It’s been a year of closed borders, motions to build walls, and referenda fueled by xenophobia.
And yet, in the realm of contemporary literature, stories continue to offer readers the
opportunity to cross divisions of ethnicity and class. From a story of post-Apartheid race
relations in South Africa to reflections on the dizzying new wealth in globalized India,
this season’s crop of fiction debuts, in its sheer multitude of perspectives, offers a promising
rejoinder to the strain of bigotry creeping into Western politics: ideas, unlike people,
cannot be turned away at the gate.
BY DANIEL LEFFERTS
WRITERS TO WATCH
Teenage friendships almost never make sense, which might explain why so many of them fall apart as people get older, and also why fiction writers often turn to them for material. When Julie Buntin was working on
Marlena (Holt), her debut novel about
the aftermath of an intense friendship
between two teenage girls, she was
faced with the challenge of making that
particular obsession legible to readers.
“It’s hard to capture why a character
finds someone else magnetic,” Buntin, 29,
says. “How can you translate that into
something the reader can connect to?”
Marlena centers on two characters,
15-year-old Cat and 17-year-old
Marlena, who become pals when
Cat moves to the town in northern
Michigan where Marlena lives.
Buntin, in the words of PW’s starred
review, “is particularly sensitive to the
misery of adolescent angst,” observing how Cat becomes increasingly
enamored of the unstable Marlena, who is “musically talented, beautiful,
and doomed to die young.” Claudia Ballard, Buntin’s agent, says the
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