If you’re looking for an edgy beach read this summer, Swan Huntley’s latest novel The Goddesses should be on your wish list. Set in the lush tropical paradise of Hawaii, the book tells the story of Nancy, a wife and mother who is desperate for a fresh start. She thinks that she has found it when she befriends Ana, a charismatic yoga teacher, but their all-consuming friendship begins to take a toll. The Goddesses has many of the ingredients of a perfect beach read, including psychological suspense, a peek behind the veneer of an aspirational world, and a compelling twist. As the author herself explains below, the book also straddles the line between light and dark. Keep reading to find out more about how the author approached this balancing act, and discover the other books that Huntley loves for their light and dark tone.
I love books about dark subjects written by funny people. Life can be bleak and humor is my coping mechanism. Unavoidably, an author’s life view is reflected in their work. My favorite authors are the ones who I assume share my opinion that life is a tragic comedy. A lighthearted approach to the problem of being human is the basis of all my work. In my second novel, The Goddesses, a housewife befriends her evil yoga teacher. Together they engage in the selfless act of handing out sandwiches – but for selfish ends. The stakes of this book are real. What happens is dismal. This is not a book that’s asking you to laugh out loud the whole time, but rather, to chuckle every so often at how funny it is to be alive.
Here are some other books that I admire for their light/dark tone:
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
This story about a love addict named Lucy who comes to terms with her issues is completely painful in the most hilarious way. I really felt like I was with Lucy on her journey as I read this. The first-person voice created such an understanding that I even agreed with some of her bad choices, or at least I could see why she made them. The asides about life, nothingness, and people with huge lips who touch them to make sure they’re still huge gave me great pleasure.
Lit by Mary Karr
Mary Karr’s memoir about drinking and sobriety is devastating. It’s also rendered with such spirited lightness. Drinking histories often turn into a self-flagellation game, or a proud list of stupid things people did when they were drunk, but in this one, the past is seen through the lens of someone who’s wry and full of heart.
Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood
Death fraud isn’t funny. The lows people must reach to even think about committing death fraud—it’s usually about money—are un-hilarious, period. Elizabeth Greenwood manages to find the comedy anyway. A story about a man who “dies” only to return to his home as a different person (but still named John) is captured respectfully and hilariously, and it’s this tone that keeps us entertained throughout. Also, the information I received from this book has given me the confidence to commit death fraud if necessary.
— Swan Huntley