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White Tears

Hari Kunzru (Knopf)

In this astute take on gentrification culture, 20-something white roommates Carter and Seth are audiophiles who record an old chess player singing in the park and remix it into a counterfeit blues song by a black singer they make up named Charlie Shaw. When a collector insists Charlie Shaw is real and Carter is left in a coma, Seth travels from New York to Mississippi to unravel Kunzru's fast-paced, ambitious, hallucinatory mystery.


Anything Is Possible

Elizabeth Strout (Random House)

In this excellent, emotionally wrenching novel in stories, the residents of Amgash, Ill., and the surrounding communities, who were offstage characters in My Name Is Lucy Barton, are given voice. These include a Vietnam veteran with PTSD; a rich woman who is complicit in her husband's depraved behavior; and one of the five Mumford sisters, who reunites with her runaway mother in Italy.



Kei Miller (Pantheon)

The year is 1982, and a teacher cuts the dreadlocks off a child named Kaia because he looks "like some dirty little African." From there, Miller's narrative jumps back 60 years to tell an extraordinary story of the enduring struggle between those who reject an impoverished life in Jamaica and the forces that hold them in check, what Rastafarians call Babylon.



Jeff VanderMeer (MCD)

In a future strewn with the cast-off experiments of a laboratory called the Company, a scavenger named Rachel finds a bizarre creature named Borne. Rachel adopts Borne and takes on its education over the objections of her lover Wick, but Borne soon threatens Rachel and Wick's fragile existence even as it brings painful truths to the surface. VanderMeer's singular novel has enough imagination to fill multiple books.


Chasing the King of Hearts

Hanna Krall, trans. from the Polish by Philip Boehm (Feminist Press)

This devastating, fragmentary Holocaust narrative follows a Jewish woman's tireless drive to rescue her husband from Auschwitz. With nothing more than whispers about his location, Izolda borrows money, delivers illegal letters, and sells black-market bacon to ensure her husband's safety. The prose never once seems out of the author's control; Krall's prodigious artistry elevates and illuminates the harrowing material.


Forest Dark

Nicole Krauss (Harper)

Krauss's elegant and provocative novel might be her best yet. Rich in profound insights and emotional resonance, it follows two characters on their paths to self-realization. In present-day Israel, two visiting Americans—one a young wife, mother, and novelist named Nicole, the other an elderly philanthropist whose relentless energy has dimmed with his recent divorce—experience transcendence.


For Isabel: A Mandala

Antonio Tabucchi, trans. from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Archipelago)

A man claiming to be a journalist searches in Lisbon for an old classmate named Isabel, who became involved with the Communists and disappeared during Portugal's authoritarian regime. What follows is a fractured, Rashomon-like series of interviews with Isabel's friends and coconspirators. This is more than the story of a missing girl; it is history recalled as though in a dream, a book that reckons with death in the midst of life.


Ghachar Ghochar

Vivek Shanbhag, trans. from the Kannada by Srinath Perur (Penguin) (Penguin)

Shanbhag's concise and mesmerizing novel traces the effect of a sudden financial windfall on a lower-class Bangalore family. The family members' fraught relationships with each other are further complicated in their new, unexpected situation. As dark undercurrents come to the surface, Shanbhag depicts the fallout of fortune and how it can alter the foundation of family.


Her Body and Other Parties

Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf)

Queerness permeates Machado's eerie, inventive collection, shaping the stories' women and their problems, with a recurring focus on the inherent strangeness of female bodies. These bodies, and the women in them, face an epidemic of inexplicable evaporation, linger as distorted masses after weight-loss surgery, or gain the ability to hear the thoughts of actors in porn.


I Am the Brother of XX

Fleur Jaeggy, trans. from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff (New Directions)

A woman searches for her friend who has deserted a psychiatric clinic; a younger brother feels his life is diminished by his sister's influence ("While I spoke to her of solitude she looked at her watch."). Jaeggy's short stories are nonpareils of fury and restraint. They dig up chilling yet beguiling reflections on loneliness, on regret, and sometimes even on love.



Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Transit)

Makumbi's sprawling epic follows a curse on a Ugandan family that begins in 1750, when Kintu Kidda inadvertently causes the death of his son. Two hundred years later, the members of the Kintu bloodline must come together if they are to free themselves from the curse. A masterpiece of cultural memory, Makumbi's novel is elegantly poised at the crossroads of tradition and modernity.


The Locals

Jonathan Dee (Random House)

Dee's sobering novel is bookended by 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. Between, a cascade of hubris and folly rumbles through a small Massachusetts town after a billionaire moves there and takes over, and a local contractor and his family are alternately lifted and hammered by a historical moment as it turns on them. There's no finger-wagging here, but rather a smart, lucid take on everything going to hell.



Julie Buntin (Holt)

Fifteen-year-old Cat's unenthusiastic outlook on her move to a small town in northern Michigan changes when she meets Marlena, an electric 17-year-old whose father cooks meth. In this poignant, unforgettable debut novel, Buntin displays a remarkable control of tone and narrative arc, charting Cat's charged relationship with Marlena and a tragedy that stays with her for the rest of her life. (Buntin is married to PW deputy reviews editor Gabe Habash.)



