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5 Women Writers Breaking the Mold

by | March 5

Early last year, the New York Times Book Review published an incredible list of books by women who were shaping our fiction in the 21stcentury, and I’ve been obsessively reading through it ever since. It was such a perfect list to highlight some of the kickass women who are writing today, and breaking open fiction in countless different ways. But a list of 15 women to read is not nearly enough to satisfy (me). Honestly, I would read through a hundred books by a hundred of these subversive women, to see where the boundaries of our fiction lie, and how women are purposefully and willfully leaping over these constraints. So here are some authors and novels that I wish were included in the Times’s New Vanguard list.

Photo by Kat Stokes on Unsplash

The Need

The Need

by Helen Phillips

The Need by Helen Phillips is a knockout novel that seems like a thriller, but is also pretty set on subverting everything about what that word means. Molly is an archaeologist and a mother juggling the raising of two kids, struggling to balance her two personas with these two little people who rely on her deeply. All of this is thrown into chaos when a masked intruder breaks into her home while her husband musician is away on tour. There is so much weird speculativeness to this book, but to explain any more would be an absolute spoiler. However, I will say, reading Phillips’s visceral and graphic descriptions of some everyday gross tasks of being both a woman and a mother were fascinating to me, and such a standout part of this book. You’ll be able to add this to your TBR when it releases in July.

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You Know You Want This

You Know You Want This

by Kristen Roupenian

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian is a collection of dark and creepy short stories, focused on the horrible things that women do, and the horrible things that are done to women. It breaks open the deeper parts of ourselves, and shows us some of the black goo that lingers there. The stories have such a range to them, but one of my particular favorites is “The Good Guy,” in which Roupenian gives voice to Ted, a “good” guy who is obsessed with women thinking of him as such. That said, all the stories in this collection have something unique and strange and fascinating to offer.

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Pretend I'm Dead

Pretend I'm Dead

by Jen Beagin

Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin is what would happen if Lucia Berlin (author of the short story collection A Manual for Cleaning Womenwas writing today and was a lot more jaded and aggressively sarcastic. Beagin’s novel about Mona, a cleaning woman in New England, is filled with sharp and corrosive wit, which pulled me through it. Mona strikes up a weird relationship with a man she only refers to as Mr. Disgusting, who eventually convinces her to move to New Mexico to really find herself.

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Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman

by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is another incredible book that breaks down the conventions of identity and womanhood in fiction in a way you can’t ignore. Keiko has never fit in with life, has never followed the normal path. When she starts to work in a convenience store in college, people temporarily accept and support her, assuming that she will work only until she can find a husband to support her and have children with. But when she’s still working at the store at the age of 36, thriving under the detailed instructions and routine there, people start to question her. This short book is so riveting, you have to give it a read.

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The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

by N. K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin isn’t what you’d expect from a “typical literary read”: it’s got so many fantastical elements to it. This book is one I’ve been shouting about for years, and destroys all the molds that came before it. The way that Jemisin throws convention out the window, focuses her story on a middle-aged mother who is strong and powerful, had my jaw on the floor. It’s so subversive, so engrossing. And that’s even before mentioning how fanciful this world is, and the magical structure, the lore, behind it all. I love this book and the rest of this series in a hundred different ways, and I’m sure you will too.

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Cara Nesi is a sales rep at Simon & Schuster who sells to independent bookstores in the Midwest. She grew up in the suburbs of New York and attended the University of Pittsburgh before returning to start her career in publishing. She enjoys reading literary fiction, especially absurdist authors like George Saunders, but she also reads A LOT of fantasy, science fiction and young adult books. Occasionally, she writes some fiction and non-fiction too. You can find her on twitter at @caranesi.