Holiday Newsletter: Fiction
You call this a family?
The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg. A serious novel infused with comedic moments, centered on a matriarch who can’t stop eating.
May We Be Forgiven, by A.M. Homes. The darkest and funniest novel since Skippy Dies, and also the ultimate dysfunctional family story.
Thames the Breaks
By chance or post-Olympic karma, three of the novels we liked most this year dig deep into London’s economics, psyche, class, and sexual divisions. By a several century stretch, make that four novels.
NW, by Zadie Smith. The story, told primarily by two women who have been friends for life, is of the women’s deep distrust of their own dreams.
Lionel Asbo, by Martin Amis. Lionel is so over-the-top despicable that we root simultaneously for his comeuppance and for his horrifyingly entertaining escapades to continue forever.
Capital, by John Lanchester. Lanchester’s near-epic novel might be more accurately called Pepys Road as he limns the lives of people on the street riding England’s 2008 economic rollercoaster.
Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel. This group’s 16th-century outlier is even better than all the prizes it has won.
With all the attention this December on The Hobbit and Bilbo Baggins, it’s appropriate that three of our picks involve life-changing road trips by the formerly rut-bound.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. What man of a certain age won’t see a bit of Harold in himself, and yearn for the open road?
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, by Jonathan Evison. We root so hard for grief-stricken Benji that we become caregivers too and he our charge as he sets off on his own unlikely pilgrimage.
The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. The protagonist may be forgiven for his reluctance to leave the literal, post-apocalyptic rut in which he hides, and when he does finally set out our hearts race with his for the next hundred pages.
Stories, short but telling
Birds of a Lesser Paradise, by Megan Mayhew Bergman. A sublime debut collection of short stories that explore our complex and unsettling relationships with animals and the natural world.
Battleborn, by Claire Vaye Watkins. A consistently excellent collection of stories set in the American West and featuring gritty, but gorgeous, prose.
Dear Life, by Alice Munro. Each of Munro’s stories, as usual, is a perfectly constructed miniature universe.
Microscripts, by Robert Walser, illustrated (and more) by Maira Kalman. The most minute of fictions with a new tribute to Walser by Maira Kalman.
Small Press/Major Fiction
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante, in her signature understated style, makes us care deeply whether two girls can grow up in a Naples slum in the 1950s with egos, talents and hope for the future intact.
How To Get Into The Twin Palms, by Karolina Waclawiak. A fresh look at the immigrant experience featuring a Polish woman in a Russian neighborhood who longs to fit in.
Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith. Any bookworm will appreciate this deceptively slim novel about an ephemera-obsessed librarian who pines after a co-worker.
My Only Wife, by Jac Jemc. Jemc’s debut novel is a true literary page-turner; who knew memories and obsession could be so suspenseful?
The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel. This literary thriller about jazz, plagiarism, and the financial crisis will hook you from the first page.
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, by Emma Straub. A small-town girl moves to Hollywood and discovers the high price and fragility of superstardom.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. Richard Burton – yes, that Richard Burton – steals the love of a man’s life in a tale that moves back and forth from the backwaters of Italy to the back lots of Hollywood.