Kristen Iskandrian (Twelve)

When college freshman Agnes learns her mother has left her father, she begins writing letters to her as a coping mechanism, though she has no idea where her mother is and cannot mail them. These letters, which continue after Agnes becomes pregnant, showcase Agnes's sharp and humorous voice, resulting in a touching, delightful, and satisfying novel about motherhood.


The Mountain

Paul Yoon (Simon & Schuster)

Yoon's wonderful collection is bound by the longing for meaning and connection experienced by its mostly migrant protagonists, each of whom has suffered trauma stemming from wars fought by previous generations. These stories span the globe—including the Hudson Valley, France, and China—and time periods to arrive at truths about how greatly lives are affected and influenced by shared history.



Min Jin Lee (Grand Central)

Lee's immersive novel tells the story of one Korean family's search for belonging, beginning in the Japanese-occupied Korea of the 1910s, when young Sunja accidentally becomes pregnant and a kind, tubercular pastor offers to marry her and act as the child's father. The novel, which follows four generations of the family, exquisitely explores questions of history, legacy, and identity.


Reservoir 13

Jon McGregor (Catapult)

McGregor's momentous, haunting novel begins with a 13-year-old girl's disappearance from an English village, and then tracks the village through the following years—teenagers become adults, babies are born, people grow old and die, and couples get together and separate while what happened to the girl remains a mystery. McGregor portrays individuals and the community as a whole, marked by a strange darkness after the girl's disappearance.


See What I Have Done

Sarah Schmidt (Atlantic Monthly)

Schmidt's suspenseful, nearly unbearably claustrophobic debut novel recounts the events surrounding the 1892 murders of Andrew and Abby Borden from the perspectives of Lizzie Borden; her older sister, Emma; the family's maid, Bridget Sullivan; and a mysterious man known only as Benjamin. Equally successful as a whodunit, "whydunit," and historical novel, the book honors known facts yet fearlessly claims its own striking vision.


The Seventh Function of Language

Laurent Binet, trans. from the French by Sam Taylor (FSG)

Binet (HHhH) ups the metafictional ante with this detective story about the death of French philosopher Roland Barthes, who was hit by a laundry van after lunch with presidential candidate François Mitterrand. The mystery is really just an excuse for a loving inquiry into 20th-century intellectual history; Binet folds historical moments into an illustration of the possibilities left for the modern novel.


What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky

Lesley Nneka Arimah (Riverhead)

In one story in Arimah's powerful and incisive debut collection, a deceased mother magically reappears in her family's life. In another, a reckless teenage girl is sent from America to her aunt in Nigeria, only to get caught up in the life of her equally reckless cousin. Arimah shuttles between continents and realities to deliver stories of loss, hope, violence, and family.


A Working Woman

Elvira Navarro, trans. from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Two Lines)

In Navarro's brilliant mindbender of a novel, Elisa, a struggling writer in Madrid, becomes increasingly fascinated by her roommate, the more willful and dramatically unhinged Susana. Susana and Elisa set out to combine their artistic endeavors, only to become ensnared in each other's madness in the process. This exceptional novel defies easy interpretation and culminates in a breathtaking and surprising ending.


Ill Will

Dan Chaon (Ballantine)

Chaon expertly realizes his singular vision of American dread in this extraordinary novel about Ohio psychologist Dustin Tillman, whose parents and aunt and uncle were murdered when he was 13—and whose testimony helped put his adopted brother, Rusty, in prison for the crime. Rusty, who has just been exonerated through DNA evidence, reaches out to Dustin's troubled son, a teenage junkie sliding into Cleveland's underground.


In the Distance

Hernán Díaz (Coffee House)

In Díaz's brilliant debut, a young Swedish immigrant named Håkan is separated from his brother en route to America. Håkan lands in San Francisco knowing only that he must get to New York, but his journey becomes a series of increasingly dangerous episodes. This suspenseful novel is a potent depiction of loneliness, a memorable immigration narrative, and a canny reinvention of the old-school western.


Grief Cottage

Gail Godwin (Bloomsbury)

After 11-year-old Marcus's mother dies, he goes to live with his great-aunt Charlotte, a reclusive painter, on a small South Carolina island. There, during a summer that will change his life, Marcus becomes obsessed with the island's supposedly haunted beach shack. This coming-of-age novel is a moving depiction of a boy who must decide how to grieve: to raze his identity completely or memorialize his tragedies.


Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)

Ward's blistering novel unpacks a stark legacy of hatred as a drug-abusing young mother drives into the dark reaches of Mississippi to pick up her husband after he's released from prison. Her mother's on her deathbed, her son sees the ghost that haunts her father, and everything, everywhere is drenched with creeping doom. Ward's Mississippi is an unforgiving place, and she draws even her most troubled characters with a remarkable empathy.


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