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The Atmospherians

Alex McElroy (Atria)

A woman named Sasha Marcus is harassed and canceled by men’s rights activists after speaking her mind in response to an internet troll in McElroy’s engrossing novel. Sasha then accepts a new gig helping her failed actor friend start a cult designed for men to purge themselves of toxic masculinity. McElroy’s conceit works on multiple levels, with incisive satire, earnest explorations of male identity, and a gripping plot.

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Catch the Rabbit

Lana Bastašić (Restless)

References to Alice in Wonderland lure the reader into this immersive and dreamlike road story about a Bosnian woman’s return home from Dublin. Lejla’s childhood memories surface as she reacquaints with her old friend Sara, who seeks Lejla’s help in finding her older brother. As their journey progresses, the psychological drama between the two friends intensifies, building to a surprising twist.

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The Confession of Copeland Cane

Keenan Norris (Unnamed)

Norris unfurls the vivid dystopian coming-of-age tale of Copeland Cane, an 18-year-old Black man navigating the absurdities of a racist police state in East Oakland, Calif. Copeland, a fugitive from law enforcement after his involvement in a protest, lays down his freewheeling “confession” to a journalist. His voice is strong and infectious, and Norris’s credible vision of a media-security empire, founded by xenophobic Trump minion Stephen Miller, brilliantly scales up the narrative tension.

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The Divorce

César Aira, trans. from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (New Directions)

Here's one for a single beach outing, which, clocking in at just under 100 pages, will leave the reader transformed. Longtime Aira fan Patti Smith reports in her forward that she was "drawn from the pandemic emptiness into a world filled to the brim." In its series of puzzles and coincidences, all revolving around a Providence man’s visit to Buenos Aires and the stories picked up from strangers, Aira achieves perfection.

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Great Circle

Maggie Shipstead (Knopf)

Shipstead makes the most of parallel narratives in this epic page-turner about a pioneering female aviator and the present-day movie star preparing to play her. Marian Graves learns to fly as a young woman during Prohibition, then joins the RAF during WWII and disappears after a circumnavigation of the globe in 1949. As actor Hadley Baxter learns about Marian’s life, details of her own tragic connection to an ill-fated flight come to light.

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How to Kidnap the Rich

Rahul Raina (HarperPerennial)

Delhi street vendor–turned–college prep consultant and con artist Ramesh Kumar gets in over his head after one of his clients becomes famous for breaking the record on a standardized test score (a test Ramesh took on behalf of the student, Rudi Saxena). Ramesh and Rudi tour the country and wind up kidnapped, which gives Ramesh an idea for a new, even more lucrative scam. Raina’s satire cuts especially deep with its commentary on the Indian caste system.

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The Killing Hills

Chris Offutt (Grove)

An Army CID agent helps his sheriff sister with a murder investigation in their rural Kentucky holler in this hardboiled country noir. It crackles with unforgiving violence and colorful characters possessing names such as Murvil Knox, Charley Flowers, and Fuckin’ Barney, but it also has endless depth, detailing PTSD and the region’s rampant opioid addiction problem. The prose and scope make this reminiscent not only of Winter’s Bone but of Faulkner.

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The King of Infinite Space

Lyndsay Faye (Putnam)

Faye pulls off a delicious reimagining of Hamlet set in the present-day New York City theater world. After theater owner Jackson Dane dies, his son Benjamin finds a video from Jackson, in which he expresses his fears that his brother is trying to kill him. Faye adds magic to the intrigue by blending fantastical conceits from other Shakespeare plays, and adds a romance between Benjamin and his best friend, Horatio.

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Second Place

Rachel Cusk (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

A series of power plays ensues on an English coastal property in Cusk’s insightful latest. A writer named M is drawn to L, a painter, and invites him to stay in a cabin next to her family’s house. After L arrives from New York City, a cascading set of circumstances make M feel increasingly isolated from her family and snubbed by L. Cusk’s breezy erudition is on full display in this tense and compressed story.

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Something New Under the Sun

Alexandra Kleeman (Hogarth)

Kleeman’s propulsive story of climate change and Hollywood unscrupulousness follows writer Patrick Hamlin’s ill-fated journey to Tinseltown to help with the adaptation of his novel. There, the synthetic WAT-R has replaced water, and a new type of dementia plagues the populace. As a personal indignity, Patrick is made a production assistant and given the task of ferrying an unpredictable former child star cast in the film. As always, Kleeman is imaginative and her work compulsively readable.

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The Vixen

Francine Prose (Harper)

Simon Putnam, a young Jewish book editor, is tasked with working on a bodice ripper inspired by the Rosenberg trial in Prose’s canny look at Cold War society and sexual predation in the workplace. The plot thickens as the mystery unfolds as to why Simon’s boss, a WWII psyops veteran, is so intent on publishing the book, which is off brand compared to the house’s usual literary fare.

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We Are the Brennans

Tracey Lange (Celadon)

After Sunday Brennan wrecks her car in a drunk driving accident, she returns from Los Angeles to her hometown in Westchester County, N.Y., where she has not set foot for six years. Her arrival, along with lingering tensions between her and her brothers, forces the Irish Catholic family to confront long-buried secrets. Lange portrays the Brennans with compassion and gritty realism, winning over readers from the beginning.

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