The Austin Chronicle

Hurts So Good

Our top books of 2014 provided pleasures despite the pain

By Jessi Cape, January 2, 2015, Arts

Liberating Lit

If books are barometers, the air blowing through 2014's pages are a welcomed prediction of improvement in how we celebrate women in literature. Threaded throughout are head-first dives into the bond between mother and child, the struggle for self, nature vs. humanity, and the power of a multifaceted view of femininity.

Taking gold is Laline Paull's breakout novel, The Bees (Ecco), whose anthropomorphic brilliance has nestled its way into my top 10 list of all-time favorites. Swirling science and literary art, bloodshed and nectar, structure and individuality, this story of a worker bee, Flora, and her rise to become the truest version of herself mirrors humanity and nature in a hauntingly beautiful way.

Two other standouts are gut-punching books that remain tender despite the brutality, a testament to the fiercely beautiful voices of their creators. Roxane Gay's debut novel An Untamed State (Grove Press) straddles terror and hope: Mireille is kidnapped and tortured in Haiti, yet the story's most gripping parts are glimpses of a fractured psyche fighting to climb out of a hellhole. Merritt Tierce's bold work of literary fiction, Love Me Back (Doubleday), embodies the chaos of one woman's struggle to discover her roles as mother, lover, and adult in a restaurant world steeped in substances and pain.

A little lighter fare, and a shining piece of historical fiction, Erika Robuck's Fallen Beauty (NAL Trade) parallels poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and fictional Laura Kelley with lavish tales of romance and artistic flair amidst the gray expectations of misunderstood women in society.

For the kids, A Boy and a Jaguar (HMH Books for Young Readers) by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by CáTia Chien; and Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla (Clarion Books) by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, were memorable standouts that explore the human role in the animal kingdom and illuminate brilliantly the wild animal in us all.

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