Of all the lofty reasons given for the value of reading, “we read to find out who we are” is one of the loftiest. That “we” can have a variety of meanings—“we” as in “the individual reader” or “we” as in all of humanity. We read to find people like us and to learn about people different from us. Sometimes, a book’s characters are on this same journey. These journeys don’t have to be intense struggles; they can also be good fun.
Who is Maud Dixon?: A Novel
Good fun is what you’ll find in Alexandra Andrews’ “Who Is Maud Dixon?: A Novel.” This work follows in the tradition of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Gone Girl.” One of these two main characters is playing the other. But which one? The twists come so fast and furious you’ll be second-guessing and triple-guessing yourself. Florence is a junior editor at a New York publishing house with a desire to succeed but is lacking the pieces to get there. Is it talent, drive or luck she needs? Neither she nor we, the readers, are sure. When given the opportunity to become an assistant to the anonymous author known only as Maud Dixon, she jumps at the chance. But when Maud and Florence go to Morocco on a research trip together, the curves in the book are as treacherous as the curves in the road that cause the accident that kicks off the book.
The Vietri Project: A Novel
In “The Vietri Project: A Novel,” Gabriele quits her job at a bookstore and goes to Italy—not to find herself, but to find Signor Vietri, the bookstore’s mysterious mail-order customer. Gabriele has family in Rome, but she’s not interested in seeing them. She really wants to be alone, or so she thinks. But Rome is a “big small town,” and her family finds out she’s there and gets entwined in her quest. As it turns out, her Italian mother, from whom she is estranged, suffers from mental illness. Maybe Gabriele’s search for Vietri is a parallel search for how she can find her place. Don’t look for a pat ending. This book is all about the journey rather than the destination.
Between the Bliss and Me: A Novel
A younger woman has a similar journey in “Between the Bliss and Me: A Novel.” Sydney has been raised by a single mother since her father went off the grid years before. As she graduates and prepares to head off to college, her father’s parents, who are very wealthy, are at odds with her struggling mom concerning what Sydney’s next steps should be. Does Sydney even have a say in the matter? When Sydney realizes the truth behind her father’s absence, she goes in search of him and what his past means for her. This novel raises tough questions about how we treat the mentally ill and gives us no easy answers. But Sydney is such an easy-to-root-for heroine that you sense she’ll find that bliss.
Jamie L. Watson is a collection development manager with Baltimore County Public Library.