Contemporary Fiction is a Real Genre

In the midst of other fiction genres—thrillers, mysteries, romances, and whatnot—it seems contemporary fiction oftentimes gets overlooked or left out.

“Contemporary fiction? Oh, you mean general fiction.”

Well, yes. But also, no. Contemporary fiction isn’t merely a general or nonspecific classification, and it certainly isn’t a throwaway category.

Granted, if I had to pick a favorite genre, historical fiction would likely be mine. As I think about the many historical novels I’ve read over the years, not all of them have been about an actual historical figure or event. A good number of the stories have been about purely fictional characters experiencing various facets of life during time periods in the past. Experiencing life in a historical setting doesn’t necessarily mean the characters are investigating a crime, or searching for true love, or discovering magical gates to lead them into different realms.

You can think of contemporary fiction as a bookend to historical fiction, if you like. Not every contemporary plot is about investigating crimes, searching for true love, discovering magical gates that lead to different realms, or other scenarios that reflect genres folks may identify more readily. Many contemporary stories are about fictional characters experiencing various facets of life in contemporary times. And life is nothing to sneeze at.

You may find a story about a brother estranged from his siblings, navigating the winding path to reconciliation. Or a woman tackling the challenges of opening a shelter for survivors of abuse. Or a man whose best friend is diagnosed with a terminal disease, so the two of them interrupt their regularly scheduled schedules to go and snap all the pictures they can on a road trip they’ve been putting off for years. No telling how many contemporary scenarios I could come up with.

And as for women’s fiction—

“Women’s fiction? Oh, you mean romance.”

Nope. I mean women’s fiction.

The romance genre is its own thing, and its rules are specific. The development of a romantic relationship must be the main focus of the plot, the story must have an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending for the couple, and other rules that adhere to the romance genre formula. Sell a “romance” novel where the hero and heroine shake hands, say goodbye, and go their separate ways in the end, or where nothing romantic happens until late in the story because the hero and heroine are busy with other matters and only just meet each other halfway through the book, and you’re gonna have a lot of miffed romance readers on your hands.

They’re not in the romance genre, but these two contemporary stories certainly have romance in their storylines.

But that’s beside the point. Finding someone to date or to stand at the altar with isn’t the only thing that happens in women’s lives, folks. 😀 Women’s fiction encompasses much more than that, with women’s growth and experiences as the focus. Their health. Their careers. Their rights. Their relationships with friends and family. The list goes on. And, yes, a women’s fiction novel can include a romantic storyline if it wants to, but it’s not necessary.

Of course, this isn’t to say that women’s fiction is restricted to the contemporary category. You can find historical women’s fiction. Fantasy women’s fiction. Again, the list goes on. But women’s fiction is indeed a big component of contemporary fiction, where characters experience so many of the ins and outs of modern life.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ll enjoy a good present-day mystery, or a present-day suspense story, or a present-day romance, or a present-day sci-fi adventure. But just because a present-day story may not be from one of those genres doesn’t mean the story is ambiguous or genre-less.

Contemporary fiction is a real genre.

A Few
Contemporary
Novels
I’ve Read

 

Ms. Ely’s Christmas Wish: A New Life Tabernacle Short Story by LaShonda Bowman

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Ms. Ely’s Christmas Wish: A New Life Tabernacle Short Story by LaShonda Bowman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

More than anything, Orella Ely has wanted her loved ones to lead happy lives. But now that it’s happening for some of them, Ms. Ely is starting to feel left out, especially with Christmas coming up. Her cousins say it’s time for her to relocate to Arizona and to start her own new life in a senior community in Ms. Ely’s Christmas Wish: A New Life Tabernacle Short Story by author LaShonda Bowman.

First off, this “short story” isn’t as short as that. It’s possibly on the low end of a novella, but I’m sure it’s a novelette, at least.

Secondly, I’ll admit I haven’t read any of the New Life Tabernacle novels, or anything else by this author, for that matter. So I wasn’t sure how it would feel to jump into this story so blind.

Turns out, it felt great! This is really a beautiful tale. Now, it’s not a sugary-Christmas-corny kind of beautiful, as some of the people Ms. Ely deals with are terrible, toxic folks, and Ms. Ely isn’t a sugary, sweet-old-granny type of heroine. Don’t get me wrong—I like my share of Christmas corn for the holidays, but Ms. Ely’s sauciness and snap add some kick (and humor!) to this read. Her brand of snark didn’t put me off, since her love and faith are still evident, even minus the sugariness.

This story managed to break my heart in places without becoming a depressing read. The time or two when I didn’t agree with Ms. Ely’s sentiments or choices, I still understood. And I liked how I couldn’t predict every turn the story took, whether major or minor.

I’d be happy to go back to read more about Ms. Ely earlier in the series and to treat it like “prequel” reading.

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Note to my blog readers: this book contains a couple of mild instances of language I wouldn’t use.

 

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

They’d been tamed beyond their wild nature…and I knew that capture had damaged their souls.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered every time. “We were meant to be free.”

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by author Patti Callahan: the story of Joy Davidman and the man who would one day be her husband, C. S. Lewis. Or Jack, to those who knew him.

Yes, it was my recognition of Lewis and his works, my fondness for Narnia, and my remembrance of A Grief Observed that drew my attention to this fictionalized account. But no, I wasn’t looking for a novel romanticizing or idolizing Davidman and Lewis as if they weren’t real, flawed human beings, more than just their well-known literature. To that point, I’m glad this isn’t a historical “romance.”

Even so, it’s one of those rare times when I can’t accurately rate how I feel about a book–and not only because I decided not to finish it (though I did read most of it.)

This author’s style is seasoned, unrushed, and rich, and there were moments in the reading that gave me wonderful pause. Joy as a girl, empathizing with lions in captivity. The idea that we wouldn’t get where we are without what we’ve gone through. Observing Joy, her children, and Jack, then going back to look at the dedication in one of my copies of Narnia and saying, “Ooohhh.” Contemplating a life beyond one’s own captivity: “What on earth would become of me if I should ever grow brave?”

And, of course, my writer self understanding so much about characters who are writers.

Yet, though I do enjoy dense novels when I can, this one was hard for me to keep pushing through. I found much of it depressing. A resolution here but then more despair there. Continual, increasing longing, going unfulfilled. I can appreciate stories of people slowly growing in love, but when it’s a moral dilemma, a constant struggle against a character’s conscience, it’s like reading about a whole lot of feelings that feel wrong. Once I got to Joy and Harry, I couldn’t push on much further.

I’m not sorry I gave this novel a chance, though.

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Everyone was sickly from so little nourishment and bleak from wondering if it would ever end. We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.

World War II has passed. Juliet, a writer in London, is in need of an idea for her next book. Perhaps the key to what she needs can be found with a hodgepodge of book club members on the island of Guernsey in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

So. Did I read this book on account of the recent release of its corresponding film? Yes. And no.

It wasn’t the film that brought the novel’s existence to my attention. A copy of the novel had been sitting on my bookshelf for years. Once the film released, I was intrigued enough by the looks of it to want to watch it. But not before I read the book.

First things first, you know.

Having also read The Book Thief earlier this year, this is the second novel I’ve recently read with the intertwined themes of the blessing of literature and the horror of WWII. Also, being a writer myself, I love running across novels and movies about writers.

Now, I didn’t fall in love with this book. Admittedly, stories told by way of characters’ written correspondence isn’t the easiest sell for me. Though it allows for some nifty plot development, it does make me feel as if I’m reading bits “about” a story instead of reading the story itself, and my interest flowed in and out during the mishmash of bits here. While I admired Juliet during a moment involving a gift of wood, I didn’t exactly come to feel more than calm indifference for her altogether. I tend not to love a story if I’m not all that into the main character.

Even so, some of the cleverness, irony, and quirky characterizations in the novel reminded me of reading L.M. Montgomery’s writing, with which I’ve had an…interesting relationship, over the years. And the bibliophile in me could still recognize why many others do love this book.

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Note to my blog readers: this novel contains a minimal amount of profanity.