“The Thirteenth Tale”

I enjoy belonging to a book club — it expands my reading horizons so much more than what I would choose or what an editor would pick for me to review. “The Thirteenth Tale” is just another example of a book that’s been on the New York Times bestseller list that I’ve totally missed until now.

“The Thirteenth Tale” is a story inside a story; on the surface, an elderly woman has asked a young woman known for her biographies to come and write the story of her life. Vida Winter is known as a writer of fiction, and every time media types come around, she just tells them more stories — completely fictionalizing her background.

This time, however, Vida tells the young woman, she will tell the truth. So every other chapter in the novel is Vida telling her life story. And what a story it is. Most journalists would have thrown up their hands and moved on if they had to wade through Vida’s history.

This novel has been compared to “Rebecca” and other gothic novels, and I can see where that comparison would be justified. There are elements of the supernatural, written so lightly and so deftly, that the reader could skip over them if they were skimming the pages rather than reading.

“The Thirteenth Tale” reminded me of another book that had been recommended by a book club member: “The Night Circus.” Neither book has any car crashes or thrilling suspense-filled chases. Both have mysteries that need to be solved, and both authors took their time building the stories. They didn’t rush headlong into the heart of the story — they circled around it for a while and then came to the point.

“The Thirteenth Tale” is about families and unhealthy relationships. It’s about how an abandoned child can make his way in the world, despite growing up among dysfunctional people. And the best compliment an author can receive: the novel seems autobiographical when it really isn’t. It makes me say, “I wish I’d written that.”