My favorite classic novel is Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” From the first line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” to the Gothic vibe to the romance between the unnamed narrator and her wealthy widower husband, “Rebecca” is a masterful story that holds up more than 80 years after it was published.
I bring this up because I now have a close second in the “favorite classic” category. Roseburg Public Library’s Author Discussion Group chose Edith Wharton for the next meeting, giving me the perfect excuse to read “The Age of Innocence,” winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
What a gem. I can’t help but think today’s historical romance writers are trying to recapture its magic. I love “Bridgerton” and the novels of Sarah MacLean and others, but “The Age of Innocence?” It is on an entirely different level.
Set in 1870s New York, “The Age of Innocence” is a novel that explores the rules of society through the lens of Newland Archer, a young lawyer who marries May Welland because that’s what a man of a certain age and station does. It is not a happy marriage, not least because of Archer’s feelings for Countess Ellen Olenska, his wife’s cousin.
Themes of loyalty, duty and keeping up appearances will give us much to discuss during our online meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link.
We will spend about an hour sharing our reading experiences of Wharton and her work, which extends far beyond “The Age of Innocence” and includes essays, novellas, short stories and poetry.
For those interested in more contemporary fiction, “I Will Die in a Foreign Land” by Kalani Pickhart focuses mostly on the 2013 Maidan Uprising in Ukraine told from the perspective of four people. Katya is a Ukrainian American doctor working in a makeshift hospital. Misha is an engineer and widower who grows close to Katya. Slava is an activist and friend of Misha’s. Finally, Aleksandr is a former KGB agent who plays the piano in the middle of the unrest.
Pickhart’s narrative provided background that helped me understand current events, and — bonus — it was a compelling story. I especially was moved by how deep the characters’ connections ran, and those ties were not fully revealed until the end.
Finally, for those who want a purely escapist read with a “Gone Girl” vibe, try “Rock Paper Scissors” by Alice Feeney. The Wrights’ marriage has been going wrong for a while, and to get back on track, Adam and Amelia take a trip to Scotland. Only they’re not alone. Flashbacks to the Wrights’ 10-year marriage help build the suspense to an unexpected conclusion.