“It was an uncertain spring.” Sigrid Nunez opens her ninth novel — set in the early days of the pandemic — with the first line from Virginia Woolf’s The Years. This is just one of many references to other writers that permeate the novel — Charles Dickens, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Sylvia Plath, Rainer Maria Rilke and Elizabeth Bishop all make an appearance.

Nunez’s meta-literary references locate her works within a larger literary conversation and link the personal and immediate experiences of her characters to universal themes. It’s part of the rich tapestry she creates, adding layers of meaning and texture, and deepening the emotional and intellectual resonance of her novels...

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