Secrets of the (Recent) Past

I’ve been on a reading kick lately, as life has supplied me with lots of late-night and early morning opportunities in which my mind isn’t good for much else (thanks, baby growth spurt!). I’ve always been all about Kate Morton, and after finishing her latest two back to back, I’m a true fangirl. Seriously, if you haven’t read The Distant Hours and The Secret Keeper yet, do it. Like, now. They’re probably the best books I’ve read in the past year.

Both of these novels were partially set in WWII London, which made me notice something: I read a lot of historical fiction, but it’s recent history–twentieth century, usually. In romance, historical settings outside of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are typically seen as “hard sells.” In literary fiction, twentieth century time periods are more common, but even then, there’s usually a tie to the present day, generally in the form of “story within a story.” The present-day narrative is typically thinner, sometimes serving as just a framework to the “real” story.

From time to time, I’ve wondered why that is. Does it make these novels Historical, or Contemporary–or both? Do readers (and publishers) not see these as historical enough to stand alone? Or is it more about the extra layer of mystery, and the thrill of uncovering secrets from the past? Maybe it’s a bit of both. Either way, it’s a style I love and find myself returning to again and again. If you could sneak a peek at my Kindle, at least half the content would be somewhat set in the twentieth century past. The other half consists of rock star/groupie memoirs…and no, I am not embarrassed to admit this to the entire internet. But wait a minute–these are all about the recent past, too! Boom. That was my mind just getting blown.

So what the hell’s your point, Syd, you may be asking. The point is this-or a question, really: is there an untapped genre of recent-historical, or past-contemporary fiction waiting to be written and enjoyed by people like me? Nostalgia Lit, if you will. Standalone novels set in the forties, fifties, seventies, eighties–whatever–would they be marketable without the present-day framing of the story? Hell, it works on Mad Men–why not in literature? And I, your fearless friend, am going to try it.

So, what time periods do you most like to read about?



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