Although these three recent novels couldn’t be more different, they all have one common theme: At their cores are characters who have issues. Whether it’s a woman returning for a holiday weekend with her dysfunctional family, a college girl hiding her painful past and clinging to a new life away from home or a forsaken ex turned stalker in a love triangle, the women in these novels face major challenges. Reading about how they deal with them is no issue at all — in fact, it’s a pleasure.
Another commonality: All three authors have a connection to the area.
Baltimore author Jen Michalski’s latest novel, The Summer She Was Under Water, takes place over one Fourth of July weekend in Maryland. Main character Sam Pinsky is a woman in her early 30s. As the novel opens, she’s sputtering toward her family’s cabin along the Susquehanna River to spend the weekend with her dysfunctional family for the first time in 20 years. The three storylines — the present weekend with her family, her relationship with her boyfriend and a novel she’s working on — revolve around or seem inspired by Sam’s own weighty issues: her father’s alcoholism and abuse, her mother’s denial of their family’s dysfunction and her troubled relationship with her brother. In the compassionate and tender prose Michalski has become known for, she shares Sam’s desire to “save people from themselves.” Sam sacrifices her own emotional well-being to help heal her family.
Leslie Pietrzyk, a frequent instructor in Johns Hopkins University’s writing program, takes us back in time to the Chicago of the 1980s in Silver Girl. The unnamed narrator shares the experience of escaping her poor and abusive family in Iowa and stepping into a new world. It takes more than just a step as she attempts to recreate herself and hide her unpleasant past, especially from her new roommate and friend, Jess, a well-to-do socialite.
Set in the era of the Tylenol Killer, who murdered seven people by poisoning Tylenol capsules and randomly putting them on drugstore shelves throughout the greater Chicago area, “Silver Girl” paints a distinct picture of college life. The novel examines how social and financial background and status can play a role in personal struggles, as well the challenges of creating and maintaining relationships with people from different socioeconomic groups. This memorable study of character and friendship can be troubling at times and hopeful at others, but is engaging on every page.
For this psychological thriller, Bethesda-based best-selling writer Sarah Pekkanen teams up with Greer Hendricks, a former editor and first-time novelist, to advance a tale that will keep readers guessing to the very last. The Wife Between Us is a plot-twisting page-turner that follows a disgruntled ex-wife who has been tossed aside by her husband for a younger woman. The ex-wife stalks her husband’s new fiancée, who appears to be a gorgeous copy of her younger self. In a novel with so many surprises, it’s hard to reveal much of the goings-on and still avoid spoilers. Suffice to say, “The Wife Between Us” has been compared to books like “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train” — and rightfully so. Just when you think you might have the love triangle figured out, the authors tangle your expectations with another shocking surprise. Despite being almost too elaborately plotted, this sharply written novel is a pleasantly smooth read.