The novel that put Herman Melville on the map was not Moby Dick, but his first novel Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846). This work was so popular that it remained Melville’s bestselling work throughout his life, with Moby Dick achieving its high status only after his death. What fascinated readers of the time was the up-close rendering of native islanders in the South Seas – a life and culture they had never before experienced. What made the book even more exciting for many was the fact that it was based on Melville’s own experiences after he deserted the whaling ship Acushnet in 1842. He spent about a month in the Taipi valley of an island in the Marquesas, and while the scope and drama of Moby Dick has proved a literary masterpiece, Typee offered a much more exotic story than one set aboard a whaling vessel. Perhaps his personal experiences gave the narrative a little more bite, but it’s one of the few books published in the mid-1800′s that I’d call a page-turner. This is a wonderful introduction to the world of Herman Melville, and a fascinating blend of the travelogue and adventure tale.
This is much more than your average suspense thriller. It’s not a thriller at all, really, but so compelling and suspenseful that it’s certainly a thrill to read and a major page turner, just like a thriller. This is Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply (2009).
Chaon (pronounced “shawn”) uses a device in this book similar to Kate Atkinson, weaving three separate stories and a small handful of characters together to create a deeply engrossing tale of identity – who we are, who we wish to be, and who we ultimately become. One of the greatest aspects of this book is the way – in the first few pages – little details drop into place in ways that compel you to read on. The essential details of the three storylines are this: Miles Cheshire is a man haunted by the absence of his twin brother Hayden, and despite years of wondering where he was or what bizarre situations he’s become involved with, he finally gives in and goes to great lengths to find his wayward twin. Lucy Lattimore is a recent high school graduate who lights out-of-town with her former history teacher, only to quickly and deeply question the choices she’s made and the man who’s led her to make those decisions. And Ryan Schuyler is a college student who suddenly disappears in an attempt to remake himself in what becomes a daily struggle to maintain and create an almost ever-changing identity.
This is certainly one of the most interesting pieces of fiction to emerge in the last few years, and though you instinctively know these three stories are bound to intersect at some point, the eventual resolution is both highly original and deeply satisfying. Chaon has written a few other books including Among the Missing and You Remind Me of Me, as well as a terrific story collection called Fitting Ends. He’s definitely someone to watching in the future and, though I’ve said it before, I highly recommend this one.