Recently in a column in the New York Times called By the Book, the author Jeff Vandermeer who wrote the recent novel Hummingbird Salamander was asked if he thought novels should serve a moral function. His reply seemed to me to characterize much that is wrong with contemporary American fiction, “I enjoy books that don’t care if I think they should serve a moral function. Personally, I believe it’s more important that books be laboratories and experiments and it’s up to the reader to be moral. I trust my readers to know that, at times, I’m going to write wickedly and in a messed-up way, about messed-up characters who may behave in an unreliable or suspect manner.”
By moral fiction the questioner didn’t mean do they promote morality per se. Rather should books stir our deepest places where our values live? Vandermeer’s answer revealed what I have often thought when I put down yet another dreadful book: the writer is using the text as experiment and I am the unwilling subject of said experiment.
So it is with great delight that I read and absorbed Maggie Shipstead’s latest book from May of 2021, a 609 page gripping, complicated, consistently well written old fashioned novel. As Lynn Strong wrote in her May review of the novel in the New York Times “At a moment when so many novels seem invested in subverting form, “Great Circle” follows in a long tradition of Big Sweeping Narratives.”
Yes it is very long. Yes it is very involved. Yes it will be a slow read. But I hope that you, as did I, will savor nearly every word. The settings from Montana to Seattle and around the world and the characters of a woman pilot and a struggling actress will rattle around in your brain, taking up space there for a long satisfying while.