Underneath It All

Not all stories have to be about grand, soaring adventure. Sometimes the little stories, the stories of ordinary wives and mothers, particularly of a certain age, are just as illuminating. So, without further ado, here are some picks for domestic fiction.

Sima has a routine: open Sima's Undergarments for Women (also the title of Ilana Stanger-Ross' novel), smile for the customers, use her prodigious powers of observation to meet their needs, close the shop for the evening, and go upstairs to her Brooklyn apartment and joyless marriage. Due to a long-ago incident, Sima has never been able to have children, and it eats her up inside. Enter Timna, a young Israeli who Sima hires as a seamstress and assistant. Sima treats her like the daughter she never had, feeding her, introducing her to everyone (including her husband) and worrying over her. Especially that last bit. It isn't until Timna's departure that Sima comes to peace with her life, but come to it she does. Not a book for fans of bombast, Sima's Undergarments for Women is full of small losses and victories, much like the Jewish community Sima lives in. Stanger-Ross captures the poetry of Yiddish-inflected language of Brooklyn and of the ebb and flow of common lives.

In Randy Sue Coburn's Owl Island, Phoebe has a grown daughter, a thriving business, and a decent life on Puget Sound. Then a not-quite-stranger comes to town. Turns out, he's Whit Traynor, a famous film director and once the love of Phoebe's life. At 19, Phoebe had done a great deal of never-credited work on his breakout film. Her relationship with this older man dissolved messily and teenage Phoebe fled, pregnant and unsure of her baby's paternity. Now, Phoebe has to make some decisions: does she upend her sweet relationship with a local man for another chance with Whit? Does Whit deserve for her to do so? Is she ready to live in someone else's shadow again? Highly evocative of the coastal Pacific Northwest, this novel will take readers on Phoebe's journey of self-discovery and fulfillment.

For laughs as well as tears, it's hard to beat Jennifer Weiner's Certain Girls. A sequel to Good in Bed, Candace is married to a nice doctor and is preparing for her daughter Joy's bat mitzvah. Alternating between Candace and Joy, one experiences all the drama of the adolescent/mother relationship. You see, Joy is looking for her maternal grandfather and Candace is looking to have a second child via surrogate. Add in the brouhaha caused when Joy reads Candace's racy novel that she wrote around the time of Joy's conception, and you will feel all the feels.

So, do you have favorite books about women at a certain place in their lives? Please join the conversation!