Smiling Through the Pain

Our top books of 2014 provided pleasures despite the pain

Hurts So Good

Smiling Through the Pain

Who says pain can't be fun? The best reads of 2014 thematized suffering in language so beautiful, they had me wincing with every word. The mascot for this sort of scab-pickery, Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams (Graywolf Press), is a collection of thought-provoking and often masterful essays that poke around the edges of our capacity to feel others' pain. It's the definition of a haunting read; I've considered removing certain chapters and burning them with a little sage. Another notable book from Graywolf, the whisper-thin story collection Karate Chop by Danish writer Dorthe Nors, showcased a comic sensibility as dry and bleak as a pile of broken boards.

Even The Paying Guests (Riverhead), the long-awaited sixth novel by British writer Sarah Waters, was darker than her usual fare. Waters fans always expect a twist, but this deftly psychological tale of a repressed spinster finding love in World War I ravaged London takes its violent turn after a harrowing scene of self-induced abortion that will stick with me for a long time.

For inventive language, two debuts about young, masochistic women stood out. Irish-British writer Eimear McBride's experimental novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (Coffee House Press) is narrated by a depressed girl struggling to find her voice in a visceral, singsong language that almost has to be read aloud to be understood. Hardly pleasant, it is nevertheless undeniably, gut-punchingly beautiful. Finally, Dallas writer Merritt Tierce's waitressing novel Love Me Back (Doubleday), my top pick of the year, can suck all the air out of your lungs in a single paragraph and leave you gasping for more. Now that's a torture report.

  • Hurts So Good

    Our top books of 2014 provided pleasures despite the pain
  • Crimes That Paid

    In Jesse Sublett's top reads of 2014, wherever the protagonists go, trouble follows

    Turkish Delights

    Jay Trachtenberg's top reads of 2014 gave him more insight into the culture of Turkey than a dozen guidebooks

    Liberating Lit

    Jessi Cape’s top reads of 2014 show welcome signs of improvement in the way women are celebrated in literature

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Fiction
<i>Before Stonewall</i> by Edward Cohen
Before Stonewall
The short stories in this collection from Austin's Awst Press simmer with queer rage, grief, and longing

Rosalind Faires, June 25, 2021

<i>Sex and Vanity</i> by Kevin Kwan
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
Kevin Kwan offers another gloriously satirical and sharp sociological take on the insular lives of the untouchably rich

Barbara Purcell, Nov. 6, 2020

More Arts Reviews
Theatre Review: Trinity Street Playhouse’s <i>A Million More to Go</i>
Theatre Review: Trinity Street Playhouse’s A Million More to Go
Play examines preposterous political climes with chuckles galore

Cat McCarrey, June 21, 2024

Hyde Park’s <i>My H-E-B</i> Shows Humanity, Explored
Hyde Park’s My H-E-B Shows Humanity, Explored
Like the store, in this work the people matter

Cat McCarrey, June 14, 2024

More by Amy Gentry
The Good Eye: The Pulse
The Good Eye: The Pulse
The Good Eye says goodbye

April 3, 2015

The Good Eye: Allies in the Industry
The Good Eye: Allies in the Industry
Giving Austin actresses a seat at the table

March 27, 2015


Fiction, Top 10s 2014, The Empathy Exams, Karate Chop, The Paying Guests, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Love Me Back, Merritt Tierce

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle