We continue our “Best of 2018″ series curated by the entire Entropy community and present some of our favorite selections as nominated by the diverse staff and team here at Entropy, as well as nominations from our readers.
This list brings together some of our favorite fiction books published in 2018.
In no particular order…
1. The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon (Riverhead Books)
Radiant…A dark, absorbing story of how first love can be as intoxicating and dangerous as religious fundamentalism. –New York Times Book Review
Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet in their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe. Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is drawn into a secretive cult founded by a charismatic former student with an enigmatic past. When the group commits a violent act in the name of faith, Will finds himself struggling to confront a new version of the fanaticism he’s worked so hard to escape. Haunting and intense, The Incendiaries is a fractured love story that explores what can befall those who lose what they love most.
2. There There by Tommy Orange (Knopf)
There There is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. It’s “masterful . . . white-hot . . . devastating” (The Washington Post) at the same time as it is fierce, funny, suspenseful, thoroughly modern, and impossible to put down. Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it’s destined to be a classic.
3. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner Books)
From the start of this extraordinary debut, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day in this country. These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. Entirely fresh in its style and perspective, and sure to appeal to fans of Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, and George Saunders, Friday Black confronts readers with a complicated, insistent, wrenching chorus of emotions, the final note of which, remarkably, is hope.
4. Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirstin Chen (Little A)
The day nine-year-old San San and her twelve-year-old brother, Ah Liam, discover their grandmother taking a hammer to a framed portrait of Chairman Mao is the day that forever changes their lives. To prove his loyalty to the Party, Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the authorities. But his belief in doing the right thing sets in motion a terrible chain of events. Now they must flee their home on Drum Wave Islet, which sits just a few hundred meters across the channel from mainland China. But when their mother goes to procure visas for safe passage to Hong Kong, the government will only issue them on the condition that she leave behind one of her children as proof of the family’s intention to return. Against the backdrop of early Maoist China, this captivating and emotional tale follows a brother, a sister, a father, and a mother as they grapple with their agonizing decision, its far-reaching consequences, and their hope for redemption.
5. Wild Milk by Sabrina Orah Mark (Dorothy, A Publishing Project)
Wild Milk is like Borscht Belt meets Leonora Carrington; it’s like Donald Barthelme meets Pony Head; it’s like the Brothers Grimm meet Beckett in his swim trunks at the beach. In other words, this remarkable collection of stories is unlike anything else you’ve read.
6. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (Viking)
In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.
7. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (Little, Brown and Company)
In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.
8. The End of Peril, the End of Enmity, the End of Strife, a Haven by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint (Noemi Press)
What an amazingly beautiful changeling of a book. Whenever I was sure I had a pulse on it, it would bloom into something else entirely. Within what seems to be such spareness of words, Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint invokes a whole universe that clutches close the realms of memory, dream, and imagination, erasing the boundaries between the living and the dead, the sky and the earth, reality and myth. Myint interrogates the mother/daughter relationship as well as the beginnings and endings of love and life, reminiscent of the myth-making poetic prose in Jamaica Kincaid’s At the Bottom of the River. In the subtle guise of Italo Calivno’s Invisible Cities, she philosophizes on spaces and habitude and internal strife. You will fall deep into the deepest darkness and fear and hope and desire and love and longing in these pages. It’s a lovely journey there and out. –Jenny Boully
9. The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers, Translated by Kit Maude (Feminist Press)
When The Naked Woman was originally published in 1950, critics doubted a woman writer could be responsible for its shocking erotic content. In this searing critique of Enlightenment values, fantastic themes are juxtaposed with brutal depictions of misogyny and violence, and frantically build to a fiery conclusion. Finally available to an English-speaking audience, Armonía Somers will resonate with readers of Clarice Lispector, Djuna Barnes, and Leonora Carrington.
I am so grateful that a new generation will be able to read this surreal, nightmarish book about women’s struggle for autonomy—and how that struggle is (always, inevitably) met with violence. —Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties
10. The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Shortly after Clare arrives in Havana, Cuba, to attend the annual Festival of New Latin American Cinema, she finds her husband, Richard, standing outside a museum. He’s wearing a white linen suit she’s never seen before, and he’s supposed to be dead. Grief-stricken and baffled, Clare tails Richard, a horror film scholar, through the newly tourist-filled streets of Havana, clocking his every move. As the distinction between reality and fantasy blurs, Clare finds grounding in memories of her childhood in Florida and of her marriage to Richard, revealing her role in his death and reappearance along the way. The Third Hotel is a propulsive, brilliantly shape-shifting novel from an inventive author at the height of her narrative powers.
