Autumn's literary lineup is rife with complicated women, each with a secret history of her own.

By EW Staff
August 24, 2020 at 11:00 AM EDT
Advertisement

As the summer winds down, the drama winds… up. At least in the literary world. The coming season brings a slew of novels with highly complicated women at the center — some are grappling with secrets in their inner lives, where others' secrets are of a more criminal manner. Below, check out EW's guide to new female-led fiction.

The Talented Miss Farwell, by Emily Gray Tedrowe

Known for her nuanced portraits of relationships, the author, 46, takes a deliciously Machiavellian turn in this new novel, out Sept. 29.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the initial conception of the novel?

EMILY GRAY TEDROWE: It's very loosely based on a true story — there is a small town in Illinois where a woman was convicted of embezzling $50 million over 20 years as a tiny town government employee. I heard about half the headline [on the radio], and I was instantly captivated. So I set off to imagine my own version of this person. Becky Farwell exists between two worlds: her small town and the elite art scene.

How did she take shape for you?

[She] just kind of appeared to me instantly. I felt like I knew her right away. I don't know if that's a bad thing to admit. [Laughs] I think all of us have different identities that we inhabit when we move from one segment of our life to another. I really loved exploring that to the extreme: Becky comes from a place where everyone knows everyone, but when she enters this art world, she doesn't know the social codes. I'm fascinated by the class issues in con-artist stories — there's usually some [element of ] trying to inhabit a different class.

The title invokes The Talented Mr. Ripley, another book about a brilliant con artist. Did you take any inspiration from him?

I would hope I took kind of everything, because Patricia Highsmith is such a genius. I hope the title reads [as] homage to her, because I would certainly not compare myself to her. I love the Tom Ripley character; when you read those novels, you just cannot stop your own intense fear of him getting caught. You know he needs to, but you can't bear the suspense. I wanted to play that same tune.

What about people like Anna Delvey or Elizabeth Holmes, from our current era of the high-stakes scam?

Yes! Women in fiction who lead a double life [are] often portrayed in the domestic role or the relationships role, like a woman who has an affair or leaves her family. I very specifically wanted to explore the idea of a female con artist who is ambitious about pretty much everything except for relationships. To me, that was sort of the heart of Becky. She does have friendships, she sometimes has sex, but mostly she has her obsession. That's kind of what she lives for. —Mary Sollosi

Sisters, by Daisy Johnson

Family is both an endless source of fascination and a flytrap for Johnson, whose gothic mother-daughter mystery Everything Under made her the youngest novelist ever to be nominated for a Booker Prize, in 2018. Her heady follow-up traces the obsessive relationship between teenage siblings July and September: Born just 10 months apart, they exist together in a self-contained world even their own mother can hardly penetrate. But when an ugly incident at school disrupts their feverish pas de deux, September's grip on her younger sister becomes more menacing, too — a fraught and feral thing that Johnson evokes with clammy, startling intimacy. B+ —Leah Greenblatt

Monogamy, by Sue Miller

Annie is a photographer, Graham owns a bookstore; their love story is both ordinary and extraordinary, the long work of a messy but happy life. Until Annie wakes up one morning to find the cozy certainty of their coupledom — the wine, the dinner parties, the lazy Saturdays in bed — blown apart in a moment. None of what follows is particularly new, but in the hands of a master of domestic fiction like Miller (While I Was Gone, The Senator's Wife), that hardly feels like the point. The richness of Monogamy is in its lived-in quality, and the fresh revelations she finds in the familiar: a portrait of a marriage suffused with earned wisdom and quiet empathy. B+ —L.G.

One by One, by Ruth Ware

A luxury ski chalet in the French Alps, a massive snowstorm, eight coworkers. It's an equation that could be totally manageable, but add in a devastating avalanche, a power outage at the chalet, and the single-file disappearance of each member of the group and it quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares — or, in this case, Ruth Ware's latest thriller. —Seija Rankin

Evening, by Nessa Rapoport

The novel follows a family sitting shiva after the death of their daughter — as secrets about the late Tam, and a massive fight she had with the still-living Eve, begin to emerge. —S.R.

White Fox, by Sara Faring

This ghost story, about two sisters who uncover their long-missing mother's screenplay about the spooky goings-on of a remote island from their childhood, is technically YA — but it's scary enough for any adult. —S.R.

Related content:

Comments