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A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan (Knopf)

Egan's a daunting stylist, and she's in blistering form for these interlocking narratives about the milieu surrounding an aging and waning music producer. Essentially, it's a story about getting mugged by the passage of time, and along the way she interrogates how rebellion ages, influence corrupts, habits turn to addictions, and lifelong friendships fluctuate. You also might know this as the novel that has a chapter written in PowerPoint. Egan: unpredictable and, here, brilliant.

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Freedom

Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Did you know Jonathan Franzen has a new novel? He does. It's called Freedom, and it follows a Minnesota family whose problems, squabbles, and poor decisions encapsulate the very essence of what it means to have lived through the first decade of the 21st century. It's… a masterpiece.

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Parrot & Olivier in America

Peter Carey (Knopf)

Olivier, a fictionalized and absolutely obnoxious riff on Alexis de Tocqueville, contends with Parrot, a cunning servant dispatched to spy on Olivier by Olivier's mother, as the two journey across early 19th-century America. In this vast picaresque, Carey finds, via a snobbish Frenchman and an earthy Brit, a truly American story.

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The Privileges

Jonathan Dee (Random House)

Dee again turns a gimlet eye on the way we live now, offering a churning story of greed, risk, danger, and financial industry chicanery set amid the foibles of a rabidly ambitious Manhattan family. Think: Bonfire of the Vanities, updated, hipper, and stripped to the bone.

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Tutankhamun

Nick Drake (Harper)

Drake easily injects a serial killer plot into the middle book of his Ancient Egyptian trilogy while vividly evoking the reign of the boy king Tutankhamun.

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Extraordinary Renditions

Andrew Ervin (Coffee House)

Modern Budapest comes to life in three linked novellas with characters that cover the spectrum from a concentration camp survivor who returns for the premiere of his opera to a black American G.I. forced into gun running by his unscrupulous commander.

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Faithful Place

Tana French (Viking)

Suspense blends with family demons in French's meticulous crime novel about a cop's quest for the truth behind the disappearance of the young Dublin woman he was planning to elope with 22 years earlier.

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To the End of the Land

David Grossman, trans.by Jessica Cohen (Knopf)

Grossman's epic masterwork maps the long, dark shadow war has cast over an Israeli family. From domestic disruption to harrowing violence, this unflinching account is devastating and seductive.

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The Four Stages of Cruelty

Keith Hollihan (St. Martin's/Dunne)

Hollihan combines a labyrinthine plot with a nuanced, character-driven narrative that provides insights into prison life in his impressive debut.

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Father of the Rain

Lily King (Grove)

King's intense family drama coincides with the demise of Waspdom and exposes the thrill and despair of an alcoholic, charismatic father who is wildly entertaining to a child but difficult to deal with as an adult.

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Our Kind of Traitor

John le Carré (Viking)

Those who have found post-cold war le Carré too cerebral will welcome this Russian mafia spy thriller involving an English couple on holiday in the Caribbean.

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Beneath the Lion's Gaze

Maaza Mengiste (Norton)

African novelists have been taking center stage, and Mengiste's debut marks her as one to watch. Ethiopia from the fall of Haile Selassie through the dark '70s of Derge rule is her setting as a family struggles to maintain its humanity.

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How to Read the Air

Dinaw Mengestu (Riverhead)

Mengestu sticks to familiar territory in his soulful second novel, but here brings an intriguing formal rigor to the tale. Jonas Woldemariam retraces a brief road trip that his parents, both Ethiopian immigrants, took 30 years before, compelling him to distort the truth about not only their lives, but his own, in ever more complicated ways.

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

David Mitchell (Random House)

Mitchell goes straightup historical in this majestic account of a young Dutch East Indies clerk's time in the trading port of Dejima, in turn-of-the-19th-century Japan.

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Sourland

Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco)

Yes, we suspect there are really three separate writers producing the endless stream of prose: Joyce, Carol, and Oates. Here, Oates takes it to the edge, bringing her recurring themes of violence and desire to terrifying fruition. Widows figure prominently, as do children, and everyone's in trouble.

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Years of Red Dust

Qiu Xiaolong (St. Martin's/Dunne)

This collection of linked short stories from the author of The Mao Case and five other Inspector Chen novels charts the political changes in China under Communist rule through the eyes of the inhabitants of Shanghai's Red Dust Lane.

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The Imperfectionists

Tom Rachmann (Dial)

The ragtag staff of a dying English language daily newspaper in Rome provide a memorable cross-section of experience, failure, expectation, and perilous aspiration. It's also a magnificent paean to that increasingly endangered species: the printed newspaper.

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Invisible Boy

Cornelia Read (Grand Central)

Acid-tongued ex-socialite Madeline Dare uncovers a child's skeleton in Queens' Prospect Cemetery in a crime novel that exposes undertones of racism and classism in New York City's justice system.

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Vestments

John Reimringer (Milkweed)

This sensitive and searching debut confronts the conflicts of a newly ordained young priest from a family whose men "have always loved strong drink and a good fight," torn between his desire for spirituality and the temptations of the flesh.

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Innocent

Scott Turow (Grand Central)

Twenty-two years after the events in Presumed Innocent, former lawyer Rusty Sabich once again faces a murder charge in a novel that rates as a worthy successor to that memorable debut.

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Self-Portraits

Frederic Tuten (Norton)

For 40 years, since his early postmodernist stunner, The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, Tuten has reworked the shape and consistency of the novel. In this one, Tuten, now 74, turns self-ward. The result: magical Calvino-like tales both revealing and uncompromising, as the author's energy for invention trumps nostalgia while ennobling it.

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Agaat

Marlene van Niekerk, trans. by Michiel H (Tin House)

South African van Niekerk takes readers into the muck of her homeland's complicated history of race relations via the perspective of a dying woman whose only companion is her black servant.

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The Pregnant Widow

Martin Amis (Knopf)

Amis propels a very Martin Amis-like Keith Nearing through a summer of poolside torment-sexual, psychological, literary-in 1968 Italy. This dark drawing-room comedy is a showcase of Amis's ability to make the English language bend to his whims.

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The Surrendered

Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead)

Grim, but so is Dostoyevski. Lee, who can craft a sentence, follows several decades in the lives of an American soldier and a Korean orphan whose paths cross during the Korean War, the reverberations of which, Lee shows, are now deeply woven into the fabric of what it means to be American.

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Man in the Woods

Scott Spencer (Ecco)

A man and a dog in Spencer's adroit hands adds up to one stunning story. Spencer says he likes to put his characters in situations and "turn up the heat." Here his well-meaning, easygoing protagonist lands in the third circle of hell, with his whole life in jeopardy, after a chance encounter at a highway rest stop. Exciting, thoughtful, compelling: you won't want to put it down and you won't want it to end.

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The Lonely Polygamist

Brady Udall (Norton)

Golden Richards, a fundamentalist Mormon with four wives and 28 children, flirts with infidelity in this tragicomic family saga with a cast of flawed, perfectly realized characters. Don't mistake this for the Great American Mormon Novel-it could just be the Great American Novel of the year.

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