As Malcolm Gladwell so well explained in David and Goliath, sometimes the little guy is more powerful than he looks. And so it is with novels, too.
While I'm very much looking forward to We Are Not Ourselves, a big fat novel about Irish Americans in the mid 20th century, coming in the fall, I stumbled on a smaller book on a similar topic last month. That book is The Blessings, the fourth novel by the Philadelphia-based author Elise Juska.
What's so great about this book? It feels like it's about people you know -- even if you're not Catholic or from Philadelphia -- because Juska writes such particular and yet simultaneously universal characters. My favorite was Lauren, who becomes a widow in the book's first section, and stays the heart of the novel even if she's not usually center-stage. She's long-suffering, but not so much stoic as infused by a sane optimism and plenty of love for her children (of course) and also for her nutty in-laws.
This is a book for lovers of Elizabeth Strout's work (Amy and Isabelle) and the stories of Jennifer Haigh, (partly for the Pennsylvania-isms). It's kind of an update on the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and a sibling to the less well known but spectacular Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy.
The Blessings is what I'm telling my smart friends to read on the beach.