One of the themes that I explore in my novel Play for Me is second chances and the disruption we face when searching for our authentic selves. The following novels focus on women who break out of the mold of expectation. They do so to discover their true passion, which could be a second chance at love, career or something indefinable. I loved these novels for their shimmering prose, heartfelt emotion, and penetrating insights.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin, although written in 1899, still has much to say about the lives of women. It’s the story of Edna Pontellier, who comes to the realization that she wants more than a life as a wife and mother. But her awakening ends tragically, as remaking her life and bucking social expectations was simply not possible in those days. This novel was one of the first to question the role of women in society.

The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather (1915). In some ways a self-portrait of Cather as an artist in the making, the heroine, Thea Kronborg, leaves her small hometown to go to the big city to fulfill her dream of becoming a pianist. Instead she discovers her true calling as a singer. The novel focuses on the qualities a woman of that time needed to pursue an artistic career and what she had to sacrifice to reach fulfillment and success.

While I Was Gone: Sue Miller (2000). Second chances and do-overs multiply in this layered novel. Jo Becker leaves her marriage for a bohemian life living under an assumed name, and then, after a tragedy, reinvents herself anew. But her past returns to threaten her happy marriage, and she is seduced by the possibility of yet another self and another life, imperiling everything that matters to her. A look also at pain and forgiveness, the novel asks what we owe ourselves and what we owe those we love.

The Doctor’s Daughter: Hilma Wolitzer (2007).  Beset by midlife malaise –caused by her languishing marriage, by the loss of her career as an editor, by her hapless son who is overly dependent on her – Alice Brill separates from her husband and embraces an affair. Alice has a second chance at love, at renewing her marriage, at helping her son to grow up, and at understanding her parents’ marriage and its impact on her life. The Doctor’s Daughter is that rare novel positing that women of later years can experience passion and fulfillment every bit as intense as younger women.

The Whole World Over: Julia Glass (2007) Greenie Duquette, a baker, frustrated by her husband’s midlife depression and by her own desires, impulsively accepts the offer to be a personal chef – halfway across the country and without her husband. What starts as a chance to expand her career becomes a second chance at a new life. Greenie sets in motion seismic changes in her marriage and encounters a new love, while in her absence her husband faces his demons and recharges his life as well. The Whole World Over is a celebration of a woman’s risk-taking while also showing the consequences of choices.

Amy Falls Down: Jincey Willet (2014).  Amy Gallup isn’t looking for a second chance at fame, but one comes to her anyway. She falls, hits her head on a birdbath, and gives a quirky befuddled interview that sets off a chain of events leading to literary fame and fortune. And it’s not just her writing career that takes off but her writing itself as well. Part biting satire of our sudden-celebrity culture and part a skewering of literary pretention, Amy Falls Down is also a profound look at loneliness and connection. Willet, one of the funniest writers you’ll ever read, gives one of the best depictions I’ve ever read on the experience of a woman of middle/late years living alone – alone, that is, except for the basset hound.