What’s the Story?
By Gwen Cooper
To celebrate The Insider’s one-year anniversary—not to mention a full year of pretty random quarantine reading—this week we’re rounding up a small selection of novels that feature an anniversary as an essential plot point.
Rendezvous in Black, Cornell Woolrich – I’m never sure if I love Cornell Woolrich despite his nihilism or because of it. Mid-century mensch Johnny Marr loses his best girl in a senseless accident one balmy May 31st. Five men are responsible for that accident, and on every May 31st for the next five years, Marr exacts a diabolical, inexorable revenge upon one of them. Surprisingly heart-rending for an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn – By now, you’ve long-since either read this neo-noir crime novel with marital-drama leanings or decided to take a pass. If it’s the latter, allow me to be the latest in an undoubtedly long line of people who’ve told you this one’s well worth your time. It’s the morning of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary when Amy vanishes without a trace under suspicious circumstances. Husband Nick professes his innocence, but subtle conflicts in Nick and Amy’s back-and-forth narration leave us with the uneasy feeling that all may not be as it seems—and that neither of our narrators is strictly reliable. You should trust that feeling.
The Anniversaries, Uwe Johnson – According to the New York Review of Books, “Late in 1967, Uwe Johnson set out to write a book that would take the unusual form of a chapter for every day of the ongoing year.” In 2018, their publishing imprint released the first English-language edition of the 1700-page, three-volume work that resulted from this literary experiment, which was originally published in Germany in 1971, 1973, and 1983. I’ll admit to not yet having found the time to read this long-drawn tale of an East German émigré and her granddaughter, making their way on New York’s Upper West Side in the late ‘60s, but I swear it’s somewhere in the vicinity of my nightstand.
The Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy – The plot of this Cold War-era political thriller kicks off when Soviet Navy commander Marko Ramius prepares to defect—along with a state-of-the-art Russian nuclear submarine—on the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death from cancer. If you’ve seen the movie (and you almost certainly have), don’t be surprised if you’re only able to “hear” Ramius’s dialogue in Sean Connery’s voice as you read.
Vintage 1954, Antoine Laurain – Hubert Larnaudie invites a few fellow tenants in his Parisian apartment building—along with one American tourist from Wisconsin—to join him in drinking a 1954 Beaujolais on the 2017 anniversary of its bottling. The next morning, they all wake up in 1954 Paris on—you guessed it—the exact day the wine was bottled. I’ll admit to having found this light-hearted dramedy a bit twee and vexing. (What are the odds that four people spending one day in 1954 Paris would each separately have a serendipitous encounter with at least one of the following: Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, François Truffaut, and Jacques Prévert?) But it’s so thoroughly beloved by the Laurain faithful that I’m willing to concede that the problem may be mine and not the book’s.
Gwen Cooper is the New York Times bestselling author of Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat; My Life in a Cat House: True Tales of Love, Laughter, and Living with Five Felines; Spray Anything: More True Tales of Homer and the Gang; and The Book of PAWSOME: Head Bonks, Raspy Tongues, and 101 Reasons Why Cats Make Us So, So Happy; along with numerous other titles. Her work has been published in nearly two-dozen languages. Gwen lives in Jersey City with her husband, Laurence. She also lives with her two perfect cats--Clayton "the Tripod" and his litter-mate, Fanny--who aren't impressed with any of it. Check out a full list of Gwen's titles on her Amazon.com author page.