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July 27, 2022

2 Books of Literary Fiction You Will Want to Read

by MK French

July has definitely been a hot month and not just because of the record-setting temperatures. So many great novels came out this month that it was been difficult to get to them all. Today, I have a couple of literary novels that you will want to make sure is on your reading list.

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Sirens & Muses by Antonia Angress

book cover of literary novel Sirens and Muses by Antonia Angress
July 2022; Ballantine Books; 978-0593496435
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); literary

In 2011, students at the elite Wrynn College of Arts are in a bubble separate from the tumultuous outside world of New York City. Louisa is a transfer student and is soon enamored with her roommate Karina. The two become entwined sensually and artistically, but Karina can't let go of her fascination with Preston. The anti-capitalist Preston is publicly feuding with political painter Robert Berger, a visiting professor. Preston develops an elaborate hoax, and all four are sucked deeply into it. Now they must determine what is genuine or lose themselves.

Louisa is depicted from the start as relatively innocent of the world, homesick for the Acadian countryside of Louisiana where she grew up. Karina is her opposite, the worldly and sophisticated art student looking for grand meaning in everything; I find her to be pretentious, the nearly twenty-year-old so certain she knows everything and school can't really teach her. She's grown up in the art world, after all, and the rest of the people around her have similar attitudes. These generally aren't the kind of people that I enjoy being around in real life, and I don't like them much better in fiction form.

We see New York City and its art world in 2011, as well as the changing landscape of what it takes to maintain popularity in that scene. Not to mention how small it actually is, in that even leaving Wynne after Preston's hoax they continue to see each other or mention each other. The hoax itself was NOT funny, and trying to say it was a political statement was still a bad move; it definitely solidified the hypocrisy of Preston's position, and how thin the veneer of art and politics can be. 

This is a well-written book, but we're spending time with some deeply flawed, unpleasant people. It's when all of them step out from the shield of academia and relying on others for a sense of self that they start to grow up. Once that happens, they start feeling real, and I connected with them better. I never like Preston, and Louisa very much is reactionary rather than planning for the future. My perception of Karina changed over the course of the story, and she wasn't the same person she was at the start. In a way, I feel sad for Karina and Robert (not Preston) because once they got over the inflated importance of who they thought they were supposed to be, they had the potential to actually be likable. Louisa didn't have much of a presence as a person, as she was more reactive than proactive. Like most people affected by the high cost of living in New York City, the race for money and stability leads to very different choices than they'd make elsewhere. I do wish them luck for the future.

Buy Sirens & Muses at Amazon

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

book cover of Hispanic American literary novel The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
July 2022; Del Rey; 978-0593355336
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); literary

Carlota Moreau, the scientist's only daughter, lives a pampered but isolated life far from strife on the Yucat√°n peninsula. Montgomery Laughton assists her father in his experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes. Their everyday life is upset with Eduardo Lizalde arriving, exposing secrets and passions that had long been as hidden as the creatures Moreau created.

It's a very lushly written novel, with the innocent Carlota loving her father and the hybrids that had been created so far. She is ill and needs weekly treatments, as do the hybrids. Laughton is an indebted alcoholic running errands for the estate, and Dr. Moreau is a haughty, religious man that is continuing to do research despite dwindling funds. Eduardo and his cousin are entitled young men, used to getting what they want without question. Of course, Eduardo wants Carlota, pretty and innocent, blushing at his compliments and not understanding why some of his statements or requests aren't proper for a young lady. His cousin, strongly religious and dour, distrusts the Moreau household from the start and is determined to put a wrench in the blooming romance between Eduardo and Carlota and leave right away.

Some of the secrets in the estate could certainly be guessed at, but for the individuals in the story, they're utterly devastating. It changes the shape of the final third of the novel, and we see the characters for who they are, the thin veneer of "society" stripped away at last. We see what unfettered power and money really do, and how pure intellect isn't necessarily any better than pure instinct. That isn't a dichotomy that's overtly presented, but does seem to hover in the background. Who is actually human, the animalistic-looking hybrids created to serve, or the mortals that would finance or create such people? In the background is the Mayan revolution, a very real uprising that took place in Mexico. The class structure is explicitly referenced, and shown to be the farce that it is, upheld to make those in power feel better about themselves.

As with other novels by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, there are so many layers not just to the characters but for the plot and the location. None of it is an accident, and the care taken shows. This is another brilliant novel that she's written, and one I couldn't put down.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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