Coming of age, rite of passage, whatever you want to call it, it’s a legitimate literary genre. My novel Thanksgiving, which will be published by Koehler Books on (wait for it) Nov. 26, 2015, has been classified as “Fiction/Coming of Age” in the listings of the all-important Ingram book supplier.
“Coming of age” wasn’t what I aimed for as I wrote Thanksgiving, but that’s how it turned out. For the record, Thanksgiving began in the middle, in a short story about Emmaline’s brother Harry titled “A Fork in the Road.” When that story had some success, I started building the novel. Where did Harry come from? What was his background? How did he become the likable, low-level grifter that he is? Well, along comes Harry’s sister Emmaline, and her childhood friend Peg, and Peg’s college friend Mimi, and before you know it, they’ve taken over the book. And since Thanksgiving is now about where they all came from, well, that brings us back to where we started.
I guess it’s fitting that Thanksgiving is classified “coming of age,” because when I think about some of my favorite books, that’s what they are. In no particular order, some great coming of age stories:
Canada by Richard Ford. “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.” That, truly, belongs in the annals of the greatest opening lines of all times. I think it rivals “Call Me Ishmael.”
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. For me, this book proved the value of book clubs. It’s huge and dense, and to call its synopsis noncompelling is to flatter it. But a book club I’d wanted to join was reading it that month, so, oh well, I’ll give them a tryout with this monster tome. I couldn’t put it down. It was mesmerizing on so many level–historic, character-driven, funny, horrifying–that had nothing to do with the fact that the main character is a hermaphrodite.
The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley. A young girl tells about growing up in colonial Africa. From her observations, most of which she doesn’t realize the significance of, the reader learns what’s really going on with her parents and their friends.
Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. Kind of a backward coming of age. We meet the adults, but we don’t understand them till we meet them as children.
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. It’s always compared to The Help, but I think it’s better.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. The title says it all.