11. Motherhood by Sheila Heti (Henry Holt)
In Motherhood, Sheila Heti asks what is gained and what is lost when a woman becomes a mother, treating the most consequential decision of early adulthood with the candor, originality, and humor that have won Heti international acclaim and made How Should A Person Be? required reading for a generation.
Motherhood is a courageous, keenly felt, and starkly original novel that will surely spark lively conversations about womanhood, parenthood, and about how―and for whom―to live.
12. Strawberry Fields by Hilary Plum (Fence)
Much of what is read as news is fake; still the real news is, at its very best, partial. At the heart of Strawberry Fields is the storied figure of the journalist, who despairs of accountability yet must accept its disorienting weight. This is a global fiction; these shapeshifting journalists together demonstrate the ethics of reading and writing “news from elsewhere.” An antidote to the normalization wielded upon us by narrative, Hilary Plum crafts with dizzying invention a recursive disorientation of stories starting over and over again, without conclusion. The fragmentation of these harrowing truths, ripped from the headlines, is a reprieve; at least it’s not really “happening,” like normal fictions do, simulacra at the speed of life, not really “happening,” at least not at the rate of narrativity. Oh, but it is. This fiction jumps through genres, destabilizing players and circumstances: revolutionary Ireland, Iraq in the midst of US invasion, and Pakistan during years of drone warfare, an eating disorder clinic, a farming community in the midst of pesticide poisoning, the plight of a journalist imprisoned in Mexico. Our throughline is the recurring story of a reporter, Alice, and a detective, Modigliani: together they failed to solve a crime that occurred years ago amid the chaos of a hurricane, and we find them now piecing together the stories of five murdered veterans of the war in Iraq. Making up nothing, or everything, all around the globe these horrors go on daily.
13. On Hell by Johanna Hedva (Sator Press)
ON HELL transcribes a body broken by American empire, that of ex-con Rafael Luis Estrada Requena, hacking itself away from contemporary society. Johanna Hedva, author of Sick Woman Theory, takes the ferocious compulsion to escape (from capitalism, from the limits of the body-machine, from Earth) and channels it into an evisceration of oppression and authority. Equal parts tender and brutal, romantic and furious, ON HELL is a novel about myths that trick and resist totalitarianism.
14. A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley (Graywolf Press)
In nine powerful stories, Jamel Brinkley explores the charged, complex ties between men whose mistakes threaten their relationships with friends, lovers, and family members. An imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his day camp group at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege in ways he can barely grasp. A pair of college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And at a capoeira conference, two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history.
15. A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (Ballantine Books)
A River of Stars is an entertaining, wildly unpredictable adventure, told with empathy and wit by an author the San Francisco Chronicle says “has a deep understanding of the pressure of submerged emotions and polite, face-saving deceptions.” It’s a vivid examination of home and belonging, and a moving portrayal of a woman determined to build her own future.
16. The Collected Stories of Diane Williams by Diane Williams (Soho Press)
From Ben Marcus’ introduction to The Collected Stories of Diane Williams:
“Diane Williams has spent her long, prolific career concocting fictions of perfect strangeness, most of them no more than a page long. She’s a hero of the form: the sudden fiction, the flash fiction, whatever it’s being called these days. The stories are short. They defy logic. They thumb their nose at conventional sense, or even unconventional sense. But if sense is in short supply in these texts, that leaves more room for splendor and sorrow. These stories upend expectations and prize enigma and the uncanny above all else. The Williams epiphany should be patented, or bottled—on the other hand, it should also be regulated and maybe rationed, because it’s severe. It’s a rare feeling her stories trigger, but it’s a keen and deep and welcome one, the sort of feeling that wakes us up to complication and beauty and dissonance and fragility.”
17. Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono (Two Lines Press)
How does a shy, traumatized boy overcome the shame, anger, and sadness that silence him? In Lion Cross Point, celebrated Japanese author Masatsugu Ono turns his gentle pen to the mind of ten-year-old Takeru, who arrives at his family’s home village amid a scorching summer, carrying memories of unspeakable acts against his mother and brother. As Takeru befriends Mitsuko, his new caretaker, and Saki, his spunky neighbor, he meets more of his mother’s old friends, discovering her history and inching toward a new idea of family and home. All the while he begins to see a strange figure called Bunji—the same name as a delicate young boy who mysteriously vanished long ago on the village’s breathtaking coastline at Lion Cross Point. At once a subtle portrayal of a child’s sense of memory and community, an empowering exploration of how we find the words to encompass our trauma, and a spooky Japanese ghost story, Lion Cross Point is gripping and poignant, reminiscent of Kenzaburō Ōe’s best work. Acts of heartless brutality mix with surprising moments of pure kindness, creating this utterly truthful, cathartic tale of an unforgettable young boy.
18. Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Zebra is the last in a line of anarchists, atheists, and autodidacts. When war came, her family didn’t fight; they took refuge in books. Now alone and in exile, Zebra leaves New York for Barcelona, retracing the journey she and her father made from Iran to the United States years ago. Books are Zebra’s only companions—until she meets Ludo. Their connection is magnetic; their time together fraught. Zebra overwhelms him with her complex literary theories, her concern with death, and her obsession with history. He thinks she’s unhinged; she thinks he’s pedantic. Neither are wrong; neither can let the other go. They push and pull their way across the Mediterranean, wondering with each turn if their love, or lust, can free Zebra from her past. An adventure tale, a love story, and a paean to the power of language and literature starring a heroine as quirky as Don Quixote, as introspective as Virginia Woolf, as whip-smart as Miranda July, and as spirited as Frances Ha, Call Me Zebra will establish Van der Vliet Oloomi as an author “on the verge of developing a whole new literature movement” (Bustle).
19. Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas (Ace)
The Man in the High Castle meets Pacific Rim in this action-packed alternate history novel from the award-winning author of United States of Japan. Germany and Japan won WWII and control the U.S., and a young man has one dream: to become a mecha pilot.
The characters are truly compelling and the world Tieryas created is a joy to discover. And if you come for the giant robots, Mecha Samurai Empire has all kinds and the best robot combat you’ll ever read. Seriously, this is a whole new kind of badass. —Sylvain Neuvel, author of Sleeping Giants
20. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (Doubleday)
Simultaneously propulsive and poetic, reminiscent of Isabel Allende…Listen to this new author’s voice — she has something powerful to say. –Entertainment Weekly
A mesmerizing debut set in Colombia at the height Pablo Escobar’s violent reign about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both
21. If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim (William Morrow)
An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today.
Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman’s longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.
22. Florida by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books)
In her thrilling new book, Lauren Groff brings the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother.
23. The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, Translated by Margaret Mitsutani (New Directions)
Japan, after suffering from a massive irreparable disaster, cuts itself off from the world. Children are so weak they can barely stand or walk: the only people with any get-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly. They carry on a day-to-day routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time, with all the children born ancient―frail and gray-haired, yet incredibly compassionate and wise. Mumei may be enfeebled and feverish, but he is a beacon of hope, full of wit and free of self-pity and pessimism. Yoshiro concentrates on nourishing Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy who offers “the beauty of the time that is yet to come.”
24. Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci, Translated by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House Press)
From the very beginning, Verónica Gerber set out to write a novel that would end up at a loss for words. She alone could achieve this feat: because she’s a visual artist who takes everything she reads in as concentric circles threaded with color, and because she writes essays on painters who write across canvasses and writers who paint plots from the realities of life. . . . She alone could bring the necessary silence to a novel so perfect it ended up leaving me speechless as well. —Jorge F. Hernández
25. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books)
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.
26. H & G by Anna Maria Hong (Sidebrow)
In this hybrid novella of trauma and survival, Anna Maria Hong re-imagines and extends the tale of Hansel and Gretel, breaking its received patterns of abandonment and abuse to set G. to wander a world racialized and gendered by power dynamics at every turn. Survivor, artist, hero, G.’s decisive action at the Witch’s oven becomes the kernel of a new identity, independent and resilient, capable of transforming cruel stories into a cunning, masterful feminist bildungsroman.
27. Monster Portraits by Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar (Rose Metal Press)
Relentlessly original and brilliantly hybrid, Monster Portraits investigates the concept of the monstrous through a mesmerizing combination of words and images. An uncanny and imaginative autobiography of otherness, it offers the fictional record of a writer in the realms of the fantastic shot through with the memories of a pair of Somali-American children growing up in the 1980s. Operating under the sign of two—texts and drawings, brother and sister, black and white, extraordinary and everyday—Monster Portraits multiplies, disintegrates, and blends, inviting the reader to find the danger in the banal, the beautiful in the grotesque. Accumulating into a breathless journey and groundbreaking study, these brief fictions and sketches claim the monster as a fragmentary vastness: not the sum but the derangement of its parts.
28. The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine & Aviva Kana (Dorothy, A Publishing Project)
A fairy tale run amok, The Taiga Syndrome follows an unnamed Ex-Detective as she searches for a couple who has fled to the far reaches of the earth. A betrayed husband is convinced by a brief telegram that his second ex-wife wants him to track her down—that she wants to be found. He hires the Ex-Detective, who sets out with a translator into a snowy, hostile forest where strange things happen and translation betrays both sense and one’s senses. Tales of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood haunt the Ex-Detective’s quest into a territory overrun with the primitive excesses of Capitalism—accumulation and expulsion, corruption and cruelty—though the lessons of her journey are more experiential than moral: that just as love can fly away, sometimes unloving flies away as well. That sometimes leaving everything behind is the only thing left to do.
29. Sacred Smokes by Theodore C. Van Alst (University of New Mexico Press)
Growing up in a gang in the city can be dark. Growing up Native American in a gang in Chicago is a whole different story. This book takes a trip through that unexplored part of Indian Country, an intense journey that is full of surprises, shining a light on the interior lives of people whose intellectual and emotional concerns are often overlooked. This dark, compelling, occasionally inappropriate, and often hilarious linked story collection introduces a character who defies all stereotypes about urban life and Indians. He will be in readers’ heads for a long time to come.
30. French Exit by Patrick DeWitt (Ecco)
Frances Price – tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature – is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s the Price’s aging cat, Small Frank, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral litigator and world-class cad whose gruesome tabloid death rendered Frances and Malcolm social outcasts.
Brimming with pathos, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind ‘tragedy of manners,’ a send-up of high society, as well as a moving mother/son caper which only Patrick deWitt could conceive and execute.
31. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)
Fans of Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds will fall hard for this astonishing New York Times-bestselling novel-in-verse by an award-winning slam poet, about an Afro-Latina heroine who tells her story with blazing words and powerful truth.
Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero. —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street
32. My Pet Serial Killer by Michael Seidlinger (Fangoria)
Dexter meets Secretary in Michael J. Seidlinger’s provocative, disturbing literary thriller that reinvents the serial killer genre, exploring the psychology of desire.
Claire studies forensic science, Victor is the Gentleman Killer. Subverting expectations, Clair seduces Victor and keeps him in her apartment as her pet, her darkest secret. Beautifully written, provocative to read, Seidlinger delves into Claire’s motivations and impetus to present a compelling psychosexual portrait of a woman obsessed with performance, with power, with sex, and with gore.
33. Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, Translated by Heather Cleary (Coffee House Press)
In the outskirts of Buenos Aires in 1907, a doctor becomes involved in a misguided experiment that investigates the threshold between life and death. One hundred years later, a celebrated artist goes to extremes in search of aesthetic transformation, turning himself into an art object. How far are we willing to go, Larraquy asks, in pursuit of transcendence? The world of Comemadre is full of vulgarity, excess, and discomfort: strange ants that form almost perfect circles, missing body parts, obsessive love affairs, and man-eating plants. Darkly funny, smart, and engrossing, here the monstrous is not alien, but the consquence of our relentless pursuit of collective and personal progress.
34. White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar (Dzanc Books)
A woman grieves a miscarriage, haunted by the Buddha’s birth. An artist with schizophrenia tries to survive hatred and indifference in small-town India by turning to the beauty of sculpture and dance. Orphans in India get pulled into a strange “rescue” mission aimed at stripping their mysterious powers. A brief but intense affair between two women culminates in regret and betrayal. A boy seeks memories of his sister in the legend of a woman who weds death. And fragments of history, from child brickmakers to slaves in Renaissance Portugal, are held up in brief fictions, burnished, made dazzling and unforgettable.
35. The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (MCD)
The Golden State anchors Daphne’s journey in the visceral and material realities of motherhood . . . The novel beautifully depicts the golden light of California, the smell of the fescue grasses, the thinness of the air, and the way that Daphne and Honey often feel overwhelmed by the scale of the spaces they find themselves in. The result is less an untroubled analogy between the landscapes of motherhood and the American West than an invitation to think more deeply about how limited our canonical literary imaginings of each have been. –Sarah Blackwood, The New Yorker
36. Break.up: A Novel in Essays by Joanna Walsh (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents)
In this “novel in essays,” Joanna Walsh simultaneously flees and pursues an ambiguous partner in an affair conducted mostly online. Traversing Europe, she awaits emails and texts and PMs, awash in her dreams, offering succinct meditations on connection and communication. If Marguerite Duras situated the telephone as the twentieth century’s preferred hopeless form of connection, Walsh pinpoints the nodal points of a “romance” within today’s mesh of electronic communication.
37. Little Reunions by Eileen Chang, Translated by Jane Weizhen Pan & Martin Merz (NYRB)
Now available in English for the first time, Eileen Chang’s dark romance opens with Julie, living at a convent school in Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Her mother, Rachel, long divorced from Julie’s opium-addict father, saunters around the world with various lovers. Recollections of Julie’s horrifying but privileged childhood in Shanghai clash with a flamboyant, sometimes incestuous cast of relations that crowd her life. Eventually, back in Shanghai, she meets the magnetic Chih-yung, a traitor who collaborates with the Japanese puppet regime. Soon they’re in the throes of an impassioned love affair that swings back and forth between ardor and anxiety, secrecy and ruin. Like Julie’s relationship with her mother, her marriage to Chih-yung is marked by long stretches of separation interspersed with unexpected little reunions. Chang’s emotionally fraught, bitterly humorous novel holds a fractured mirror directly in front of her own heart.
38. Scribe by Alyson Hagy (Graywolf Press)
Scribe, which begins with the baying of hounds and ends with silence, reminds us on every page that humans remain the storytelling animal, and that therein might lie our salvation. . . . In this brave new world, a woman with a pen may prove mightier than a man with a sword. —The New York Times Book Review
39. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (Random House)
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is the long-awaited new story collection from Denis Johnson. Written in the luminous prose that made him one of the most beloved and important writers of his generation, this collection finds Johnson in new territory, contemplating the ghosts of the past and the elusive and unexpected ways the mysteries of the universe assert themselves. Finished shortly before Johnson’s death, this collection is the last word from a writer whose work will live on for many years to come.
40. Open Me by Lisa Locascio (Grove Press)
Locascio’s story of a young American abroad is unflinching in its portrayal of sex, desire, racism, and the excitement and confusion of youth. Infused with erotics and politics, this is a novel that will haunt you. ―Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer
41. After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel, Translated by translated by Rosalind Harvey (Coffee House Press)
In Havana, Paris, and New York City, Claudio and Cecilia succumb to our implacable movement toward love.
Claudio’s apartment faces a wall. Rising from bed, he sets his feet on the floor at the same time, to ground himself. Cecilia sits at her window, contemplating a cemetery, the radio her best companion. In parallel and entwining stories that move from Havana to Paris to New York City, no routine, no argument for the pleasures of solitude, can withstand our most human drive to find ourselves in another and fall in love. And no depth of emotion can protect us from love’s inevitable loss.
42. Pretend We Live Here by Genevieve Hudson (Future Tense Books)
In her debut collection of stories, Pretend We Live Here, Genevieve Hudson explores the idea of home and what it means to find one: in the body, in the world, in other people. Her characters are seekers, whose actions are influenced by their slippery identities and by the strange landscapes that surround them.
43. Unnatural Habitats & Other Stories by Angela Mitchell (WTAW Press)
This collection of seven connected stories set in the Ozarks explores the relationships between people and place and the changing culture of rural America. From a newly divorced woman employed by a front for illegal drugs, to a man who seeks revenge when the farm he loves is invaded by meth producers, to a shady Arkansas businessman wrestling with his own wildness (and that of his teen son) as he attempts to return a domesticated bobcat to its native habitat, the characters in UNNATURAL HABITATS AND OTHER STORIES explore the conflict between what is instinct and what is learned, as well as what it means to belong to a place and to a people. Set in the rural landscape of the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri, the stories turn on a growing crime culture in a place that had previously felt untouched by the world outside, forcing characters who live there to reevaluate their sense of right and wrong.
