In the electrifying memoir The Only Girl in the World, Maude Julien looks back on her nightmarish upbringing in France. Raised by her unaffectionate mother, Jeannine, and conspiracy-theorist father, Louis, to become what he called a “superior being” who could survive under any circumstances, Julien is often confined to the rat-inhabited cellar of their home at night and told not to move. When she gets sick, her parents won’t send for a doctor, and when she’s abused by the family’s odd-job man, they do nothing. Julien lives in isolation, without proper food, heat or hot water. But thanks to books and the animals she encounters on the family property, Julien manages to cultivate an inner world that sustains her. Now a psychotherapist, Julien gives an unflinching account of the horrors of her home life and eventual escape in this brave and probing book. In making sense of her own past, she offers an unforgettable story about the enduring need for human connection.
AFTER THE FALL
Named a best book of 2017 by NPR, Owen Egerton’s novel Hollow tells the story of a religious studies teacher in Austin, Texas, and his painful coming to terms with life’s harsh realities. Once an esteemed professor, Ollie Bonds has fallen on hard times. His home is a shack behind a beauty parlor, and he is grappling with the loss of his young son. As a hospice volunteer, Ollie’s connection with a dying man named Martin has unforeseen consequences. As Ollie tries to atone for his mistakes, the details surrounding the death of Ollie’s son and the path that led to his present circumstances are revealed gradually. Bringing levity to the book is Lyle Burnside, a rather convincing member of the Hollow Earth Society—a group that’s organizing a trip to the North Pole. Egerton has created a beautifully realized, rewarding and poignant narrative about loss and mercy that’s sure to stimulate emotional conversation among readers.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Anna Quindlen’s shrewdly observed novel Alternate Side chronicles the lives of the Nolan family in the wake of a violent episode in their close-knit Upper West Side neighborhood. Investment banker Charlie Nolan is contentedly married to Nora, the director of a museum, and savors his good luck when he lands a coveted permanent space in the parking lot near their apartment. Quindlen presents a detailed portrait of the Nolans’ affluent, settled lifestyle, only to shatter that image when lawyer Jack Fisk attacks handyman Rick Ramos because his van is obstructing the entrance to the parking lot. In the aftermath, the neighborhood is never the same, and long-percolating questions about race and class erupt. In this perceptive novel, Quindlen delivers a rich exploration of social dynamics and the nature of marriage. It’s a book that captures the tenor of the times.
This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.