We continue our “Best of 2019″ 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 novels and works of fiction published in 2019.
In no particular order…
1. Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, Translated by Ottilie Mulzet (New Directions)
Set in contemporary times, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming tells the story of a Prince Myshkin–like figure, Baron Béla Wenckheim, who returns at the end of his life to his provincial Hungarian hometown. Having escaped from his many casino debts in Buenos Aires, where he was living in exile, he longs to be reunited with his high-school sweetheart Marika. Confusions abound, and what follows is an endless storm of gossip, con men, and local politicians, vividly evoking the small town’s alternately drab and absurd existence. All along, the Professor–a world-famous natural scientist who studies mosses and inhabits a bizarre Zen-like shack in a desolate area outside of town—offers long rants and disquisitions on his attempts to immunize himself from thought. Spectacular actions are staged as death and the abyss loom over the unsuspecting townfolk.
2. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous Ocean Vuong (Penguin)
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard. With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.
3. The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter (Two Dollar Radio)
Sarah Rose Etter’s The Book of X belongs to a literary conversation about the grotesque and surreal. Shaped like a prose sculpture, her debut novel juxtaposes the surrealism of youth with the realities of capitalism; it is the story of being raised in a rural area, and disappearing into a city. Sarah Rose Etter discusses life as loose ends, not something tied up with a pretty bow, and creating a novel not in search of resolve, redemption, or everything becoming better. The Book of X has a fresh vision that makes it a strange book in strange times. —Michael Silverblatt, Bookworm on KCRW
4. The White Book by Han Kang, Translated by Deborah Smith (Hogarth)
While on a writer’s residency, a nameless narrator wanders the twin white worlds of the blank page and snowy Warsaw. THE WHITE BOOK becomes a meditation on the color white, as well as a fictional journey inspired by an older sister who died in her mother’s arms, a few hours old. The narrator grapples with the tragedy that has haunted her family, an event she colors in stark white–breast milk, swaddling bands, the baby’s rice cake-colored skin–and, from here, visits all that glows in her memory: from a white dog to sugar cubes. As the writer reckons with the enormity of her sister’s death, Han Kang’s trademark frank and chilling prose is softened by retrospection, introspection, and a deep sense of resilience and love. THE WHITE BOOK–ultimately a letter from Kang to her sister–offers powerful philosophy and personal psychology on the tenacity and fragility of the human spirit, and our attempts to graft new life from the ashes of destruction.
5. Mars by Asja Bakić, Translated by Jennifer Zoble (The Feminist Press at CUNY)
Bosnian writer Bakic’s debut teems with the oddball narratives of George Saunders, the eerie atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe, and the feminist intellect of Marge Piercy. . . . Told in a straightforward manner that transports speculative fiction into almost realist territory, Bakic’s collection imaginatively and strikingly examines sci-fi tropes from not only the point of view of women, but also from the voice of an effortlessly gifted writer whose future is much brighter than that of those depicted in her stories.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
6. Bunny by Mona Awad (Viking)
Jon Swift + Witches of Eastwick + Kelly ‘Get In Trouble’ Link + Mean Girls + Creative Writing Degree Hell! No punches pulled, no hilarities dodged, no meme unmangled! O Bunny you are sooo genius! —Margaret Atwood, via Twitter
7. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (Riverhead Books)
Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both.
8. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Knopf)
Told through several compelling voices, blending texts, sounds, and images, Lost Children Archive is an astonishing feat of literary virtuosity. It is a richly engaging story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. With urgency and empathy, it takes us deep into the lives of one remarkable family as it probes the nature of justice and equality today.
9. Morelia by Renee Gladman (Solid Objects)
How does Renee Gladman manage to make language different from itself? How does she make space different from itself too? In this short novel there is an expansive mystery, but I don’t think it exists to be solved. There is “Bze,” but there is also fried fish. There is a city with structures in it that multiply or are “half-articulated,” where climate dictates how the city’s inhabitants move. Morelia is exquisite. And Gladman is, easily, one of the most intriguing and important writers of our time. —Amina Cain
10. Space Invaders by Nona Fernández, Translated by Natasha Wimmer (Graywolf Press)
Space Invaders is the story of a group of childhood friends who, in adulthood, are preoccupied by uneasy memories and visions of their classmate Estrella González Jepsen. In their dreams, they catch glimpses of Estrella’s braids, hear echoes of her voice, and read old letters that eventually, mysteriously, stopped arriving. They recall regimented school assemblies, nationalistic class performances, and a trip to the beach. Soon it becomes clear that Estrella’s father was a ranking government officer implicated in the violent crimes of the Pinochet regime, and the question of what became of her after she left school haunts her erstwhile friends. Growing up, these friends—from her pen pal, Maldonado, to her crush, Riquelme—were old enough to sense the danger and tension that surrounded them, but powerless in the face of it. They could control only the stories they told each other and the “ghostly green bullets” they fired in the video game they played obsessively. One of the leading Latin American writers of her generation, Nona Fernández effortlessly builds a choral voice and constantly shifting image of young life in the waning years of the dictatorship. In her short but intricately layered novel, she summons the collective memory of a generation, rescuing felt truth from the oblivion of official history.
11. The Maze of Transparencies by Karen An-hwei Lee (Ellipsis Press)
A former data cloud, now “a nebulous puff in a starry noosphere of human consciousness,” narrates the story of its creator, Yang, a former tech elite, now “millenial gardener” after a digital shutdown collapses the technocracy and discorporates vast clouds of data, as he undertakes a journey to find, among the ruins of the mezzopolis, the seven harbingers of happiness. But this cloud is also a poet, which is to say, Lee’s writing dazzlingly illuminates the inner life of data, the “maze of transparencies” in which we are enmeshed. The cloud asks, “…does a cloudfree formula for happiness exist?” This is a polyglot guide to existential collapse, a multivalent antiserum for the promises of technological progress. We need this book. —Evelyn Hampton
12. The New Me by Halle Butler (Penguin Books)
Thirty-year-old Millie just can’t pull it together. She spends her days working a thankless temp job and her nights alone in her apartment, fixating on all the ways she might change her situation–her job, her attitude, her appearance, her life. Then she watches TV until she falls asleep, and the cycle begins again. When the possibility of a full-time job offer arises, it seems to bring the better life she’s envisioning within reach. But with it also comes the paralyzing realization, lurking just beneath the surface, of how hollow that vision has become. “Wretchedly riveting” (The New Yorker) and “masterfully cringe-inducing” (Chicago Tribune), The New Me is the must-read new novel by National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and Granta Best Young American novelist Halle Butler.
13. Machine by Susan Steinberg (Graywolf Press)
Susan Steinberg’s first novel, Machine, is a dazzling and innovative leap forward for a writer whose most recent book, Spectacle, gained her a rapturous following. Machine revolves around a group of teenagers—both locals and wealthy out-of-towners—during a single summer at the shore. Steinberg captures the pressures and demands of this world in a voice that effortlessly slides from collective to singular, as one girl recounts a night on which another girl drowned. Hoping to assuage her guilt and evade a similar fate, she pieces together the details of this tragedy, as well as the breakdown of her own family, and learns that no one, not even she, is blameless. A daring stylist, Steinberg contrasts semicolon-studded sentences with short lines that race down the page. This restless approach gains focus and power through a sharply drawn narrative that ferociously interrogates gender, class, privilege, and the disintegration of identity in the shadow of trauma. Machine is the kind of novel—relentless and bold—that only Susan Steinberg could have written.
14. The Alley of Fireflies and Other Stories by Raymond Roussel, Translated by Mark Ford (The Song Cave)
It is true that there is hidden in Roussel something so strong, so ominous, and so pregnant with the darkness of “infinite spaces”… that one feels the need for some sort of protective equipment when one reads him. – John Ashbery
15. Naamah by Sarah Blake (Riverhead Books)
A dreamy and transgressive feminist retelling of the Great Flood from the perspective of Noah’s wife as she wrestles with the mysterious metaphysics of womanhood at the end of the world. —O, The Oprah Magazine
16. King of Joy by Richard Chiem (Soft Skull Press)
This experimental literary novel is the right amount of both dreamy and dark . . . Lush, packed with jarring details, and surprisingly tender . . . A delicious, demonic novel that fades through adjacent, looping worlds in the magical early 2000s. Chiem evokes a lost decade and suggests the shape of the monsters that churned beneath its surface. ―Foreword Reviews (starred review)
17. Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li (Random House)
Where Reasons End belongs to a band of books produced in the forge of intense pain; their authors, aristocrats of suffering — think of The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, Joan Didion’s memoirs of the deaths of her husband and daughter in close succession. . . . For Li, to apply her own language to suicide means to understand suicide as the most private of decisions, to address it without cheap sentiment or condemnation. . . . As the title alerts us, this book takes place in a territory beyond reason, in all its connotations—beyond explanation or understanding. The mother does not require them. In the final reckoning, there is nothing she needs from Nikolai other than his company, his ghost; to carry him for a moment more, to keep the story going. —The New York Times
18. Driving in Cars with Homeless Men by Kate Wisel (University of Pittsburgh Press)
You can hear the crackle of heat and the roar of a powerful fire burning through these pages. Young angry women, brokenhearted mothers, and men who are lost to themselves and others struggle in the world of Driving in Cars with Homeless Men. Close to the edge, fearful of love yet dying of longing, Serena, Frankie, Raffa, and Natalya are vital and tender. Their stories are incandescent. – Min Jin Lee
19. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (Riverhead Books)
In less than 200 sparsely filled pages, this book manages to encompass issues of class, education, ambition, racial prejudice, sexual desire and orientation, identity, mother-daughter relationships, parenthood and loss….With Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson has indeed risen — even further into the ranks of great literature. – NPR
20. Spider Love Songs by Nancy Au (Acre Books)
The lush and vibrant world of Nancy Au’s Spider Love Song and Other Stories is teeming with somnambulist fathers, one-eyed duck children, dreams of an all Chinese American Atlantis, storytelling fox spirits, orphans seeking the cure for grief and more. Darkly funny at times and always profound, Au’s imagination lends us magic to feel our way through what it means to be queer, Chinese American, indebted to our mothers and ancestors, and always longing for something more. – Muriel Leung
21. The Complete Gary Lutz by Gary Lutz (Tyrant Books)
For nearly three decades, Gary Lutz has been writing quietly influential, virtuosic short fictions of antic despair. In barbed sentences of startling originality, Lutz gives voice to outcasts from conventional genders and monogamies—and even from the ruckus of their own bodies. Making their rounds of daily humiliations, Lutz’s self-unnerving narrators find themselves helplessly trespassing on their own lives. This omnibus volume, with an introduction by Brian Evenson, gathers all five of Lutz’s sometimes hard-to-find collections and features sixty pages of previously uncollected stories—including his two longest.
22. Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing by René Daumal, Translated by Roger Shattuck (Exact Change)
A touchstone of Surrealism, Pataphysics, and Gurdjieffian mysticism, Mount Analogue tells the story of an expedition to a mountain whose existence can only be deduced, not observed. Left unfinished (mid-sentence) at the author’s early death from tuberculosis in 1944 and first published posthumously in French in 1952, the book has inspired seekers of art and wisdom ever since – Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain is a loose adaptation. This 1959 translation, the first made into English, remains the best and closest in spirit to the deadly serious joking of the original. Written in the form of an adventure tale, the story and language of Mount Analogue are open to layers of interpretation, an invitation that has kept generations of devoted readers returning to it again and again. Exact Change is delighted to bring this superb translation of a true 20th-century classic back into print.
23. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese)
More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results. Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third: Aunt Lydia. Her complex past and uncertain future unfold in surprising and pivotal ways. With The Testaments, Margaret Atwood opens up the innermost workings of Gilead, as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.
24. Women Talking by Miriam Toews (Bloomsbury)
Scorching . . . Women Talking is a wry, freewheeling novel of ideas that touches on the nature of evil, questions of free will, collective responsibility, cultural determinism, and, above all, forgiveness. –New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice
25. The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (Pantheon Books)
Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui’s daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she’d left for good; his widow, Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country; Efraín, an undocumented witness whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward; Jeremy, an old friend of Nora’s and an Iraq War veteran; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son’s secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself. As the characters—deeply divided by race, religion, and class—tell their stories, connections among them emerge, even as Driss’s family confronts its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies, and love, messy and unpredictable, is born.
26. Star by Yukio Mishima, Translated by Sam Bett (New Directions)
All eyes are on Rikio. And he likes it, mostly. His fans cheer, screaming and yelling to attract his attention—they would kill for a moment alone with him. Finally the director sets up the shot, the camera begins to roll, someone yells “action”; Rikio, for a moment, transforms into another being, a hardened young yakuza, but as soon as the shot is finished, he slumps back into his own anxieties and obsessions. Being a star, constantly performing, being watched and scrutinized as if under a microscope, is often a drag. But so is life. Written shortly after Yukio Mishima himself had acted in the film “Afraid to Die,” this novella is a rich and unflinching psychological portrait of a celebrity coming apart at the seams. With exquisite, vivid prose, Star begs the question: is there any escape from how we are seen by others?
27. The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott (Liveright)
Established by the leaders of the country’s only successful slave revolt in the mid-nineteenth century, Cross River still evokes the fierce rhythms of its founding. In lyrical prose and singular dialect, a saga beats forward that echoes the fables carried down for generations—like the screecher birds who swoop down for their periodic sacrifice, and the water women who lure men to wet deaths. Among its residents—wildly spanning decades, perspectives, and species—are David Sherman, a struggling musician who just happens to be God’s last son; Tyrone, a ruthless PhD candidate, whose dissertation about a childhood game ignites mayhem in the neighboring, once-segregated town of Port Yooga; and Jim, an all-too-obedient robot who serves his Master. As the book builds to its finish with Special Topics in Loneliness Studies, a fully-realized novella, two unhinged professors grapple with hugely different ambitions, and the reader comes to appreciate the intricacy of the world Scott has created—one where fantasy and reality are eternally at war.
28. Sunshine on an Open Tomb by Tim Kinsella (Featherproof Books)
Ah, how to locate your self in the ever-accelerating and splintering choose-your-own reality of Life on Earth? It’s fall 1988 and the narrator of Sunshine on an Open Tomb is doing his best to work this out on both the colossal scale of global politics and the interior level of personal intimacy through a fog of perpetual tipsiness and generations of inbreeding. The brooding runt of a political dynasty whose father is about to be appointed Prez, our narrator has been living freely among The Barbarians for years when The Media, desperate for content at the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, aims its fervent interest at him. The Family, famously quick to eradicate unpredictability, plucks him from his comforts and relocates him to the secret family compound he hasn’t been welcome to in years. There, away from the everydayness that blanketed him, he must navigate a shape-shifting estate and confront an impossible love triangle in order to find an elusive bunker where he will set to work on his revenge: he will correct the best-selling, so-called objective biography of The Family with the real story—the book you’re reading about right now.
29. All City by Alex DiFrancesco (Seven Stories Press)
In a near-future New York City in which both global warming and a tremendous economic divide are making the city unlivable for many, a huge superstorm hits, leaving behind only those who had nowhere else to go and no way to get out. Makayla is a twenty-four-year-old woman who works at the convenience store chain that’s taken over the city. Jesse, an eighteen-year-old, genderqueer, anarchist punk lives in an abandoned IRT station in the Bronx. Their paths cross in the aftermath of the storm when they, along with others devastated by the loss of their homes, carve out a small sanctuary in an abandoned luxury condo. In an attempt to bring hope to those who feel forsaken, an unnamed, mysterious street artist begins graffitiing colorful murals along the sides of buildings. But the castaways of the storm aren’t the only ones who find beauty in the art. When the media begins broadcasting the emergence of the murals and one appears on the building Makayla, Jesse, and their friends are living in, it is only a matter of time before those who own the building come back to claim what is theirs. All City is more than a novel, it’s a foreshadowing of the world to come.
30. A Girl Goes into the Forest by Peg Alford Pursell (Dzanc Books)
The ordinary lives of parents, daughters, husbands, wives, illness and grief are transformed in Peg Alford Pursell’s second collection, A Girl Goes Into the Forest. Here, the lucky reader enters a “forest” brimming with enchantments, daily life turned transcendent and strange, but no less moving. Assembled like a luminous mosaic of stained glass, these 78 tales read like prose poems—a pitch-perfect condensation of moments, inflected by Pursell’s uncanny ear for the lyric. A wonder of a book! —Karen Brennan
31. The Way Cities Feel To Us Now by Nathaniel Kennon Perkins (Maudlin House)
Bad luck follows travelers through the desert, Mormon missionaries contemplate the bodily implications of the internal combustion engine, and minimum wage workers look for a sense of meaning in art, country and western music, and domestic terrorism. A lemon tree produces an alarming number of fruit, but nobody can manage to have a threesome. Perkins’s first collection of short stories vibrates at the chaotic frequency of the American West, a place where the states are square, the drives are long, and heartbreak is at least as much of a shit show as it is anywhere else.
32. Voyage, Orestes! by Samuel R Delaney (Bamberger Books)
VOYAGE, ORESTES! is a survivor. The original manuscript, completed the day before JFK’s assassination, was 1000+ pages. Much of this autobiographical novel was lost when a building was pulled down on top of it. The episodes here, which stand on their own very well, tell the story of Jimmy Calvin, some of his travels, his dealing with family struggles and having adventures with his friend Geo, a poet, in the company of musicians, street people, thieves and more.
33. The Big Red Herring by Andrew Farkas (KERNPUNKT Press)
In his truly wild first novel, Andrew Farkas smashes history straight through the looking glass to offer a world of Orwellian chill and Strangelovian élan. Indeed, the whole beautifully complex, carnivalesque bundle dances with uncommonly light and dexterous step. Even when it gets dark. And man does it ever. The Big Red Herring is a revisioned century’s worth of truth and hoax, pain and fun. – Laird Hunt
34. Triangulum: A Novel by Masande Ntshanga (Two Dollar Radio)
The violent and fascinating history of South Africa—from colonialism to apartheid, and the recent struggles to come to terms with this past—serves as a rich backdrop for this unsettling, enrapturing novel that brings to mind Roberto Bolano’s 2666… a novel of incredible imagination that gradually unfurls into a wonderfully realized meditation on growing up, heritage, and the effects of technological progress on the world around us. —Alexander Moran, Booklist
35. Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson (Coffee House Press)
From a modern master of the form, a new short story collection that dexterously walks the tightrope between literary fiction, sci-fi, and horror. A newborn’s absent face appears on the back of someone else’s head, a filmmaker goes to gruesome lengths to achieve the silence he’s after for his final scene, and a therapist begins, impossibly, to appear in a troubled patient’s room late at night. In these stories of doubt, delusion, and paranoia, no belief, no claim to objectivity, is immune to the distortions of human perception. Here, self-deception is a means of justifying our most inhuman impulses—whether we know it or not.
36. Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock by Hillary Leftwich (The Accomplices)
Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock is a multi-genre collection that examines grief, violence, heartbreak, and the universal challenge of living in a body that is always vulnerable. In this greyscale kaleidoscope of the familiar and the uncanny, muted voices shout, people commit to devastating choices, and mundane moments are filled with silent hauntings. A sleep paralysis and a séance of voices long dead, this collection’s characters illuminate both our own darkness and our strength, revealing how love can emerge from the most impossible of conditions.
