No book this learned should be so wildly entertaining. Fox , by Helen Oyeyemi June 1, Not since Angela Carter has a writer subverted classic fairy-tale tropes the way Helen Oyeyemi does, to transformative effect. Fox has the brains and the heart to win over both those who enjoy unraveling how fiction works and those who just seek pure enjoyment.
My favorite by a nose is Lives Other Than My Own , a book that defies tidy summary, but which, though preoccupied with the very saddest human experiences — the deaths of a young child and a sibling — is also believably a book about happiness, one which earns its happy ending. But this book kept me pinned to its pages until the end.
Whitehead has written terrific novels that more directly address the horrors of American history, but never one that more accurately portrays the horrors of the American present. DISSENT: Sag Harbor April 28, This thoroughly uneventful but linguistically dazzling autobiographical account of an upper-middle-class black holiday enclave accomplishes what very few books attempt: to remove the contemporary black experience from the realm of extremes. Unlike the more zeitgeisty Underground Railroad , this is neither a lament about subjugation nor a tale of individual escape.
It neither denies the persistence of racism nor revels in the lingering wound. In this book as in real life, anti-blackness is but a single facet of the black experience. It is genuinely fresh. She unpacks layered cultural identities in the tradition of Dickens, Eliot, and Austen. If Smith was in E. Dalloway— esque journey through London. NW is not only about the intersecting lives of characters who grew up together in a Northwest London housing project, but also leveraging the complexity of the modernist project to ask difficult questions about race and social status. White Girls , by Hilton Als January 1, En route to the airport, I ask one of my boyfriends to tell me, in his own words, why White Girls belongs here.
As it happens, the boyfriend has, stored on his phone, favorite lines from the book. My Struggle: A Man in Love , by Karl Ove Knausgaard May 13, What was it about this thoroughly Gen-X Norwegian man that caused so many readers to plunge into his struggle — an epic stretching over nearly 4, pages — as if it were their own? Was it the agony of his relationship with his alcoholic father? Was it the tribulations of parenthood, so many hours at kiddie parties and not the writing desk? Or was it the passion that seized him when he first met his future second wife and cut up his face when she rejected him?
With its digressions within digressions, A Man in Love — book two of My Struggle — is the most formally thrilling in the series. Like Great Expectations, it concerns the sentimental education of an orphan as well as a mysterious benefactor. The story takes young Theo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a bomb kills his mother, to sojourns in Las Vegas and Amsterdam and dangerous encounters with drug dealers, mobsters, and other sinister types.
In the hands of a lesser novelist, such developments might feel contrived, but Tartt writes with such authority and verve and understanding of character that her story becomes just as persuasive as it is suspenseful. Its narrator is a type relatively new in literature — a female writer who is also a mother. The book is written in fragments, reflecting the temporality of motherhood and depression, that are alternately wry, bereft, tender, furious, despairing, and joyful. A profoundly tender love story about deep despair, Sorrows also brims with jokes that are real and plentiful and well-earned, as well as a keen sense of what joy looks like even in the darkest of times.
Reading hip-hop and jazz musicians through and against philosophers and visual artists, he interrogates aesthetic, political, and social phenomena through analyses of blackness. He offers a profusion of arguments and deconstructions to create a coherence that nonetheless remains open to active reading and interpretation. The Escapist lacks physical might, but like the novel, he possesses a shrewd intelligence, courage, and an insatiable appetite for adventure.
He frees people, see? And the ending: Oh! The ending! My heart breaks again just thinking of it. An ecstatic and furious book. The book tells the tale of Father Damien, a woman who for 50 years disguises herself as a man so she can serve an Ojibwe congregation. Is a lie a sin if it preserves her work? Perhaps the last question is eternal, but Erdrich makes it feel freshly so. Austerlitz , by W. That someone, Jacques Austerlitz, was brought to England aboard a kindertransport as an infant, and he is in the process of recovering the truth about his parents — he first learns that his mother, an opera singer, was killed at Theresienstadt.
The sweep of European cultural history is laid out like an enormous map in order to precisely locate the circumstances of the crime. Fingersmith , by Sarah Waters February 4, You know a twist is coming. About ten million friends have hinted about the twist. The Time of Our Singing , by Richard Powers October 3, Powers revisits the civil rights struggles of the last century from an unexpected angle, illuminating some of the deepest rifts and tensions in American life via an often exhilarating meditation on time and music.
The novel follows a German Jewish physicist; his African-American wife, whose ambitions as a singer are thwarted early; and their children, two of whom become classical musicians. Few writers have captured the experience of listening to music the way Powers does, and his evocations of historical events have the same vividness. Rush is the most politically committed and engaged of contemporary American novelists, and Mortals is the most sustained and well-informed fictional account of U. The human story of a faltering marriage merges with the geopolitical in the form of a boiling civil conflict.
Location: New Jersey, a place just across the river from the precincts of power, but in fact a wasteland of strip malls, fast food, dive bars, and work-from-home content-generation jobs. Teabag has graduated into a world of bullshit, and what he has to tell his high-school classmates is that they were living in a land of bullshit all along. Oblivion , by David Foster Wallace June 8, Oblivion was the final book of fiction Wallace published before his life was cut short by suicide. As Oblivion showcases, one of the things that made Wallace so necessary was his insistence on formal inventiveness: None of the eight stories in Oblivion resembles any other, each a kind of experiment that never has the whiff of the lab.
