Smaller presses are great. They put out tons of wonderful material every year. But the most captivating and well-worked stories often end up with the larger presses. It's as simple as survival of the fittest (or influence of the richest). There are always exceptions, of course. One notable exception in 2014 is Karen Gettert Shoemaker's The Meaning of Names . This little novel can go head to head with the big boys. It's eloquent, passionate, and entertaining. If you're wanting to get a head start on the year's best fiction, especially if you're in the market for historical fiction, check this one out.
The Meaning of Names is the story of Stuart, Nebraska in 1918. Anti-German sentiments are sweeping the country, as is a deadly strain of influenza. The first chapter pulled me right in. After that, it took a little time for the story to build up, but once it did, it was well worth the wait. The characters are believable. The storyline is interesting. The setting is vivid. The tension is great. But the element that stood out the most to me was the language. Shoemaker weaves some beautiful sentences that come together to create fabulous scenes. Despite the grit of the plains and the spread of a pandemic, I enjoyed being wrapped up in the world Shoemaker molded.