15 Women Writers Discuss Their Favorite Overlooked Books
I loved Karen E. Bender's Like Normal People when I originally read it 15 years ago and have occasionally found myself thinking about it and going to my bookshelf to read passages from it ever since. Its characters became real, complicated, stirring people—and that's a necessity for me in a novel. The women who populate this book are not only believable, but they can also make me hold my breath with worry or anticipation: matriarch Ella; her daughters, Lena and Vivien; and her granddaughter, Shelley. Lena, referred to by the outdated term "mentally retarded," is at the heart of the story. The book explores her deep bond with Ella, a bond that grows more complex over time, and Shelley's discovery that it is with her Aunt Lena that she feels most at home.
Like Normal People is a novel unafraid of emotion; it doesn't try to offset strong, even overwhelming feelings with ironic observation. Yes, Bender is a witty writer, and the word normal in the title surely has a touch of archness to it. But Bender is also tender, and never judgmental–a writer I can always count on whether I want to turn to familiar pleasures or find new ones.
Bender is also the author of Refund.