With Christmas almost upon us, you probably aren't in need of, or in the mood for, more gift giving suggestions of the literary kind. Just in case, however, let me recommend a newish (2008) book by first time novelist Hannah Tinti. Her novel is called The Good Thief, and it's another in a line of historical novels I've been chewing on as I carry out my sabbatical semester. You may have heard of Tinti's book already since it appeared to near universal acclaim last year. You may also be familiar with her through her roles as founder and co-editor of the important journal One Story. In either case, all I can tell you is to buy, beg, borrow, or steal her novel. It's a rollicking good, rags to riches, tale with--as many commentators have already pointed out--echoes of Dickens classics such as Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. The characters are all individually articulated, with supremely distinctive qualities, both personal and physical. (Watch out for a giant, a dwarf, a mannish deaf woman, orphaned twins, and a slippery con man, to name only a few of the author's memorable inventions.) Even better, each of the characters--from major to minor--has a compelling story of his or her own. In fact, I would say that it is hard to distinguish between major and minor characters in this book because they are all so well drawn and so necessary to the plot. That alone should tell you it's a successful novel.
The Good Thief is set in nineteenth century America, and credibly recreates the time period. There's nothing that stands out as anachronistic or ill-fitting, but on the other hand neither is the novel obsessively filled with facts and descriptions out of the 1800s. Throughout, it's the story and the rascal characters that push this book along. It's pure, literary entertainment.