I don't remember the last time two novels I finished back-to-back gave me such reader's whiplash.
Both authors are women, write in English and each has a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue. But in every other significant aspect, "Push" (1996 - Sapphire) and "How It All Began" (2011 - Penelope Lively) could have been written by people from separate planets for people from different planets. And despite my whiplash, both books genuinely moved me. Perhaps I'm from the planet in between?
To be very clear: Though hard-pressed to say which author scored a bigger triumph, I can recommend "How It All Began" almost without caveats. Recommending "Push" would be more complicated. Though both authors use family dynamics to help frame their stories, Lively's cast is almost unfailingly polite; Sapphire's almost unfailingly profane. Dysfunction? Very small "d" in the London of "How It All Began"; bold, capital "D" in the Harlem of "Push".
The author's writing styles mesh beautifully with milieu and characters. Proper English for those inhabiting the world of Charlotte Rainsford, the retired schoolteacher at the center of Lively's novel; highly colloquial street language (spoken and written) for the voice of Precious Jones, the illiterate 16 year old dominating "Push".
"How It All Began" is gentle even when it stings. "Push" is remorseless even when it softens. What was the last reading experience you had anything like this?