Nyo goes missing at a Seoul train station on the way to visit her children, her family tries to piece together what went wrong throughout the course of the day, and their lives. Told from four different perspectives, this is the beautifully written story of a family coming of age in South Korea and the hardships that come with outgrowing their rural home, moving to the big city, and staying connected with their aging parents.
Author Kyung-Sook Shin hooks the reader/listener from the very beginning when each step toward finding “mom” only takes us further into her past. For those listening on audiobook, each new vantage point is read by a different narrator.
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Set in 1876 San Fransisco amidst a blistering heat wave and a smallpox epidemic, Frog Music follows Blanche Beunon, the city’s most popular burlesque dancer, as she tries to find out who murdered her new friend Jenny Bonnet. The story takes place in the period of one month and jumps back and forth between the first meeting of Jenny and Blanche to the aftermath of Jenny’s murder. It is based on a true life crime that was never solved and steeped heavily in the politics of the day.
Between the narrator's French accent, Jenny's quirky songs scattered throughout, and Donoghue’s descriptively detailed telling of the story, this audiobook will transport you to life on the west coast in the late 19th century.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This one is for those of you who like a good love story with your morning coffee. But keep the Kleenex close by.
When 26-year-old Louisa Clark (Lou) is laid off from her long-time job as a waitress at the Buttered Bun, her financial situation forces her to take a job as a caregiver. She is hired by Camilla Traynor to help care for her son Will, a quadriplegic injured in a motorbike accident. It is made immediately clear that she is not there to attend to his physical needs, but to his deteriorating emotional state. After a bumpy start, the two begin to see that they might have a bit more in common than not.
Moyes’ relatable tone and Lou’s carefree spirit make the plot line of this bestseller move quickly, and you’ll find yourself contemplating some deeply emotional themes without even realizing it.
Faithful Place by Tana French
This is the third book in Tana French’s loosely related series of crime thrillers. It follows In the Woods and The Likeness. Faithful Place is the small neighborhood just outside of Dublin where Frank Mackey grew up. It is a place where jobs are few and far between and everyone’s private business is a public commodity. Frank and his girlfriend, the beautiful Rosie Daly, decide at 19 years old to run away together to England and start a new life.
Frank waits all night for Rosie at their rendezvous in Faithful Place. When she doesn’t show up, he takes a vague goodbye note as a sign that she has gone without him. Heartbroken, he heads off to Dublin to start a new life on his own.
Twenty-two years later, with a job as an undercover cop, one daughter, and a divorce under his belt, Frank has to return to Faithful Place for the first time since he left at 19. Rosie’s suitcase has been found, hidden in a long-abandoned house, with passport and train tickets still inside. Though he has sworn to never return, Frank finds himself in the middle of a heart-wrenching cold case, confronting a tumultuous family history he thought he had left behind.
Listen to this one for an hour in the morning and your inner voice will have a lovely Irish accent for the rest of the day.
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Astonish Me is the story of Joan Joyce, a young ballet dancer who finds herself the main accomplice to the defection of world-famous Russian dancer Arslan Rusakov in 1975 New York City. What follows is a passionate but short-lived love affair that leaves Joan heartbroken and questioning her place in the ballet world.
In 1977, Joan has a fling with an old friend Jacob, and when she discovers that she’s pregnant, she quits ballet and settles down with Jacob across the country in California. Joan realizes that she could never really leave ballet and becomes a dance instructor. Her son Harry and his best friend Chloe quickly become her best pupils. When Harry is accepted into a prestigious dance program in New York City, Joan finds herself pulled back into the whirlwind life she left long ago and back in touch with Arslan.
Shipstead effortlessly balances the dazzling and cutthroat world of professional ballet with the intricacies and subtleties of family life in this entertaining story that will engulf you from the start. If you have to sit in stop-and-go traffic. at least your mind can be spinning and jumping across a stage.