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Barkskins

Annie Proulx (Scribner)

Spanning 300 years and including a cast of dozens, Proulx's monumental achievement traces the descendants of two 17th-century woodsmen and their divergent paths. One family drifts and battles the erosion of Mi'kmaq culture, while the other develops a timber empire. Despite the scope and length, the story never slips from Proulx's grasp, resulting in an exhilarating, immersive reading experience.

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What Belongs to You

Garth Greenwell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

With nearly unbearable intensity, Greenwell relates the story of an American teacher in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a young male prostitute named Mitko. Their relationship starts as purely sexual, but as it becomes increasingly complicated, Greenwell proves himself a master of driving to the heart of obsession, fear, and love.

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The Cosmopolitans

Sarah Schulman (Feminist)

In Schulman's rich evocation of 1950s Greenwich Village, Earl, a gay, black aspiring actor, and Bette, a straight, white secretary at an ad agency, have been best friends for years, creating a relationship out of shared loneliness. But the unexpected arrival of Bette's vivacious young cousin Hortense changes everything. A satisfying revenge tale, and a memorable portrait of a friendship.

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The Fortunes

Peter Ho Davies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The lives of four people—an orphan, a Hollywood actress, an auto company draftsman, and a writer—combine for a brilliant, absorbing portrayal of the Chinese-American experience and its difficulties through the decades. Though Davies’s century-long scope is impressive, more staggering is the depth and detail of his characters.

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The Gardens of Consolation

Parisa Reza, trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter (Europa)

Iranian author Reza's beautifully written debut novel tells of a young illiterate couple who move from the countryside to Tehran in the 1920s. They raise a son who becomes educated and subsequently involved in the political and social turmoil of the Shah's rise to power. Reza deftly weaves together vivid characters and Iran's shifting fortunes.

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The Girls

Emma Cline (Random House)

Fourteen years old in the summer of 1969, Evie Boyd meets 19-year-old Suzanne Parker, who introduces her to the chaotic existence on the California ranch of the charismatic, dangerous Russell Hadrick (think Charles Manson). As the mood on the ranch darkens, Cline expertly depicts the harm we can do, to ourselves and others, in our hunger for belonging and acceptance.

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The Golden Age

Joan London (Europa)

Hungarian WWII refugees adjust to life in Australia in London's luminous novel of survival, love, hope, and sex. Frank Gold, poet and teenage polio victim, falls in love with fellow patient Elsa at the Golden Age Children's Polio Convalescent Home. London sees past exteriors to her characters' complex and desirous interiors, and she generously offers those characters to us in all their fullness.

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Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi (Knopf)

Gyasi's debut novel traces a single bloodline across seven generations beginning with two Ghanaian half-sisters, one married to a British colonizer in the 1760s, the other caught in the slave trade. The histories of America and Ghana are blended with the fate of the separate families. Through the eyes of slaves, wanderers, union leaders, teachers, and addicts, Gyasi writes each narrative with remarkable freshness and subtlety.

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Hot Milk

Deborah Levy (Bloomsbury)

Sofia, 25, accompanies her sick and complaining mother, Rose, to arid Almería on Spain's southern coast for unorthodox treatment of Rose's baffling ailment. Once there, Sofia, a frantic, vulnerable, and surprising voice, meets the alluring Ingrid, gets stung by jellyfish, and has an awakening.

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LaRose

Louise Erdrich (Harper)

Erdrich spins a powerful, resonant story set on a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation and in a town nearby. A family gives up their five-year-old son, LaRose, to their neighbors after LaRose's father accidentally kills the neighbors' own five-year-old child. In this complex, moving novel, LaRose, in the years that follow, becomes a bridge between the two families.

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The Mirror Thief

Martin Seay (Melville House)

Seay's time-bending debut combines a modern-day Las Vegas manhunt, a mysterious book floating around the beat poetry scene of 1958 Venice Beach, Calif., and shadowy mirror-makers of 16th-century Venice. This big cabinet of wonders is by turns ominous modern thriller, supernatural mystery, and enchanting historical adventure story.

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Mischling

Affinity Konar (LB/Boudreaux)

Stasha and Pearl, 12-year-old Jewish twins from Poland, rather than being sent to Auschwitz's gas chamber in 1944, are placed in Nazi doctor Josef Mengele's "zoo" in this gripping and haunting novel. In the months following liberation, Pearl disappears and Stasha heads west through a chaotic postwar landscape, holding out hope that Pearl is still alive.

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Nine Island

Jane Alison (Catapult)

In late middle age, J spends most of her days at the pool of her Miami Beach, Fla., high-rise, translating (or "transmuting") Ovid's stories. As she sits on her balcony watching her neighbors in a building across the way, she recalls her past lovers and considers retiring from love for good. A beautiful novel that reminds us that solitude does not equal loneliness.