Rather, these stories attempt to find new ways of getting at the deep, dark difficulty of being a modern human, a predicament so funny it could make you weep, as these stories themselves are likely to make you do: in rage, in sorrow, in gratitude.
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Honored Guest , by Joy Williams October 5, Joy Williams is one of the contemporary masters of the American short story, and her collection Honored Guest finds her at her most bizarre and profound. Can I buy you a drink? These are stories of lonely characters on the rim of tragedy — a girl living with her terminally ill mother, a woman whose boyfriend is gravely injured in a hunting accident — probing the eternal with hilarious detachment and moving, sorrowful confusion.
The Sluts , by Dennis Cooper January 13, Once upon a time, in the prelude to the plague years, gay male desire invented its most mesmeric and unbearable object: the twink.
About the Author
Blond, white, underweight, and user-friendly, he was a plastic icon of inverted, Aryan masculinity. As AIDS destroyed a population, as the internet quickened and anarchized our pornographies, the twink took off. Dennis Cooper hit this crepuscular intersection of web and death with effortless genius. A series of online rent-boy reviews describe the discovery, torture, and maybe murder of a barely-legal, no-limits hustler named Brad. Call it the twink cri de coeur — all surface, and so, perversely impenetrable.
It is a dangerous fantasia, slipping so easily into the mouths and minds of homophobes. But go ahead, let them taste it. They want it as much as anyone. Her books do not, however, bear much resemblance to the form as it is usually practiced. Here the accounts of witnesses and victims are orchestrated, arranged in counterpoint and as fugues and descants, with purposeful ellipses and repetitions, and edited to make every voice sound like a poet.
They shimmer in the borderlands of myth, genre, and literature.
A convenience store caters to the mild-mannered zombies who emerge from a nearby gorge and clumsily attempt to shop. A group of teenagers bond over an elusive TV series.
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A suburban family becomes slowly and methodically alienated from every possession they own. It was also an artistic breakthrough. Her marriage to his father, an English professor who left her for another woman and returned years later, was happy in neither of its incarnations. The emotions in this book are raw, the writing exquisite, and the family pain shattering.
His depictions of violence are first-rate, vivid, and essential to the story. Imprisoned and then exiled from Kenya, he has been writing his memoirs and is now on his fourth volume. Wizard of the Crow , a fantastic in all senses of the word novel written in his native Kikuyu, is his masterpiece, published when he was No novel has ever so profoundly mixed oral tradition, novelistic gamesmanship, serious political critique, literary meta-analysis, and every genre under the sun, from farce to tragedy.
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From the opening pages, a singular consciousness emerges, both porous and radically isolated, and by stripping out most other elements, the book confirms the ultimate primacy of literary voice, of which this is a rare triumph. Her prose is as catchy and melodic as the music she describes in so many of her novels with the insight of a rock critic, and her fiction often illuminates the way we distort our memories. Eat the Document is the story of a woman who goes underground in the s after participating in violence with a radical group, and her son who uncovers her past in the s, when the ideals of the leftist movement have been romanticized and perverted.
The Harry Potter novels, by J. Rowling — With her seven Harry Potter novels, J. Rowling has created a fictional world as fully imagined as Oz or Narnia or Middle Earth. Grounding his story in the mundane Muggle world, with its ordinary frustrations and challenges, even as she conjures a wildly inventive magical realm, Rowling has crafted an epic that transcends its classical sources as effortlessly as it leapfrogs conventional genres. In doing so, she created a series of books that have captivated both children and adults — novels that hold a mirror to our own mortal world as it lurches into the uncertainties of the 21st century.
Sleeping It Off in Rapid City , by August Kleinzahler April 1, August Kleinzahler is such a good poet, such a master of English vernaculars and a variety of modernisms, with such a gift for observational detail, that I think he gets overlooked or underpraised, partly for his consistency.
Sleeping It Off in Rapid City is one of the great collections of American poetry, from the opening title poem, which exudes the bleak vastness and kitsch of midwestern landscapes, to the various blues lyrics and seemingly offhand evocations of San Francisco weather, as classical as the Tang Dynasty greats they recall. Home , by Marilynne Robinson September 2, Grace suffuses this novel, and not just its prose.
Twenty-four years after her debut, the magnificent Housekeeping , Robinson returned to fiction with Gilead , winner of the Pulitzer Prize. A retelling of the prodigal-son parable set in s Iowa, Home is also something rare in American literature these days: a meditation on Christian transfiguration. It derives its power from family pain and the radical nature of forgiveness. Add to that her pitch-black humor — she got the chuckles writing these gigantic stories.
Coetzee — In this autobiographical trilogy, Coetzee forged a clinical way of writing about the self and raised the meta stakes. Are these memoirs or novels? The last one kills off the author, among other departures from the facts. Boyhood presents a detached account of growing up an English-speaking Afrikaner in apartheid South Africa, a sickly boy with imaginings of greatness and a mounting sense of shame about his cruel society.