A comic romp through academic pieties and perversities, it centers on a literary hoax gone bad, in ways that predicted our current higher-educational climate. Everett is always, in a sense, writing about race, and always not. He also writes about himself — and not — with a Hitchcock-like cameo in the form of a derelict-in-his-duty, wastrel of a literature professor by the name of Percival Everett.
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Downtown Manhattan is their center of gravity, but these characters have been scattered, before waking up to find themselves so much human debris in the wake of personal failures, betrayals, and AIDS. The Known World , by Edward P. Jones August 14, This intimate portrait of the great national nightmare of slavery comes disguised in the britches and mourning dresses of an antebellum historical novel.
It was widely praised upon publication for revealing an obscure chapter of American history — free people of color who owned slaves — but the history itself was largely invented. Having denied the consolations of historical distance, The Known World forces a reckoning with a moral horror that lives still. The novel begins in a buzz of fear and the pitch increases steadily, unbearably.
The Line of Beauty follows a young gay man, Nick, who lives with the family of a Tory MP under Thatcher — who makes an unforgettable cameo appearance. This is the story of two initiations. How we care for people in pain is at the heart of this moving, unsentimental look at our fragility, written with remarkable metaphorical and lyrical power. This is McCarthy at his most restrained, and consequently most resonant. There is no fiction subject more trendy and more urgent than the multifarious possible ends of the world; McCarthy led the way, and might be impossible to surpass.
Some poets are easy to love; Seidel is so good you revere him despite yourself. He also captures the absurd melancholy of modern existence in dark, crystalline stanzas. It could be written for an audience in ascendancy, told in vernacular but expertly formed and composed. It could concern the intensely personal, but telescope out to the historic and the political. The astounding Oscar Wao did all of that, leaving us with a lasting understanding of the American experience as encompassing lives beyond our blinkered borders.
Wolf Hall , by Hilary Mantel April 30, Any writer could have done the research that informs this remarkable historical novel. But only genius, gimlet-eyed, wicked Hilary Mantel could have created the animating intelligence at the heart of it: Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII, antagonist to Thomas More, brilliant and ambitious, heartbroken and ruthless.
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.
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.
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.