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Mona Awad (Viking)

Awad’s addictive, deviously comic novel looks at the dark side of MFA programs. Samantha Mackey, a fiction student at a top-tier New England school, meets four of her fellow writers: a ghoulish clique of women who cryptically refer to one another as Bunny. When Samantha receives an unexpected invitation from the Bunnies to join them for their “Smut Salon,” her desire for acceptance leads her down the rabbit hole. This enchanting, stunningly bizarre novel will have readers racing to find out how it all ends.


Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage

Bette Howland (A Public Space)

In this outstanding posthumous collection, Howland (1937–2017) creates stark and strange works of genius, portraying the complexities of family relationships as beautifully as she portrays her narrators’ insecurities, judgments, and anxieties. Largely autobiographical and incredibly self-aware, Howland’s stories conjure vivid portraits of her home city of Chicago; the collection’s masterpiece title novella is written from its heartbroken narrator to a “you,” a recently deceased love, following his last days living as an academic legend, famed lover of women, and devastating alcoholic.



Courtney Maum (Tin House)

In Maum’s wonderful, nimble novel, the year is 1937 and Leonora Calaway, a wealthy art collector, has gathered up the artists “the Führer decided were the most degenerate in Europe” and sailed to Costalegre in Mexico, where surrealists and dadaists, writers and painters, all live together to wait out the coming war. A new figure, Dadaist sculptor Jack, enters the situation, charming everyone, especially Lara, Leonora’s neglected 14-year-old daughter, who feels magnetically drawn to him.


Dual Citizens

Alix Ohlin (Knopf)

Ohlin’s novel is the engrossing, intricate tale of half-sisters Lark and Robin: creative Robin is an excellent pianist, while Lark is a quiet scholar. In New York, Lark hones her documentary filmmaking prowess and worries about Robin, who, despite going to Juilliard to study piano, continues to wander aimlessly, eventually leading their connection to sever. Ohlin expertly weaves Lark and Robin’s disparate lives into a singular thread, making for an exceptional depiction of the bond between sisters.



Jean-Philippe Blondel, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson (New Vessel)

Louis Claret is approaching 60, living alone in a small apartment in his provincial French city, when Alexandre, his former student and now a famous painter, reenters his life and makes him an unusual offer: he’d like Claret to pose. Each time Claret is painted, Blondel reveals more of his past. This irresistible novel flies by with gentle humor, but also poses complex questions about the meaning of art and sexuality.


A Girl Returned

Donatella Di Pietrantonio, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa)

Di Pietrantonio’s exquisite novel (translated by Elena Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein) begins with an unnamed 13-year-old girl suddenly sent away from the family she thought was hers, to her birth family in Abruzzo, Italy, who seem anything but welcoming. Once there, she forms a life-changing bond with two of her new siblings.


In West Mills

De’Shawn Charles Winslow (Bloomsbury)

Winslow’s stellar debut follows the residents of a black neighborhood in a tiny North Carolina town over the course of several decades, beginning in 1941. At the center of the novel is stubborn schoolteacher Azalea, nicknamed Knot, a woman who loves moonshine and male companionship but whose life changes when she discovers she’s pregnant.


The Laws of the Skies

Grégoire Courtois, trans. from the French by Rhonda Mullins (Coach House)

Courtois’s haunting novel begins like a fairy tale but winds up more like a Friday the 13th movie. Twelve six-year-old schoolchildren leave their parents for a weekend at camp with their teacher Frederic and two chaperones; readers know from the first page that none of them will return. This wicked novel plumbs the darkest reaches of childhood fears and finds plenty to be afraid of.


The Nickel Boys

Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

In the 1960s, Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high school student from Tallahassee, Fla., who partakes in civil rights demonstrations against Jim Crow laws, is erroneously detained by police and ends up at the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform school. Elwood finds that the staff is callous and corrupt, and the boys—especially the black boys—suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. This is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight.


The Organs of Sense

Adam Ehrlich Sachs (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In 1666, the young Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz—the philosopher who helped invent calculus—treks to the Bohemian mountains to “rigorously but surreptitiously assess” the sanity of an eyeless, unnamed astronomer who is predicting an impending eclipse. Sachs’s sublime novel recalls the nested monologues of Thomas Bernhard and the cerebral farces of Donald Antrim, and the way it all comes together gives it the feel of an intellectual thriller.


The Tenth Muse

Catherine Chung (Ecco)

Katherine, a noted mathematician who grew up believing herself the daughter of a white father and a Chinese mother, is stunned to learn the truth of her family history. Chung persuasively blends myths and legends with the real-world stories of lesser-known woman mathematicians and of WWII on both the European and Asian fronts, making for a bold, poignant novel that illustrates how truth and beauty can reside even amid the messiest solutions.



Philippa Gregory (Atria)

Gregory, a master of English historical fiction, moves from her typical milieu of royal courts to a portrait of a normal woman in the marshy landscape of the South of England. In 1648, Alinor, suspected of harboring dark secrets in a time of panic about witches, catches the attention of people in her village, leading her down a dangerous path.


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