Friday, November 1, 2019

Double Feature Book Review

By Jami Deise

Like a Hallmark or Lifetime movie, novels that fall under the “women’s fiction” category promise a specific type of experience for the reader. For women and by women, familial relationships are at the heart of these stories, and secrets threaten to tear them apart. Often set in sensual locales, with generous description and plenty of angst, they feature poetic titles, sympathetic heroines, and bittersweet but satisfying endings.

Voice – the tone in which the writer tells the story – is also an important factor, one that creates empathy in the reader. Two recent women’s fiction releases by William Morrow/Avon illustrate how tone can be used to differentiate novels with similar structures.

Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman is the story of a family with secrets. Three years after her daughter was stillborn, Sylvie Snow becomes addicted to Oxycontin. Told from the third-person points-of-view of Sylvie, her husband Paul, and her almost-13-year-old son Teddy, Fishman’s somewhat snarky, sarcastic tone takes a light approach to some very heavy topics. With Paul hiding his own emotional affair and shopaholic tendencies, Teddy and his 12-year-old girlfriend are the only adults in the book. Rather than drawing readers in, these choices in tone and characterization make it difficult to empathize with Sylvie.

Hannah Beckerman’s If Only I Could Tell You unspools in the more traditional warm, emotional voice that readers expect in women’s fiction. Another book about a family secret told from three points of view, it revolves around Audrey, who is dying of cancer and only wants her adult daughters to reconcile after a lifetime of not speaking. Those daughters, Jess and Lily, are as different as two women can be; Beckerman camouflages the women’s secrets with subplots about relationships and their own daughters. While the book moved me to tears in the end, it also violates one of the basic tenants of storytelling structure: If the conflict can be resolved in a conversation, it’s not strong enough for a novel. Still, it was a heck of a conversation.

With domestic thrillers nearly taking over publishers’ offerings the past several years, these women’s fiction releases are a good reminder that everyday human drama still has an important place on our bookshelves.

Thanks to William Morrow and Avon for the books in exchange for an honest review.

More by Zoe Fishman and Hannah Beckerman:

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