44. Suicide Club: A Novel About Living by Rachel Heng (Henry Holt and Co.)
A provocative new author. A fascinating debut novel. Read it! ―Jeff VanderMeer
In Rachel Heng’s debut set in near future New York City―where lives last three hundred years and the pursuit of immortality is all-consuming―Lea must choose between her estranged father and her chance to live forever.
45. Not Heaven, Somewhere Else by Rebecca Brown (Tarpaulin Sky)
If heaven is somewhere, it isn’t with us, but somewhere we want to get — a state, a place, a turning to home. Novel- and essayist Rebecca Brown’s thirteenth book is narrative cycle that revamps old fairy tales, movies, and myths, as it leads the reader from darkness to light, from harshness to love, from where we are to where we might go.
These updated and revised fables satisfied a desire for moral discussion I didn’t even know I had…. Highly recommended and highly rewarding. — Rich Smith, The Stranger
46. The Immigrant’s Refrigerator by Elena Georgiou (GenPop Books)
If luck is on an author’s side, a book reaches its audience at the right time. Elena Georgiou’s THE IMMIGRANT’S REFRIGERATOR can confidently make this claim. Populated with a cast of characters that shine the light on what it means to be an outsider in the early part of the 21st century, this story collection takes its reader into the private lives of those who have entered a country legally, others who were forced to enter illegally, and the rest who call a country home as a result of birth; characters searching for what they need to sustain them on their journeys towards a future that will not only be a place of refuge, but also one of hope.
47. The Lucky Ones Get to Be People by Rachel Haley Himmelheber (Noemi Press)
In the wake of an ill-fated affair with her professor, a young woman begins a cruel sexual relationship with an intellectually disabled neighbor. A cop and a robber prepare for Christmas as their romantic fortunes shift. An elementary school teacher’s struggles with the demands of her mentally ill spouse lead her to act unethically with one of her students. A young couple’s sexual fetish has them stealing keys to the public library. Two workers in a family business get stoned and make a bet that could change the dynamics of their family. A young boy works to manage his mentally ill mother, while a mother remembers the havoc her post-partum depression wreaked on her family. And a dark riff on “Sleeping Beauty” explores the destruction of a relationship and the dangers of having a predatory heart.
48. American Hippo: River of Teeth, Taste of Marrow, and New Stories by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com)
Years ago, in an America that never was, the United States government introduced herds of hippos to the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This plan failed to take into account some key facts about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.
By the 1890s, the vast bayou that was once America’s greatest waterway belongs to feral hippos, and Winslow Houndstooth has been contracted to take it back. To do so, he will gather a crew of the damnedest cons, outlaws, and assassins to ever ride a hippo. American Hippo is the story of their fortunes, their failures, and his revenge.
49. The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina (Two Dollar Radio)
Moving through a selection of first-person accounts and written with a sinister sense of humor, THE DEEPER THE WATER THE UGLIER THE FISH powerfully captures the quiet torment of two sisters craving the attention of a parent they can’t, and shouldn’t, have to themselves. In this captivating debut, Katya Apekina disquietingly crooks the lines between fact and fantasy, between escape and freedom, and between love and obsession.
50. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove Press)
An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.
51. The Pisces by Melissa Broder (Hogarth)
Lucy has been writing her dissertation on Sappho for nine years when she and her boyfriend break up in a dramatic flameout. After she bottoms out in Phoenix, her sister in Los Angeles insists Lucy dog-sit for the summer. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube on Venice Beach, but Lucy can find little relief from her anxiety — not in the Greek chorus of women in her love addiction therapy group, not in her frequent Tinder excursions, not even in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection. Everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer while sitting alone on the beach rocks one night. But when Lucy learns the truth about his identity, their relationship, and Lucy’s understanding of what love should look like, take a very unexpected turn. A masterful blend of vivid realism and giddy fantasy, pairing hilarious frankness with pulse-racing eroticism, THE PISCES is a story about falling in obsessive love with a merman: a figure of Sirenic fantasy whose very existence pushes Lucy to question everything she thought she knew about love, lust, and meaning in the one life we have.
