Feature

Sarah Thankam Mathews' 6 favorite books about life-changing experiences and self discovery

The debut author recommends works by Annie Proulx, Joseph O’Neill, and more

Sarah Thankam Mathews' debut novel, All This Could Be Different, is the coming-of-age story of a young woman from India who after finishing college moves to Milwaukee just as the Great Recession hits. It is a National Book Award finalist.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (1993)

This was the book I read at nights while I wrote a huge chunk of All This Could Be Different. The Shipping News took me to the harsh chill of Newfoundland, and the hunger for a new life, and I gladly went. It is moving, muscular, fiercely idiosyncratic, and scream-out-loud funny. Incredible literature, and everyone should read it. Buy it here.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (2008)

Masterly — ​perhaps one of the greatest New York City novels. Come for the cricket. Stay for the towers falling, for Netherland's charismatic, Trinidadian take on Jay Gatsby, for the sweet and haunted narrator, Hans van den Broek, and for O'Neill's long and elegant opera gloves of sentences. Buy it here.

Family Life by Akhil Sharma (2014)

A family immigrates from India to the U.S. Their older son has a grotesque and life-changing accident. His younger brother tells the story of a family in fiendish pain and their individual journeys into the future. It's a slim blade of a book at 224 pages: mordantly funny, utterly unforgettable. Buy it here.

King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes (2006)

"I write as an ugly one for the ugly ones," Despentes spits in an absolute banger of an opening. "The old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unf---ed, the unf---ables, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls who don't get a look in the universal market of the consumable chick." A memorable feminist work of memoir, commentary, polemic, and theory. The raw power of its narrator's voice and vision of the world have stayed with me for years. Buy it here

Problems by Jade Sharma (2016)

We lost Jade Sharma too early. Her novel is a dark, funny, moving portrait of a young Indian-American woman navigating a struggling marriage, its accompanying infidelity, and a heroin addiction. Buy it here

Say Say Say by Lila Savage (2019)

A graceful, gorgeous, and wise portrait of a young queer caregiver in the Midwest. Say Say Say has staying power that belies its debut status. Its prose, vision, originality, and deep compassion are exemplary. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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