Humanist fiction that is nourishing to the damaged soul?
January 14, 2013 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Last summer I finally finished Infinite Jest, and looking back on it changed my life in a good way. Recently, I bought a George Saunders collection after reading this glowing NYT profile of his work and it is starting to do the same thing in many ways. Can you suggest other authors in a similar vein whose fiction speaks to the reality of contemporary experience in a way that is both profound and suffused with kindness? I was recommended Richard Powers, and enjoyed the book of his that I read, but didn't make the same emotional connection that I did with Saunders & Wallace.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
I would have recommended Richard Powers as well; which of his books did you read? If it wasn't The Goldbug Variations, that is likely the one to start with followed by Plowing the Dark.
posted by vers at 8:13 AM on January 14, 2013

Kurt Vonnegut hits the same buttons for me that Saunders does. I think in particular Slapstick might be what you're looking for (and then you can read everything else he ever wrote, of course, because you can't go wrong with any of it.)
posted by superfluousm at 8:21 AM on January 14, 2013

Yeah, I find Powers very uneven. Galatea 2.2 was predictable and stupid; Gain made me sob shamelessly on the 1 train.

So, try Gain.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:23 AM on January 14, 2013

Iris Murdoch's books do this, and they are mostly kind, or at least generous, to their characters.
posted by Francolin at 8:30 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Perhaps Richard Russo's Empire Falls? It's been a few years since I've read it, but I recall Russo using shifting points-of-view in order to draw out compassion for all the characters (even the ones who don't seem that sympathetic at first).
posted by scody at 8:50 AM on January 14, 2013

I had a similar reaction to IJ, and would recommend Lorrie Moore's Birds of America and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad.
posted by susanvance at 9:01 AM on January 14, 2013

Seconding Vonnegut, though I might recommend starting with Cat's Cradle or Slaughterhouse Five. I also agree with Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad.
posted by barnoley at 9:22 AM on January 14, 2013

Stewart O'Nan fits the bill. Start with The Good Wife or maybe Last Night at the Lobster.
posted by scratch at 9:25 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love Vonnegut already, though I fear he is too pessimistic for me, Cat's Cradle is wonderful but given the choice I opt for Bradbury over Vonnegut.

The powers book I read was Galatea 2.2 - but perhaps his other books are less science humanism with unlikeable characters I don't understand and more empathetic humanism?

Thanks for the recommendations so far!
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 9:41 AM on January 14, 2013

If you can find Going Blind by Jonathan Penner, read it.
posted by BibiRose at 9:54 AM on January 14, 2013

Henderson, the Rain King by Saul Bellow. I am not the type to fly on wings of inspiration but this book tricked me into it or something.

Also, any Jim Harrison book. True North and Dalva are great places to start. There is often sad subject matter in his novels, but no sadder than happens in real life and he doesn't skimp on the types of joy you can find in real life either. And he definitely describes the lives he creates with kindness, both to them and to you, the reader.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2013

Absolutely absolutely, in terms of 'fiction speaking to the reality of contemporary existence', the afore-mentioned A Visit From The Good Squad by Jennifer Egan.
posted by hydatius at 10:50 AM on January 14, 2013

Barbara Kingsolver and Zadie Smith are two of my favorites.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:57 AM on January 14, 2013

Well I love A Visit from the Goon Squad as much as the next person but I don't remember it being profound or suffused with kindness. How about One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper?
posted by lyssabee at 11:25 AM on January 14, 2013

For Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations and The Time of our Singing are my favorites (and Galatea 2.2 is pretty near the bottom of the heap.)
posted by Daily Alice at 11:58 AM on January 14, 2013

Armistead Maupin has a knack of making you feel warmly toward everyone in his worlds. If you've read Tales of the City, then Maybe The Moon is great too.
posted by mippy at 1:05 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes to Zadie Smith (I'd start with White Teeth).

Also: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (because duh, it's a MeFi book recommendation thread!). Coloring outside the lines a bit maybe Contact by Carl Sagan?
posted by davidjmcgee at 1:11 PM on January 14, 2013

Anne Tyler tends to be dismissed somewhat as a "domestic" writer, or a "women's" writer - if a Pulitzer Prize winner can be said to be dismissed, but I personally find her books rich with compassion and understanding of the human condition and contemporary life.

I found it hilarious when everyone shat their pants about Jonathon Franzen; Tyler had been writing those books - with half the length and twice emotional intelligence - for decades.

Personal favourites include but are not limited to: Saint Maybe, Patchwork Planet, A Ladder of Years, Breathing Lessons, Digging to America, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.
posted by smoke at 3:04 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nothing comes even close to DFW for me in terms of humanism, but if you want an odd book full of pathos and tenderness you should try The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (first recommended to me on AskMefi!). I've been surprised at how everyone I've in turn recommended it to also adores it.
posted by houndsoflove at 3:33 PM on January 14, 2013

Spider Robin's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon books.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:36 PM on January 23, 2013

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