The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Fantasy novels have a following, but it is a specialized genre. Sword sagas, such as the Game of Thrones series, have their fans. Harry Potter-style young adult fantasy novels are big too. But it’s challenging to carry off this style of fantasy writing in a literary mode. The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern is an example of this writing style.
In this imaginative tale, a mysterious circus travels the world, performing only at night. A creative group of people set it up, but the Circus is actually operated by two people, a young man and a young woman, whose magical powers are real, not fake! The circus is therefore a venue for a deadly serious magic contest between these two people- a reality that is unknown to the audience and most of the workers. When the two magicians fall in love with each other, things get even more complex.
Morgenstern is able to maintain the atmosphere of wonder and mystery here, in a style that resembles that of a slightly less sophisticated Ray Bradbury. But again, it’s tough to mix magic and literary style. The audience may not be large for this.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Vanessa Diffenbaugh understands what she is writing about. She has for some time worked with the foster care establishment to try to reclaim young people into family life, and recently adopted a boy into her family. The challenges of foster children are at the core of her debut novel, The Language of Flowers.
Victoria Jones, age 18, is the lead character here. Victoria has just “aged out” of the foster system, and been kicked out onto the street. She struggles to survive, and to form human contacts. Her hope for a new life is based on the one person, Elizabeth, who ever loved her, a woman she has not seen in eight years.
Diffenbaugh’s plot details are not all one hundred percent convincing, but her personal knowledge in this area enables her to dig into the real emotional life of Victoria. The story has had enough emotional power to land it on the bestseller list. It is unclear if Diffenbaugh has more to write about, but this is an excellent first effort! Few indeed would be able to read this novel without experiencing strong emotion.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a debut novel which reportedly sold to the publisher for over $600,000. The story in the novel involves a baseball team in a small Midwestern college, and the interwoven lives of four characters whose lives intersect that of Henry, the star shortstop. Henry throws to first base, and accidentally injures a teammate. His resulting crisis of self-worth plays out in complex ways in the lives of his room mate, the team captain, the college President, and the college President’s daughter.
Harbach’s command of character, dialogue, and scene-setting is nearly perfect. The story is not really about baseball- it becomes a well designed exploration of human nature. The Art of Fielding digs into the ways in which we seek excellence in our lives, and how we “team up” to overcome the bitter chances of fate and our own flawed natures. Harbach probably earned that $600,000. It is that well written.
It encourages me to read three brand-new novels by unknown authors with such a high quality of writing. I would rate them as good, better, and best, in the order in which they were reviewed.