In this special series, we asked writers we admire to share a book they're giving to their friends and family this holiday season. Check back daily to see the books your favorite authors are gifting.
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The pleasures of Lore Segal's fiction are so enduring that I make gifts of her books whenever I can. Her 1975 novella Lucinella, reissued in 2009 by Melville House, is the story of a poet stumbling through the New York literary world. Normally I might flinch at a book about poetry readings, artist colonies, and writerly envy (the horror of self-recognition?!), but Segal unhinges her landscape enough that it's fresh and odd, tinged with the surreal. One of Lucinella's lovers, for instance, is Zeus — not a man called Zeus, but the Greek god himself. And our heroine meets iterations of herself ("the young Lucinella," "the old Lucinella") at cocktail parties, even has conversations with them.
Segal's 1985 novel Her First American is also superb. It's weird, hilarious, big-hearted, and unabashedly political. I know of few fictions that stare so bluntly at race and ethnicity as this one does, or whose sentences are as pleasingly askew. Said the New York Times:
Though Her First American does not have epic sweep and physical bulk, though it was not written by a man, though its main characters are a number of black Americans and a handful of Jewish refugees in New York City...Lore Segal may have come closer than anyone to writing The Great American Novel.
What's striking about both books is their lack of snark. Satirical and funny and deeply intelligent, neither aims at the easy target, the fish in the barrel. Instead we watch flawed characters afloat in wide, unpredictable water. Like Grace Paley's fiction, which handles its villains with compassion, Segal treats racism, sexism, and mammoth self-absorption with a gentle (if unswerving) eye.