52. The Dirty Text by Soleida Ríos, Translated by Barbara Jamison & Olivia Lott (Kenning Editions)
Written in the 1990s in Cuba, THE DIRTY TEXT is a book of poems, a book of stories and, most vividly, a book of dreams. As poet Rosa Alcalá writes, Ríos’ writings are “indescribable manifestations of a poetics unfastened to mode, genre, or category.” In this book, human eyes appear beneath other human eyes, snakes materialize with three heads, and the bodies of loved ones duplicate, disintegrate or speak to ghosts and Gods. It is a book about the possibilities of language and literature to articulate our relationship to the communities we occupy and the communities we imagine, a book that disentangles the lines between our conscious lives and our unconscious lives, what we imagine and what we experience. Ríos writes of the island’s east and west cities of Havana and Santiago, but she looks off the island as well, to Mexico, to South America, to Europe, at once evoking and defying the broader, international traditions of surrealist and hallucinatory writing.
53. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press)
Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.
54. What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (Little, Brown and Company)
Set in modern Shanghai, a debut by a Chinese-American writer about a prodigal son whose unexpected return forces his newly wealthy family to confront painful secrets and unfulfilled promises.
Charming debut novel. . . . Through a set of fascinating characters, Tan delivers a compelling story that raises questions about assimilation, family dynamics, and the personal reverberations of globalization. ―National Book Review
55. Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith (Hub City Press)
Whiskey & Ribbons is told in three intertwining, melodic voices: Evi in present day, as she’s snowed in with Dalton during a freak blizzard; Eamon before his murder, as he prepares for impending fatherhood and grapples with the danger of his profession; and Dalton, as he struggles to make sense of his life next to Eamon’s, and as he decides to track down the biological father he’s never known.
In the vein of Jojo Moyes’ After You, Whiskey & Ribbons explores the life that continues beyond loss, with a complicated brotherly dynamic reminiscent of Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys. It’s a meditation on grief, hope, motherhood, brotherhood and surrogate fatherhood. Above all, it’s a novel about what it means―and whether it’s possible―to heal.
56. The Overstory by Richard Powers (W. W. Norton & Company)
In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of―and paean to―the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours―vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity’s self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? “Listen. There’s something you need to hear.”
57. Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon (Scribner)
Set in early 90s Brooklyn on the brink of gentrification, Self-Portrait with Boy is a provocative commentary about the emotional dues that must be paid on the road to success, a powerful exploration of the complex terrain of female friendship, and a brilliant debut from novelist Rachel Lyon.
58. The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman (Two Dollar Radio)
The Blurry Years is a powerful and unorthodox coming-of-age story from an assured new literary voice, featuring a stirringly twisted mother-daughter relationship, set against the sleazy, vividly-drawn backdrop of late-seventies and early-eighties Florida. Callie―who ages from six to eighteen over the course of the book―leads a scattered childhood, moving from cars to strangers’ houses to the sand-dusted apartments of the tourist towns that litter the Florida coastline. Callie’s is a story about what it’s like to grow up too fast and absorb too much, to watch adults behaving badly; what it’s like to be simultaneously in thrall to and terrified of the mother who is the only family you’ve ever known, who moves you from town to town to leave her own mistakes behind. With precision and poetry, Kriseman’s moving tale of a young girl struggling to find her way in the world is potent, and, ultimately, triumphant.
59. The Houseguest by Amparo Dávila, Translated by Audrey Harris & Matthew Gleeson (New Directions)
Like those of Kafka, Poe, Leonora Carrington, or Shirley Jackson, Amparo Dávila’s stories are terrifying, mesmerizing, and expertly crafted―you’ll finish each one gasping for air.With acute psychological insight, Dávila follows her characters to the limits of desire, paranoia, insomnia, and fear. She is a writer obsessed with obsession, who makes nightmares come to life through the everyday: loneliness sinks in easily like a razor-sharp knife, some sort of evil lurks in every shadow, delusion takes the form of strange and very real creatures. After reading The Houseguest―Dávila’s debut collection in English―you’ll wonder how this secret was kept for so long.
60. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)
A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.