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Sea of Hooks

Lindsay Hill (McPherson & Co.)

On a small scale, Hill, a onetime banker and now a poet with six published books, has written a fragmented portrait of a man’s troubled childhood and lost adulthood—a spiritual biography that’s both tragic and comic, and provides moments of pure reading pleasure on every single page, not to mention a wallop of pathos. On a larger scale, it’s a moving and unforgettable novel.


The Hare

César Aira, trans. by Nick Caistor (New Directions)

Argentinian Aira’s homage to, and deconstruction of, the Victorian adventure novel revels in raising order from ambiguity, only to plunge headlong into new mysteries. It’s a postmodern historical detective novel set on the Pampas that delights in turning all upside down.


The Blind Man’s Garden

Nadeem Aslam (Knopf)

There are already a number of stateside-set 9/11 novels, but Aslam moves the drama to Central Asia with two Pakistani brothers who venture across the border to Afghanistan with humanitarian intentions that place them in the center of the chaos of war. As we said in our review: “Aslam gives an empathetic, unbiased look at one of the most polarizing issues of the day and allows us to see the humanity in those that we call our enemy.”


Life After Life

Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)

The many lives and deaths of Ursula Todd bridge wars and epidemics, and Atkinson’s dizzying start-stop puzzle is comical, harrowing and touching as her very Brit characters get on with life and the tumultuous events of history. Does Ursula learn from past mistakes? Sometimes. Will you love this book? We think so.



Margaret Atwood (Doubleday/Talese)

Rarely has civilization’s implosion been portrayed with as much queasy humor and earthy humanity as in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, now brought to its satisfying, eponymous conclusion. The author pushes modern hubris to absurd reaches while grounding her violently fanciful plot in real-world echoes: just try not to think about ChickieNobs the next time you bite into a buffalo wing.


Amor and Psycho

Carolyn Cooke (Knopf)

Through 11 stories, Cooke does everything from creating a mysterious culture to showing poetry as a blood sport, but this collection is at its best when contrasting its characters private lives and public lives—a Jungian analyst can’t stop moving to new places; a man builds a state of the art doghouse as his wife transforms into... a dog.


Claire of the Sea Light

Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)

The cycle of life and death in a small Haitian town is depicted through the first six birthdays of Claire Limyè Lanmè and the approach of her seventh. Danticat’s writing has never been better than in this gorgeous and profound story.


Percival Everett by Virgil Russell

Percival Everett (Graywolf)

What to make of Everett’s wacky, shape-shifting narrative, part Brautigan and part Beckett, in which Nat Turner writes William Styron’s memoir and characters say things like, “If you must know, it’s from Hamlet, act two hundred, scene fifty-nine”? But despite his tricks, Everett’s intention is personal—the book is dedicated to his father, who passed away in 2010—and the result is deeply moving.



Amity Gaige (Hachette/Twelve)

Written as a letter to the wife he let down, this is the story of Erik Schoder’s flight from the authorities with Meadow, the young daughter he’s lost in his custody battle. Schroder has made a mess of his life, but as his heartbreaking last trip with Meadow shows, at his core he’s a good man trying one last time to show his daughter that he loves her.


Middle C

William H. Gass (Knopf)

In Gass’s third novel, average professor Joseph Skizzen flees 1938 Austria and ends up teaching at an average Ohio college, where he lives out his average days while tending to his attic’s “Inhumanity Museum” and privately worrying about what humanity might do to itself. Gass’s fine sentences belong in their own museum.


The Signature of All Things

Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking)

Gilbert roars back into the fiction world with this adventurous tale of desire and curiosity set in the age of Enlightenment. Her wealthy young female botanist, consumed with the mysteries of evolution, also finds love, as the story crisscrosses the globe. There is much pleasure in this unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form.


How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead)

Pakistani, Ivy League–educated Hamid keeps reinventing himself with wild storytelling and a clear view into today’s society. In this third novel, he claims, wickedly, to deliver the ultimate self-help book, with a protagonist who begins life in dusty rural poverty and goes on to achieve status and wealth... at a price. As he says in the last chapter, “We are all refugees from our childhoods. So we turn, among other things, to stories.”


Brown Dog

Jim Harrison (Grove)

Harrison returns with 500 pages of the preposterously amusing shenanigans of Brown Dog, one of literature’s great characters. Spread across six novellas, the adventures of the part–Native American protagonist include stealing the petrified body of an Indian chief from the bottom of Lake Superior and taking a trip to Los Angeles to retrieve a lost bearskin, along with plenty of drinking and chasing women. An essential collection from an American legend.


