Saturday, November 18, 2023

Seven novels about characters driven by their cravings

Garnett Cohen is the author of Cravings and three previous collections of short stories. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker online, Rumpus, The Gettysburg Review, StoryQuarterly, The Antioch Review and elsewhere, and she has been the recipient of many awards including a 2022 award from December magazine, the Crazyhorse National Fiction Prize, and four Illinois Arts Council Awards, as well as two Notable Essay citations from Best American Essays. She taught creative writing at Columbia College Chicago for more than thirty years and now works as a writer and an author consultant.

At Electric Lit Cohen tagged seven books that "exemplify what it means for complex characters to be defined by their cravings, and how their yearnings help establish relatable plots for all of us who have ever intensely wanted something." One title on the list:
Yellowface by R. F. Kuang

The main character in this engrossing narrative is fledgling author June Hayward, an ordinary white girl, who craves fame and fortune (mostly fame) for her literary prowess. She publishes one book to no acclaim, while at the same time her college friend, Athena Ling En Liu gets a multi-book deal right out of college, and then soars in the literary world. She earns so many accolades that even a “…Netflix deal was not a life changing event.” Who could begrudge June a bit of envy? But then Athena dies unexpectedly, giving June the opportunity to steal Athena’s most recent unpublished manuscript and, with a little revision, submit it to her agent as her own. From that moment on I could not turn pages fast enough to see what June would do to get what she wanted—plagiarize, lie, rationalize, even change her name to sound more ethnic. Amazingly, I didn’t dislike her—Kuang does a brilliant job of making June marginally sympathetic; her family has no interest or faith in what she does and at one point she considers changing agents to find one “who might make her feel like more of a person.” But I was continually astounded by her desperation and unwillingness to recognize her dishonesty even as it is bringing her down.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue