Karen Joy Fowler's 6 favorite books about 'almost magical' women

The novelist recommends works by Michelle Cliff, Brian Doyle, and more

Karen Joy Fowler
(Image credit: Photo by Beth Gwinn/Courtesy KarenJoyFowler.com)

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston (Vintage, $15). A longtime favorite of mine. Technically a memoir, The Woman Warrior becomes almost magical through its inclusion of folk tales, dreams, and revisions. Varied in its narrative strategies, shimmering in its language, sharp in its subject matter, Kingston's 1976 book remains a true tour de force.

Free Enterprise by Michelle Cliff (City Lights, $15). Another book I keep returning to is Cliff's 1993 novel, inspired by the life of one of John Brown's co-conspirators. Blending voices and events, fiction and nonfiction, image and character, it limns a path to the ghosts created and then forgotten by history. Beautifully rendered and mythic in its sensibility.

Hild by Nicola Griffith (Picador, $18). Another blend of the historical and the fictional. Hild imagines the early life of St. Hilda, a teenage seer who ended as an abbess. Writer Annalee Newitz called this book a "skeptical fantasy novel," which feels exactly right. The magic is Griffith's, in creating such a vivid and immersive A.D. 600.

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Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman (Scribner, $25). Many of the stories in Bergman's new collection belong on this list, but I'll particularly recommend "The Siege at Whale Cay," about the very real Standard Oil heiress Marion "Joe" Carstairs, and "The Pretty, Grown-Together Children," about the equally real conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton.

Mink River by Brian Doyle (Oregon State Univ., $19). There are magical men and magical crows in the fictional town of Neawanaka, Oregon. Still, Neawanaka's nonmagical women more than hold their own. Doyle's 2011 novel is a new and really exciting discovery for me. I'm still under its spell and hope to remain there.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (Random House, $25). All best-of lists should close with the amazing Kelly Link. Her stories are the most overtly fantastical on this list. She makes us believe. I'll spotlight "I Can See Right Through You," "Light," and "The Summer People." I'd include "Origin Story" if protagonist Bunnatine weren't too completely magical to fit my stated theme.

—Novelist Karen Joy Fowler is the author of The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Her short-story collection Black Glass was recently re-released.

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