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One Hundred Twenty-One Days

Michèle Audin, trans. from the French by Christiana Hills (Deep Vellum)

Pieced together from journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, notes, and interview transcripts, this Oulipian novel reveals the lives of two French mathematicians wounded in WWI who fall in love with the same young nurse. Audin's remarkable, deeply empathetic text is enriched by recurrences, coincidences, and invocations of European poetry, including Dante's Inferno and Faust, in a story that attempts to make sense of the war's aftermath.

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Pond

Claire-Louise Bennett (Riverhead)

This delightfully strange book, difficult to describe and impossible to resist, features a nameless woman who lives a largely solitary and ordinary life in a cottage in rural Ireland, obsessing over everything from her romantic life to the neighborhood dog relieving itself on her property. Bennett's off-kilter narrator and her surprising, twisty observations result in something undeniably unique and wonderful.

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Problems

Jade Sharma (Emily Books)

Maya is a young woman living in New York; she has an afterthought of a job at a bookstore, is cheating on her husband with a former professor, and regularly does heroin. Sharma's debut is an uncompromising and unforgettable depiction of the corrosive loop of addiction, and with Maya, she has crafted a momentous and painfully honest voice.

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Siracusa

Delia Ephron (Blue Rider)

A vacation in Sicily with two families includes ex-lovers, a precocious teenager with an obsessive mother, a cheating husband whose paramour appears unexpectedly, and an oppressive ancient town. Ephron's novel of two imploding marriages makes for a riveting, psychologically complex story.

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Sudden Death

Álvaro Enrigue, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (Riverhead)

Enrigue ingeniously uses a 16th-century game of tennis between two hungover players (Spanish poet Quevedo and the notorious painter Caravaggio), played with a ball made of Anne Boleyn's hair, to explore the beauties and atrocities of Renaissance Europe. This is an unpredictable, nonpareil novel that, as with the macabre tennis ball at its center, "bounce[s] like a thing possessed."

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The Unseen World

Liz Moore (Norton)

Leaping from the 1980s to the early 2000s, this is the story of young Ada Sibelius and her brilliant computer scientist father, David, who develops an artificial intelligence program called ELIXIR. When David begins to show signs of Alzheimer's and questions about his identity arise, Ada tries to unravel her father's cryptic past in Moore's smart, emotionally powerful literary page-turner.

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Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?

Kathleen Collins (Ecco)

Race, gender, love, and sexuality are portrayed beautifully in this previously unpublished collection of stories from the groundbreaking African-American civil rights activist, who died in 1988. Drawing on Collins's career as a filmmaker and playwright, the stories incorporate stage directions, dramatic monologues, and camera-eye perspectives that frame the racial tension of the 1960s. Collins's collection, so long undiscovered, is filled with candor, humor, and tenderness.

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Zama

Antonio Di Benedetto, trans. from the Spanish by Esther Allen (New York Review Books)

A riveting portrait of a deteriorating mind as the 18th century draws to a close. Zama is a provincial magistrate of the Spanish crown whose service goes unrewarded, leading him to spiral downward. Zama's transmutation from listless philanderer to subject of existential horror is chilling; Di Benedetto's extraordinary novel, whose English translation has been so long in coming, is a once and future classic.

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Zero K

Don DeLillo (Scribner)

Jeffrey Lockhart travels to a remote compound to join his billionaire father, Ross, and to say good-bye to Ross's second wife, Artis, who is to be preserved indefinitely awaiting a cure for her ailing health. DeLillo's 17th novel bears the author's trademark obsessive, preoccupied asides (sallies into death, information, and, among other things, mannequins), but it also features a heartbreaking story of a son attempting to reconnect with his father.

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Ninety-Nine Stories of God

Joy Williams (Tin House)

The title of this slender collection is not a lie: it features 99 very short stories about God. The catch is that the wonderfully twisted Williams is behind the stories, which means the Lord finds himself at a hotdog-eating contest or waiting in line for a shingles vaccination. This transcendent book is 100% Williams: funny, unsettling, and mysterious, to be puzzled over and enjoyed across multiple readings.

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The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

In Whitehead’s brilliant and visceral reimagining of one of America’s most shameful periods, a young slave named Cora flees from a Georgia plantation toward freedom in the North. Whitehead conceives the Underground Railroad of the antebellum South as a literal subterranean tunnel with tracks, trains, and conductors, ferrying runaways into darkness and, occasionally, into light.

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The Vegetarian

Han Kang, trans. from the Korean by Deborah Smith (Hogarth)

Yeong-hye, a woman living in Seoul, undergoes a bizarre, surreal transformation when she wakes up one day after a bloody nightmare and refuses to eat meat. Her family members watch with mounting horror as she begins to eat less and less, and then not at all, and starts taking off her clothes on sunny days. Han's debut is ingenious, upsetting, and unforgettable.

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