This was the April book club pick at my local indie bookstore and I don't know why it took me so long to hear about it! It is one part family lore, one part childhood nostalgia, and one part falling down the rabbit hole of research. Lee Lien has returned home after finishing a Ph.D. in English without a job and with increasing apathy towards Edith Wharton, the subject of her dissertation. Stuck under the same roof with her mother and grandfather, who both immigrated from Vietnam, Lee finds comfort rereading the Little House series, looking for clues to confirm that a brooch left in her grandfather's restaurant in Vietname belonged to Rose, the journalist daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her search takes her on a journey West as she unravels the mysteries of Rose's life and tries to find direction for her own. I love that the family dynamic of the Lien family mirrors that of the Ingalls Wilder family, highlighting what it means to be an immigrant looking for a place to call home.
The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai
As the title suggests, this book tells the stories of the inhabitants of the house over its first hundred years, but the twist is that the chronology is reversed. The first section takes place in 1999 when Zee and her husband, Doug, move into the guest house on her childhood estate. However, Doug dredges up the past as he tries to find information for his book about Edwin Parfitt, a poet who stayed at the house when it was an artists' colony. Doug does not find all the answers he wants, but the reader does as the story jumps backwards to previous groups of tenants until the house is just a piece of land with a broken branch marking the future location of the front door. Each generation has their secrets wrapped up in the house and as time turns back, the layers are pulled away to expose the tangled web of the family. This is a book that begs to be reread because each dip further into the past adds new understanding to the future. Last summer I heard an interview with Rebecca Makkai about this book on WUWM, Milwaukee's local NPR station, and was immediately sold so I'm thrilled it is now out in paperback.
Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Of my three recommendations, this is the most serious, though that is not to say that it is without joy. Rather it shows all the ups, downs, and in-betweens of life. For about fifty years, the story follows Bit, the first child born into a commune in Western New York called Arcadia. A story of an unorthodox childhood morphs into something more complex as both Arcadia and Bit grow up and cracks in their perfect world begin to show. The idealistic values erode under the charisma and hubris of Arcadia's leader and an agrarian utopia becomes an outpost of debauchery. Arcadia is Bit's family and home, but he is forced to leave the people and the place that he once loved, though Arcadia never really leaves him.