Friday, December 9, 2011

Five of the best recent novels that channel classics

At The Daily Beast Caryn James named five top recent novels that channel classics.

One book on the list:
What Happened to Anna K.
by Irina Reyn

Reyn’s stunning first novel, published in 2008, deserves to be better known. The title signals her affection for Tolstoy as she shrewdly turns Anna Karenina and her family into Russian emigres living in Queens.

Like Anna Karenina, Reyn’s story sympathetically charts the dislocation of a woman who hasn’t found an identity of her own, marries an older man because it is time, then leaves him and their son, Sasha, for her romanticized younger lover. Reyn’s version of the dashing military man Vronsky is even less ideal than Tolstoy’s; he’s an impoverished adjunct professor named David.

The subplot echoes Tolstoy too, as Anna K’s cousin, Katia, marries the earnest Lev (Anna Karenina’s Kitty and Levin). Her most Tolstoyan touch, though, comes with her detailed realism, a total immersion in Anna’s world, from the Queens and its discount fashion shops “with their mirrored walls, their fur-swaddled mannequins,” to her married life on East 80th Street in Manhattan, furnished by visits to “auctions at William Doyle, SoHo showrooms.”

Throughout, Reyn’s taut dramatic trajectory never lets us forget that a subway is also a train.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: What Happened to Anna K.

--Marshal Zeringue