I'm telling you, if you want to find good but unusual books, rich with experience unlike your own, in a time very different, in an original voice, and one you cannot stop reading, you listen to the New York Review of Books Pamela Paul podcast and do whatever they tell you. Just the best suggestions come from there, hands down. I found "The Egg and I" by Betty MacDonald through this, and "The Odd Woman in the City" by Vivian Gornick through there, as well.
And now this beautiful, sad, scary, fascinating, sweet, precious book that is, right now, the best thing I've ever read.
I couldn't stop reading the second half of the book so I don't know how my granddaughter did in gymnastics last night. A girl fell off the balance beam right in front of me and I hardly moved because I was in the English countryside as a cook at the time.
This book is why I read. And why I have empathy. And why I know what it's like to be in difficult circumstances with no good choices (well, that and having been homeless with four kids, married to an idiot who couldn't keep a job). And why I can wake up in the morning and feel like life is really, really good.
Good writing does that. Excellent, brilliant writing does that and, well, what more do you want?