Little, Big

Little, Big by John Crowley (1981). When Smoky Barnable marries Daily Alice Drinkwater, in a pagan ceremony attended by guests seen and not seen, he enters a strange and magical family. Through the pages of this multigenerational fantasy epic, Crowley details the Drinkwater family’s connection to the world of Faerie—“the further in you go, the bigger it gets”—and the tale that shapes their fate.

Lolita

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955). “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” So begins the Russian master’s infamous novel about Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged man who falls madly, obsessively in love with a twelve-year-old “nymphet,” Dolores Haze. So he marries the girl’s mother. When she dies he becomes Lolita’s father.

London Fields

London Fields by Martin Amis (1989). Nicola Six, a psychic femme fatale in a soul-sick, lightly futuristic London, has a premonition that one of two men she’s just met will murder her, and then she works to make that happen. All of Amis’s tropes—the coming apocalypse, the self-consciousness of authorship, and hilarious clashes of sexes and classes—get full play in this sprawling romp of a novel.

Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985). Memorable characters (including prostitutes, outlaws, heroes, and Indians) grace this Pulitzer Prize–winning novel that examines the myths and reality of the American West through the story of two men driving cattle from Texas to Montana. As Augustus McCrae and W. F.

Lord Jim

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1900). Marlowe, Conrad’s narrator here (as he is in The Heart of Darkness), ironically labels Jim, the disgraced first mate at the center of his tale, “one of us,” meaning the small British colonial elite. However, Jim violates the code one life-defining night when, in a panic, he abandons his sinking ship while the passengers sleep.

Love Medicine

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (1984). The form of this novel, about two Native American families, reenacts that of a traditional Chippewa Indian story cycle—fourteen stories told by seven characters, forming a collage that forces the reader to sift through and weigh voice against voice, truth against truth.

Lucy

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (1990). Nineteen-year-old Lucy happily leaves her West Indian home and domineering mother to work as an au pair for a well-off and well-meaning American family. But as she develops a new sense of self and independence, she is forced to grapple with life as an outsider, a servant, and a woman of color in a country obsessed with race yet blind to history.