You know where you want to go, but you don't know for sure...
October 13, 2013 12:12 PM   Subscribe

[Book filter] Please recommend stories about people who find out (through trail and error) what they really want, and eventually get there (after a bunch of detours).

I've just finished reading a (fairly good) novel where everyone had some sort of an unwavering agenda. This makes for interesting plots, but real life is never so one-dimensional: people often start out with a fuzzy idea of what they want, and a clearer idea of what they don't want. They try things out and stick with the things that seem right. They change their minds a million times, and eventually they might end up somewhere where they truly belong.

So here's what I'm looking for:
  • A plot with a general direction but no clear goal
  • Characters with agency and depth
  • Trail and error/red herrings that contribute to the plot
  • A satisfying ending where everything is resolved
Perhaps most (auto)biographies fit these criteria, but I'm more interested in the story aspect, so if you know any with well-crafted plots feel free to recommend those. I prefer shorter stories (three books or less) but don't mind reading a long one if it's really good.

Thank you!!
posted by fix to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Anything by Barbara Kingsolver or Anne Tyler.
posted by Kriesa at 12:20 PM on October 13, 2013

It's not "a million times," but you might be interested in "The Razor's Edge."
posted by rhizome at 12:21 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by pont at 12:33 PM on October 13, 2013

Well, it's not a novel, but Wild by Cheryl Strayed came immediately to mind.
posted by telegraph at 12:34 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by segfault at 12:38 PM on October 13, 2013

Response by poster: It doesn't have to be a 'personal epic' - the camping part of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' certainly fits the bill.

Great suggestions so far, thanks!
posted by fix at 12:50 PM on October 13, 2013

Jane Smileys Horse Heaven. Several of her books would fit the bill but especially that one.
posted by fshgrl at 1:23 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not "a million times," but you might be interested in "The Razor's Edge."
posted by rhizome at 8:21 PM on October 13 [+] [!]

Of Human Bondage
by the same author fits even better.
posted by rollick at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Razor's Edge.
posted by alms at 3:15 PM on October 13, 2013

That sounds like The Wizard of Oz:

Tin Woodsman: What have you learned, Dorothy?

Dorothy: Well, I - I think that it - it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em - and it's that - if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:51 PM on October 13, 2013

Pride and Prejudice leaps to mind.
posted by Erasmouse at 4:31 PM on October 13, 2013

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold. Miles has always thought he wanted to be an admiral in the Imperial Service, but it turns out that another imperial office suits him much better.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:52 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

What about Jeanette Walls "Glass Castle" and "Wild Horses". Seconding of Human Bondage and Cheryl Strayed as well. I'm also partial to "quit job and go to cooking school in France" type books, there's quite a few of those. Kathleen Flinn et al.
posted by bquarters at 5:30 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not a book, and maybe not what you're really looking for, but it's too strong a connection for me to let it go. Your question immediately brought to mind the following quote that has stuck with me from the movie Threesome:

My college experience wasn't what I had planned. It bore no resemblance to the pictures in the brochure. But I'm not unhappy; I don't think any of us are. We got what we needed out of it. It's kind of like going on a vacation - you plan everything out but one day you make a wrong turn or take a detour, and you end up in some crazy place you can never find on the map, doing something you never thought you'd do. Maybe you feel a little lost while it's happening. But, later, you realize it was the best part of the whole trip.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 5:33 PM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just finished Of Human Bondage, and the others are totally right. It fits your description perfectly.
posted by girlpublisher at 6:23 PM on October 13, 2013

Jane Eyre
posted by freshwater at 7:19 PM on October 13, 2013

I came in here to second Of Human Bondage. One of my favorite books and it epitomizes your description.
posted by cakebatter at 7:33 PM on October 13, 2013

Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb
posted by perhapses at 9:01 PM on October 13, 2013

I think a lot of those thick, multicharacter historical novels are like this, because they tend to be about people being tossed about on the waves of history and making the best of it, or abandoning one goal and finding a new one. A few great ones off the top of my head:

Fall of Giants by Ken Follet
Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

These all have very satisfying endings as well.
posted by lunasol at 11:50 PM on October 13, 2013

Walking to Mercury by Starhawk.
A neopagan woman decides to take her (Jewish) mother's ashes to Mt Everest.
And then it kind of goes into her history, and what she'd thought she'd wanted, versus where she actually goes in life ("They change their minds a million times, and eventually they might end up somewhere where they truly belong").

Oddly, the author wrote another book with some of the same characters, in a completely different style - in the future, scifi/fantasy utopia/dystopia. Many people who liked one, completely didn't get the other.
posted by Elysum at 3:19 AM on October 14, 2013

I think the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander meets these criteria, especially Taran Wanderer. Five books of classic fantasy.
posted by JDC8 at 9:22 AM on October 14, 2013

The Geography of Bliss, maybe?
posted by bigasthesky at 7:23 AM on October 15, 2013

Response by poster: Great suggestions, thanks everyone!
posted by fix at 5:50 AM on November 14, 2013

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