Omni Personal Shopper: An Octomom Who Loves Solid Fiction

In today's installment of Omni Personal Shopper, we're offering recommendations for a fiction-loving octogenarian mom, who appreciates generational sagas, armchair travel, and no-frills prose. 

Meet the 88-year-old fiction-loving mom as described by her daughter:

My mother is 88 years old and only reads fiction, the local daily newspaper, and Time and Vanity Fair magazines. Her all-time favorite novels are An American Tragedy and Gone with the Wind. She likes novels with "substance," which she explains are those with a great story, strong characters (preferably a female protagonist), not overly descriptive, no dialects, often spanning several generations, and of long length. She hates sit coms and wouldn't read any novel in the romance genre. No gimmicks. Nothing too literary. Exotic locales are of interest as are rags to riches. Thanks!

Based on this description, we'd have to say that your mom fearlessly immerses herself in the world of the novel, and enjoys characters with pluck, gumption, chutzpah--whatever you want to call it. Here's our line-up of chunky novels starring protagonists with pluck.

  • The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
    Mari recommends this satisfying story that spans three generations in a family of strong-willed women--including the mysterious Authoress, whose hand-illustrated book of fairy tales provides the only clue to the past of a tiny girl who travels alone on a ship from England to Australia.
  • Serena by Ron Rash
    Ron Rash's sleeper novel caught the attention of our own Daphne Durham early on, and the book went on to land a coveted spot in our Top 10 Books of 2008.  If you're mom enjoys strong female protagonists, then Serena Pemberton will certainly fit the bill.  From the moment Serena steps off the train in the book's opening chapter, you know that her new husband George has gotten way more than he's bargained for.  Together they build a timber empire in the mountains of North Carolina, and the misses has no qualms about clear cutting their family's path to fortune during the economic turmoil of the Depression era.
  • The Dollmaker by Harriett Arnow
    As Tom points out, it was a beloved and bestselling novel in its day, so your mother may already know it, but Harriett Arnow's The Dollmaker is unknown to many of today's readers. Scribner has brought the story back in print this year in a new paperback edition, though, and it might be just the sort of story she likes. The locales (Appalachia and Detroit) may not be exotic, and there are more rags than riches, but the heroine of the story, Gertie Nevels, who takes her family from rural Kentucky to industrial Detroit, is one of the strongest and most compelling women characters in American fiction. She does speak in a rural dialect, which sounds like it might be a dealbreaker, but the novel itself is told in a clear, no nonsense style.
  • The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis
    Based on your mom's appreciation of epic survivor tales, strong female characters, and and her openness to reading about diverse historical periods, places and cultures, I'd strongly recommend Carolina De Robertis's breathtaking new novel which set in Uruguay from the turn of the twentieth century up through the 1960s. The reviews for this debut novel  are overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  De Robertis might just might turn out to be your mom's new favorite author.
  • And two more books that are sure to please a mom who loves a good marathon read:

  • The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End by Ken Follett. Tom suggests two more must-read novels from Ken Follett. Follett's mainly known for spy thrillers like Eye of the Needle, but when he published a very different story, The Pillars of the Earth, twenty years ago, it became by far his most popular novel ever. The story of a master builder with a dream of building a cathedral in England in the 12th century, it's a riveting page-turner for all of its 997 pages. His follow-up, World Without End, came out just a couple of years ago, and his fans found it nearly as satisfying as the original book. Between these two tomes, mom be can revel in 2,000+ pages of fascinating and well-paced fiction.

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Thus Bound: The story of Tadziu and Marysza spans four generations beginning with the settling of Polish immigrants in cities like Buffalo. NY. Two chilgren of these Polish emigres meet in grade school and their love story is what carries us through the narrative. The novel begins in the era of the Great Depression and moves to the years of the Vietnam war. Your grandmother might remember some of the terrible poverty of the depression ers.

Tadziu and Marysza know poverty and childhood heartache but remain close until unfortunate circumstances cause their lives to diverge. They meet again, marrry, and have a son but the marriage does not lost. Divorce, other love affairs,separation, Tadziu's attempts at reconciliation and Marysza's continuous refusal to accept him back weaken Tadzu's spirit but the face of his childhood love remains forever imbedded in his soul.As the story closes, he gains the love and respect of the son he never accepted.

Posted by: Geraldine Wierzbicki-Roach | Monday December 14, 2009 at 10:10 PM

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