Four books that broke my heart in 2015
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
No piece of writing has ever made me cry as much as this raging, eloquent letter from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his 14-year-old son, Samori. In my review I wrote, ‘I read with my heart in my throat and for the final 50 or so pages I cried without stopping. Between the World and Me attests to the power of literature.’ Coates writes specifically about the experience of being a black father to a black son in America right now and this is an intensely personal piece of writing that works to expose exactly how this feels. Yet the subjects he ranges across – living with fear and violence, the interconnectedness of history and present – are universal, and it’s impossible to not see how some semblance of what he’s touching on is here in Australia too.
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
Our head book buyer, Alison Huber, described this debut novel as, ‘a grand writing achievement, an amazing reading experience that is tough and emotionally draining (and upsetting) at times, and has an ending that totally did me in.’ I completely agree. Atticus Lish’s story about the relationship between Zou Lei, an illegal Chinese immigrant, and Brad Skinner, an Iraq War veteran, is remarkable, and devastating. His prose is exquisitely crafted – pared back and incredibly restrained, yet with an emotional punch that laid me to waste. It wasn’t just the ending that did me in as a reader; it was all the small heartbreaks along the way that did that, again and again.
Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright
In Small Acts of Disappearance, Sydney writer Fiona Wright writes of hunger with stunning clarity and a deep well of empathy. She details the reality of self-inflicted starvation and probes that sticky question of ‘why’, while also looking back to the history of anorexia, and reflecting on its representations in literature. Wright talks openly about her own affliction with an eating disorder, and it’s heartrending to read of her experience laid bare before you. While it can feel like a cliche to use such a descriptor, Small Acts of Disappearance is an extraordinarily brave book.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge is a collection of linked short stories, all about small town life in Maine and most featuring the titular character. I loved Olive who is one of the best characters I’ve ever met in fiction. Strout’s portrayal of this remarkable woman is so real that it gave me pause; whenever she appeared on the page I felt that very particular (almost complicit) anxiety that comes with seeing a family member not follow proper etiquette. One of the later stories in the collection, ‘Security’, sees Olive and her son reach breaking point, and Strout depicts their fraying relationship with such rawness that I had to take a month-long break before reading the final few stories in the collection.
Bronte Coates is the digital content coordinator. She is also the prize manager of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.