The Flamethrowers

Rachel Kushner (Scribner)

Narrated by a reckless recent art school graduate, Kushner’s second novel races across the American landscape, as her story becomes entangled with that of an Italian soldier growing up in Alexandria, Egypt. Kushner forges the very sharpest psychological insights for her cast of characters, as she covers the events of the 20th century with speed, violence, and enviable creativity.



J.M. Ledgard (Coffee House)

As the novel begins, Danielle Flinders is readying an exploration of the deep ocean while James More is being held captive in Somalia. But they once met by chance and had an affair, which is revisited in riveting prose through the characters’ harrowing, scientific, even tender experiences.


The Facades

Eric Lundgren (Overlook)

At one point in his search for his missing wife, narrator Sven is mugged. He thinks: “I was momentarily uncertain whether to tense up or relax. It had been a while since I’d been touched.” Such is the lonely, odd pace of Sven’s life in the fictional Midwestern city of Trude, the perfect setting for Lundgren’s droll, existential detective story.



Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Another gem from McDermott, who, while continuing to work the seemingly plain interiors of Irish-American life, deploys brilliant strategies for bringing the reader into her confidence, like a member of the family.



Charles Palliser (Norton)

A Victorian gothic mystery—told through the journal of 17-year-old Richard Shenstone—that never slows down. There’s a dilapidated mansion, family secrets, threatening letters, and a gossipy small town. Who is mutilating the village animals? Why was Richard sent home from Cambridge? What do Richard’s mother and sister know about his father’s death? Secrets are revealed in this old-fashioned reading treat.


Bleeding Edge

Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press)

New York City between the burst of the dot-com bubble and 9/11 is the setting for Pynchon’s novel, overflowing with invention, goofiness, and dread. While the characters wring their hands over who’s doing what on the Deep Web, the reader’s wringing her hands over the approaching events of September 2001.


Tenth of December

George Saunders (Random)

“Funny” used to be the first word for George Saunders’s fiction. But with his fourth collection, Tenth of December, a new pathos and compassion has crept in, showing a writer at the top of his game with disruptive and memorable stories ranging from of the abduction of a young girl to a cancer patient’s attempt at suicide, which is thwarted by a chance meeting with a boy in the woods.


The Daylight Gate

Jeanette Winterson (Grove)

Winterson thrusts the reader back to the countryside of 17th-century England, where witches and Catholicism are eradicated with equal force. The stripped-down sentences and brutal happenings are lovely in the author’s hands, and because the characters are prone to betrayal and mystery, the pages turn very quickly.


The People in the Trees

Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday)

Add Norton Perina to the pantheon of literature’s best unreliable narrators. Perina is a scientist who, after graduating Harvard medical school in the 1940s, travels to a remote Pacific island chain where he may or may not have stumbled upon the key to immortality. The book is composed of his memoirs, which he is writing from prison in the U.S. after being convicted of a heinous crime. The truth behind Perina’s story is both riveting and chilling.


A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Anthony Marra (Random/Hogarth)

A Chechen village, a young girl watching her father taken by Russian soldiers and her house burned to the ground: so begins Marra’s startling debut, in which a tough doctor ponders the extent of her obligation to help Havaa, an eight-year-old girl who has been brought to the doctor’s wretched and abandoned hospital by Akhmed, the girl’s neighbor. Marra follows the three characters for five days in 2004 and weaves a tapestry of connections in the midst of an ugly war.


The Silence and the Roar

Nihad Sirees, trans. by Max Weiss (Other Press)

Sirees’s deeply philosophical and satirical novel echoes Kafka and Orwell. Its hero is a banned writer in an unnamed Middle Eastern country that is shamelessly reminiscent of Syria (the author’s hometown is Aleppo), and the book is set on the day of a parade celebrating the 20th anniversary of the dictator’s ascension to power. With incisive wit, Sirees marks the celebration that affects freedom, romance, and the right to simply walk down the street unmolested.


The Good Lord Bird

James McBride (Riverhead)

McBride’s account of a slave boy who’s caught up with John Brown’s band of abolitionists in the 1850s is funny, sad, and completely transportive. Mistaken for a girl and nicknamed Onion, 10-year-old Henry Shackleford travels the country and meets Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, all while hurtling toward the historic Harpers Ferry raid and the Civil War.


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