37. Black Wings by Sehba Sarwar (Veliz Books)
Spanning two continents, Black Wings is the story of Laila and Yasmeen, a mother and daughter, struggling to meet across the generations, cultures, and secrets that separate them. Their shared grief, as well as the common bond of unhappiness in their marriages, allows them to reconnect after seventeen years of frustration, anger and misunderstandings.
38. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, Translated by Stephen Snyder (Pantheon Books)
The Memory Police is a masterpiece: a deep pool that can be experienced as fable or allegory, warning and illumination. It is a novel that makes us see differently, opening up its ideas in inconspicuous ways, knowing that all moments of understanding and grace are fleeting. It is political and human, it makes no promises. It is a rare work of patient and courageous vision . . . [It] reaches English-language readers as if sent from the future. —The Guardian
39. Exhalation by Ted Chiang (Knopf)
In these nine stunningly original, provocative, and poignant stories, Ted Chiang tackles some of humanity’s oldest questions along with new quandaries only he could imagine. In “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and second chances. In “Exhalation,” an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications that are literally universal. In “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom,” the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will. Including stories being published for the first time as well as some of his rare and classic uncollected work, Exhalation is Ted Chiang at his best: profound, sympathetic—revelatory.
40. The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector, Translated by Johnny Lorenz (New Directions)
even decades after its original publication, Clarice Lispector’s third novel—the story of a girl and the city her gaze reveals—is in English at last. Written in Europe shortly after Clarice Lispector’s own marriage, The Besieged City is a proving ground for the intricate language and the radical ideas that characterize one of her century’s greatest writers—and an ironic ode to the magnetism of the material.
41. The White Death: An Illusion by Gabriel Urza (Nouvella)
The illusionist Benjamin Vaughn is fourteen years old when he dies under mysterious circumstances at the height of his short career. In the wake of his death, the life of this brilliant yet reclusive prodigy known as “The Great Bendini” is meticulously chronicled by an unnamed narrator who encountered Vaughn when he himself was a boy. Set amidst dusty Northern California towns in the 1990s, the narrator—now an academic and father to a son of his own—unfurls a layered testimony that blurs the line between the observer and the observed; between ambitions that have the potential to transcend, and those with the capacity to destroy. Deployed with immersive detail and haunting observations, Gabriel Urza’s novella is a heartbreaking examination of adolescence as it collides with the ephemeral nature of time and mortality.
42. I Hotel (Tenth Anniversary Edition) by Karen Tei Yamashita (Coffee House Press)
An epic journey through one of America’s most transformative decades via the stories of the activists, laborers, and students who shaped it. Dazzling and ambitious, this multivoiced fusion of prose, playwriting, graphic art, and philosophy spins an epic tale of America’s struggle for civil rights as it played out in San Francisco near the end of the 1960s. As Karen Tei Yamashita’s motley cast of students, laborers, artists, revolutionaries, and provocateurs make their way through the history of the day, they become caught in a riptide of politics and passion, clashing ideologies, and personal turmoil. The tenth anniversary edition of this National Book Award finalist brings the joys and struggles of the I Hotel to a whole new generation of readers, historians, and activists.
43. Last of Her Name by Mimi Lok (Kaya Press)
Mimi Lok’s Last of Her Name is an eye-opening story collection about the intimate, interconnected lives of diasporic women and the histories they are born into. Set in a wide range of time periods and locales, including ’80s UK suburbia, WWII Hong Kong and contemporary urban California, the book features an eclectic cast of outsiders: among them, an elderly housebreaker, wounded lovers and kung-fu fighting teenage girls. Last of Her Name offers a meditation on female desire and resilience, family and the nature of memory.
