For the next few weeks, in honor of the longstanding association between books and lazy summer days, Jezebel is having guest authors stop by with recommendations. Today’s visitor is an old friend: Kelsey McKinney, whose debut novel God Spare the Girls is out this week.
God Spare the Girls is the story of two sisters, faithful daughters of an evangelical pastor at a Texas megachurch. One of them is about to be married; one of them has just shucked her purity ring. As so often happens at megachurches, their lives are rocked by scandal when their father reveals a secret, and the girls retreat to what used to be their grandmother’s ranch to regroup. McKinney’s recs for Jezebel readers range from another preacher dad—one who “takes up” snakes—to a messily opened-up relationship, to a sprawling Russian family saga.
I like to take photos of sections of good books I’m reading and post them to my Instagram story. No sections have ever gotten as many responses as Rupi Thorpe’s debut novel about a best friendship that has stretched over so much time its threadbare in the center. Thorpe is a gorgeous and funny writer, and her ability to give her narrators distinctive, palpable voices is unmatched.
This past year, I’ve read in stops and starts, hitting lulls that feel infinite and terrible. Shiner ripped me out of a phase without reading in one page. Amy Jo Burns’ story about a snake-wielding preacher, the magic of a seventh son, Appalachia, and a miracle that goes horribly wrong is tense in every scene. I shoved it into the hands of friends last summer, desperate to discuss it, and to share this deep, beautiful world Burns has created.
A couple of years ago, I took Convenience Store Woman with me to the beach. It was hardback, but slim, I thought maybe I’d read a few pages under the umbrella before returning to my regularly scheduled programming of drinking a beer while sitting on a pool noodle in the ocean. I never made it out of the chair. I was immediately sucked into Murata’s story about a woman who (you guessed it) works in a convenience store, and seems to be the only one who knows what’s right for her.
I will never tire of Mama Day. I’ve read this story about a tragic love affair a half dozen times in the last five years. Naylor’s prose is winding and mystical. Her world-building is unmatched, and her ability to build a whole history for a fictional place and plop the reader right in it will pull your brain right out of whatever terror of work you have to face come Monday. It’s set in the South in the summer, a humid, sticky, beautiful book.
Sometimes you want a novel that reads like the best gossip, a story a girl you don’t know told you about her messy friends at the bar. Next Year for Sure is that book. It’s about a couple that opens up their relationship to accommodate for one member’s crush on another person, and the fallout of that decision on them both. It’s a book that feels so real that I’ve forgotten that it wasn’t a story someone told me several times.
Last year, I entered a love affair with Laurie Colwin. Most of her novels came out in the ’70s, but they are being reissued this year so you might be able to find newer copies of them now. This book was far and away my favorite. It’s also juicy, and scandalous, and written with a humor that had me chuckling to myself on the couch. I mean, who doesn’t want a novel about a young woman whose daredevil husband gets himself killed in a boating accident and ends up (oops!) falling into bed with his brother.
I got sent Monica West’s debut novel Revival Season a little early because it has similar themes to my novel (bad pastors, Texas, siblings, questioning your faith). Unsurprisingly, I loved it. West’s ability to show the depth of her character’s faith and the unsettling depth of her questions is an incredible feat in a novel so jam-packed with plot. I read the whole book in one gulp like it was a big glass of water, and finished it feeling so empty I knew I was in the hands of a master.
All of the books on this list are slim reads that you really could start and finish on the beach this summer, except for Jacob’s Ladder. The problem with reading a lot is that people always ask you what books to read and then they ignore you because the book you recommend is three inches thick and a multi-generational family novel written by a Russian titan. But this is a blog, so I can pretend you aren’t ignoring me. Jacob’s Ladder absolutely slaps. Every page winds you closer and closer into this family and their history and their mistakes. Ulitskaya is well-known in Russia, and it is an absolute tragedy that she isn’t read more here. Be brave, take this giant book to the beach with you. Worst case, it can serve as a table for your beer.