When it comes to holiday-themed fiction, Thanksgiving often gets short shrift. Readers can celebrate Halloween with the latest Stephen King or Clive Barker, and there's no shortage of novels that rely on Christmas miracles as plot points.
But fiction set at Thanksgiving is much rarer, perhaps because there are only so many ways to describe passing out on the couch in a turkey-induced coma while the Bears and Packers duke it out on TV. Nevertheless, there are some great stories and novels you can sneak off and read once the discussion at the dinner table turns into a brawl about politics.
"Thanksgiving Night," Richard Bausch
So you think your family's crazy? You’re probably right. But try telling that to Will Butterfield, a Virginia bookstore owner who’s forced to deal with his mother and great-aunt, two elderly women who share a house and do not get along. Things get even crazier as Thanksgiving approaches and the Butterfields encounter the family of their ailing handyman. Bausch is a generous writer, and this novel is one of his most touching.
“The Thanksgiving Visitor,” Truman Capote
A sequel to Capote’s beloved "A Christmas Memory," this short story follows Buddy, an 8-year-old boy growing up in the Depression-era South. Buddy's life is made difficult by a bully named Odd Henderson, and he's not pleased when his cousin invites Odd over for her annual Thanksgiving party. Originally published in McCall's magazine, the story is a powerful morality tale and remains a holiday favorite.
"The Lay of the Land," Richard Ford
The third installment in Ford's series of novels about ex-sportswriter Frank Bascombe is also the bleakest, but probably the best-written. The book finds Frank gravely ill from prostate cancer, planning a Thanksgiving celebration that will reunite him with his troubled adult children. Nothing goes as expected, of course -- there’s a series of fights and even a gunshot wound that derails the holiday. It's a depressing novel, but take heart -- your Thanksgiving probably won't be this bad.
"May We Be Forgiven," A.M. Homes
The hardcover edition of Homes' darkly comic 2012 novel depicts that old Thanksgiving standby: canned cranberry sauce, sitting limply on a white rectangular dish. The book opens with a Thanksgiving dinner that doesn’t go well, as the protagonist, Harold Silver, unsubtly hits on his sister-in-law. Things get worse from there, but the novel ends with another Turkey Day dinner that proves that people can find redemption even in the direst circumstances.
"The Ice Storm," Rick Moody
Searching for a book that will make your Thanksgiving seem great by comparison, even if you dropped the turkey on the floor and burned all your pies? Look no further than Moody's brilliant 1994 novel about two Connecticut families in the early 1970s enduring tragedy over a wintry Thanksgiving weekend. There's drugs, sex, death, alcoholism and one extremely memorable scene with a "key party."
"East of Eden" and "Travels with Charley," John Steinbeck
Salinas' favorite son turned twice to Thanksgiving for inspiration. In his masterpiece "East of Eden," the story of a profoundly unhappy family reaches its terrible climax at a Thanksgiving gathering. Much happier is the poodle-centric "Travels with Charley," which features a scene with Steinbeck and his wife enjoying Thanksgiving with cattle ranchers in north Texas. It's a safe bet that Charley got more than a few table scraps.