Jan Ellison’s debut novel, A SMALL INDISCRETION, has received a number of accolades since it was published in January. For good reason we might add. And it was actually this post that inspired our entire summer reading series. We were so fascinated by the idea of an author choosing a handful of books on a specific theme and immersing herself in them over the summer that we decided to invite others to do the same. And now that our series is almost over (we only have two more contributions after today) we decided it was time for you to meet Jan and her novel.
Imagine how much of life’s domestic disharmony would be silenced if every man could slip into a woman’s skin for a day, and every woman into a man’s. My summer reading list is intended to be the next best thing — novels written by male writers who expose the tender interior of their characters’ hearts as they struggle to live with those they love.
Bill Roorbach’s The Remedy for Love
The unlikely love story of two strangers stranded in a cabin in Maine in the middle of an epic snow storm.
I saw Bill speak at a conference this spring, and if his novels are anything like he is, I am in for a poignant, hilarious ride. What woman can resist a male protagonist who writes of the fiancee he fears he’s lost: “Something she didn’t understand about young men in love: her body that morning as she talked on the phone was easily the most beautiful vista he had ever encountered.”
Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road
A traditional 1950’s couple trade their love of each other for dreams of greatness.
This is one I’ve already read, and look forward to re-reading. I remember it as a searing, heartbreaking story that masterfully illuminates the way our loved ones can bring out our very worst selves.
Frank Wheeler intends to comfort his wife after she has performed in a disastrous play: “What he planned to do was bend down and kiss her and say ‘Listen: you were wonderful.’ But an almost imperceptible recoil of her shoulders told him that she didn’t want to be touched . . . and that was when it occurred to him that ‘You were wonderful’ might be exactly the wrong thing to say . . . ‘Well,’ he said instead. ‘I guess it wasn’t exactly a triumph or anything, was it?'”
Chartles Baxter’s The Feast of Love
This re-conceived Mid-Summer Night’s Dream is a series of rule-bending vignettes that take us on a sexy, literary romp through a land where ordinary people love in extraordinary ways.
I heard Charles Baxter read from this book years ago, and he later told me it was his favorite of his books (though he’s written quite a few since.) Baxter doesn’t back down from even the most precarious of human interactions: A newly married couple, honeymooning in Michigan, discovers that “you can have good sex on your honeymoon and still suspect that there’s something fishy going on.”
Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This
Named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review, this is the harrowing story of a family trying to rebuild after a kidnapped child is returned.
After just a few pages, I was struck by this novel’s rare combination of fine sentences, fully realized characters, and a driving plot. “Laura paced across the room with her hands clasped in front of her . . . Were she a stranger, Eric would’ve been struck with longing as he watched her languid movements. His wife — it still shocked him — was beautiful.”
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Jan Ellison is a mother of four and a novelist, essayist and short-story writer. Her first book, A Small Indiscretion (Random House 2015) is a literary suspense novel that was both an Oprah Editor’s Pick and a San Francisco Chronicle Book Club Pick. Jan’s essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere, and she received an O. Henry Prize for her first short story to appear in print.
Jan has degrees from Stanford and San Francisco State University, where she earned her MFA. She had a brief career in her twenties at a Silicon Valley startup, marketing risk management software to derivatives traders. The company went public, Jan became a mother, and instead of leaning in she leaned out, became a stay-at-home mom, and began to write. She was raised in Los Angeles and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband of twenty years and their children.
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At nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.
After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.
With the brilliant pacing and emotional precision that won Jan Ellison an O. Henry Prize for her first published story, A Small Indiscretion announces a major new voice in suspense fiction as it unfolds a story of denial, obsession, love, forgiveness—and one woman’s reckoning with her own fateful mistakes.