Téa Obreht's 6 favorite novels shaped by place
The author of The Tiger's Wife recommends works by James Galvin, Toni Morrison, and more
Téa Obreht's new novel, Inland, weaves together the stories of an outlaw crossing the American West and a homesteader awaiting the return of her sons and husband. Below, the author of The Tiger's Wife recommends other novels shaped by place.
The Meadow by James Galvin (1992).
While most chroniclers of the American West cannot resist the vastness of its landscape, Galvin narrows his memoir's focus to a meadow in south-eastern Wyoming, the site of three generations' struggle and triumph. I often find myself reading each sentence twice, just to savor the unexpected twists of Galvin's prose.
City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (2011).
Barry's faith that readers will bring a lot of their own noir luggage to his party pays enormous dividends in this brooding, hilarious, and wildly satisfying novel. The setting — a bleak Irish town in 2053 — grows through the building-out of imagined alleys and intrigues, and from the lively and at-first-impregnable jargon that reveals the true heart of Bohane's underworld.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (2016).
Everything about this story collection delights and puzzles and grips the soul, in a way reminiscent of experiencing the terrifying lushness of a fairy tale for the first time. Each story feels like the inside of a clock: intricate, labyrinthine, working around you in a kind of harmony you can't even begin to comprehend until the final line.
Paper Lantern by Stuart Dybek (2014).
Dybek is without equal on a host of different levels. His greatest achievement in this stunner of a story collection centered on his hometown Chicago (about which he writes like no one else) is that he casts a haze between past and present, illusion and reality, then swoops among them all.
Orange World by Karen Russell (2019).
Every new book of Russell's instantly takes its predecessor's place as my favorite. Place, in each of these time-jumping, world-warping stories — which span a map of territory both real and imagined — exerts physical, social, and emotional pressures on both character and reader.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970).
Morrison's first novel, about a childhood in small-town Ohio, has remained my favorite, possibly owing to the particular claustrophobia produced by its clash between place and person-hood, and its suggestion that how you experience the world is governed by age, race, and whether or not one grows up loved.