At a time when nonfiction is king and publishers are hesitant to give new writers a chance, Lauren Groff came onto the scene as a largely unknown author of fiction. In 2015 her novel Fates and Furies was nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction, and in 2018 she was nominated again for her second short-story collection, Florida. Here, Groff shares three of “the quiet books that continue to reverberate in me months after I finished reading them,” including a story collection by midcentury writer Nancy Hale, available now.
Where the Light Falls: Selected Stories of Nancy Hale
I have been thinking of Nancy Hale ever since the Library of America and I edited a compilation of the great midcentury writer’s short stories. Born into a Boston Brahmin family and living much of her life in Virginia, Nancy Hale wrote stories of such exquisite balance and grace that you don’t quite understand how elegant they are until hours after you finish reading them, when they suddenly strike you with their hidden power. Hale wrote more than 80 stories for The New Yorker, and yet she has been largely forgotten, even by people like me, who adore the short-story form and believe we know its history. Everyone who has worked on Where the Light Falls hopes, very much, that this book will right the record, and will remind people how astonishing the short story can be in a true master’s hands.
The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald
I also re-read Penelope Fitzgerald’s utterly perfect novel The Blue Flower, a book about the philosopher Novalis, which is so light and joyous that reading it feels like watching a dancer perform at the height of her powers. Fitzgerald makes historical fiction startling and strange and new; I read this book when I feel particularly low about the pertinence of historical fiction in these swift, disquieting, deeply fraught times.
Versailles, by Kathryn Davis
Along the lines of a book of historical fiction so brilliant it remakes the form, I’ve also re-read Versailles, a novel about Marie Antoinette so deeply invested in its place and time, so delighted with the joy of being young and beautiful and alive, that you hold your breath, forgetting that you already know what befalls the misunderstood queen. Like Nancy Hale, Kathryn Davis is a master who doesn’t get her due; unlike Hale, she’s alive and writing brilliant books today. Read Versailles and spread the word. Kathryn Davis is a magician.
Where the Light Falls, The Blue Flower, and Versailles are all available at your local independent bookstore or on Amazon