44. Dear Abigail and Other Stories by Stephen Dixon (Trnsfr Books)
Stephen Dixon has long been considered one of America’s preeminent literary innovators. From the National Book Award nominated Frog and Interstate, to His Wife Leaves Him and Letters to Kevin, Dixon’s “unpredictable, often haunting fiction has given him no shortage of high-profile admirers” (Vol. 1 Brooklyn). In Late Stories, he brought us the aging Philip Seidel—widowed, isolated, but resolutely continuing to write. Now, in DEAR ABIGAIL, he returns us to Seidel’s freewheeling recollections. Still bereft, still yearning, Seidel, ever recounting, reimagining, and twisting up the details of his existence—seemingly unable to extricate them from the memory (and fantasies) of his late wife—struggles to let go of Abigail when even grief seems to have run its course. Although a companion to Late Stories, DEAR ABIGAIL stands on its own as a tender, cagey, deeply felt exploration of togetherness and heartbreak.
45. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (Biblioasis)
Baking a multitude of tartes tatins for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing? With a torrent of consciousness and an intoxicating coziness, Ducks, Newburyport lays out a whole world for you to tramp around in, by turns frightening and funny. A heart-rending indictment of America’s barbarity, and a lament for the way we are blundering into environmental disaster, this book is both heresy―and a revolution in the novel.
46. The Remainder Paperback by Alia Trabucco Zerán, Translated by Sophie Hughes (Coffee House Press)
Felipe and Iquela, two young friends in modern day Santiago, live in the legacy of Chile’s dictatorship. Felipe prowls the streets counting dead bodies real and imagined, aspiring to a perfect number that might offer closure. Iquela and Paloma, an old acquaintance from Iquela’s childhood, search for a way to reconcile their fragile lives with their parents’ violent militant past. The body of Paloma’s mother gets lost in transit, sending the three on a pisco-fueled journey up the cordillera as they confront the pain that stretches across generations.
47. “Muslim”: A Novel by Zahia Rahmani, Translated by Matt Reeck (Deep Vellum Publishing)
“Muslim”: A Novel is a genre-bending, poetic reflection on what it means to be Muslim from one of France’s leading writers. In this novel, the second in a trilogy, Rahmani’s narrator contemplates the loss of her native language and her imprisonment and exile for being Muslim, woven together in an exploration of the political and personal relationship of language within the fraught history of Islam. Drawing inspiration from the oral histories of her native Berber language, the Koran, and French children’s tales, Rahmani combines fiction and lyric essay in to tell an important story, both powerful and visionary, of identity, persecution, and violence.
48. The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter by Rosmarie Waldrop (Dorothy, a publishing project)
Wonderfully, relentlessly absorbing, Hanky’s several overlapping tales leave one marveling at the beauty, economy, and humor with which Waldrop interweaves the complex tensions of Hitler’s Germany in a family drama of repeated infidelity. Delightfully rich and bawdy and as strong-willed as its characters. – Lydia Davis
49. Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions by Sheila O’Connor (Rose Metal Press)
Evidence of V is unlike anything I have ever read. Exhilarating, heart-breaking, and haunting, the experience of V’s life and times scintillates and sears long afterward. Part mystery novel, poem cycle, police report, ethnographic study, noir screenplay, historical account, existential spreadsheet, medical report, legal history, hometown newspaper article, meta-feminist account, writer’s diary, literary collage, psychological assessment, family memoir, social criticism, and several other forms that are uncategorizable, by the end, the reader realizes, through Sheila O’Connor’s masterful artistry, that at the heart of the ‘lie’ of this fiction, lurk deeper truths—that our ancestors and their traumas can never fully be known to us and each of our family histories is a complicated mix of truth, lore, and absence. —Ed Bok Lee
50. I’m From Nowhere by Lindsay Lerman (CLASH Books)
I’m From Nowhere follows Claire as she mourns the sudden death of her husband and comes to terms with the fact of being a woman without a child, a job, a husband, or agency. She confronts a dying planet and an emerging sense of self. Is it possible for a woman to reclaim her life and set its terms without succumbing to suicide or submission? Claire puts herself in the hands of men—some of her oldest friends—who she imagines have come to save her, as though she were a contemporary Penelope with a raft of suitors and unspent erotic capital. Set in the American Southwest of today or ten years from now, this book is an examination of the stories we are told, and the stories we tell ourselves, about identity, permanence, and love in our beautiful, hostile world.
51. Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria (Melville House)
A highly anticipated debut—from a writer hailed as “a combination of Denis Johnson and Joan Didion” (Dazed)—brilliantly captures the intimate triumph of a girl’s struggle to become the woman she knows she can be. Ambitious, talented fourteen-year-old honors student Juliet is poised for success at her Southern California high school. However, she soon finds herself on an increasingly frightening spiral of drug use, self-harm, and mental illness that lands her in a remote therapeutic boarding school, where she must ultimately find the inner strength to survive.
52. Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (Tin House)
One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife―and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with―walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates―picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose―and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.
53. Saudade by Suneeta Peres de Costa (Transit Books)
1960s Angola. A Goan immigrant family finds itself caught between their complicity in Portuguese rule and their own outsider status in the period leading up to independence. Looking back on her childhood, the narrator of Suneeta Peres da Costa’s novel captures with intense lyricism the difficult relationship between her and her mother, and the ways in which their intimate world is shaken by domestic violence, the legacies of slavery, and the end of empire. Her story unfolds into a growing awareness of the lies of colonialism and the political ruptures that ultimately lead to their exile.
54. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen (MIRA)
Chen’s debut novel is a welcome addition to this well-traveled genre, with the theories and mechanics of time travel not getting in the way of the character- and plot-driven story. Highly recommended for readers both new and familiar with the genre, and for fans of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife or books by Connie Willis. –Library Journal, starred review
55. The Skin Is the Elastic Covering that Encases the Entire Body by Bjørn Rasmussen, Translated by Martin Aitken (Two Lines Press)
A feverish combination of stream of conscious, autobiography, collage, and narrative, Skin marks the arrival of a truly original literary voice. Reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, it is as omnivorous as the bodies within it, as unrestrained as the appetites, terrors, and trysts that celebrated author Bjørn Rasmussen evokes in poetic detail. Deeply emotional, erotic, elegiac, and pansexual, it caresses the wounds we visit upon our body and soul in an attempt to serve the urges of our largest organ—the skin that covers and defines us.
56. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor (Vintage)
It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flaneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Paul transforms his body and his gender at will as he crossed the country––a journey and adventure through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a riotous, razor-sharp bildungsroman whose hero/ine wends his/her way through a world gutted by loss, pulsing with music, and opening into an array of intimacy and connections.
57. The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
For all of its pathos, its themes of cross-cultural intermingling, its stories of immigrant arrival, marginalization and eventual accommodation, “The Unpassing” is a singularly vast and captivating novel, beautifully written in free-flowing prose that quietly disarms with its intermittent moments of poetic idiosyncrasy. But what makes Lin’s novel such an important book is the extent to which it probes America’s mythmaking about itself, which can just as easily unmake as it can uplift. –Brian Haman, The New York Times Book Review
58. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
[Ghost Wall] compresses large and urgent themes―the dangers of nostalgic nationalism, the abuse of women and children, what is lost and gained when humans stop living in thrall to the natural world―into a short, sharp tale of suspense. The way Moss conjures up the dark magic and vestigial landscapes of ancient Britain reminded me a little of the horror movie The Wicker Man . . . The novel’s feminism, though, felt utterly contemporary . . . I read Ghost Wall in one gulp in the middle of the night. ―Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker
59. What’s on the Menu? by Chase Griffin (Long Day Press)
n a basement apartment beneath an abandoned candy factory lives an unnamed Florida man and his roommate, Will, a stand-up comedian. After discovering Will can cook gourmet meals – though only while blackout drunk on tequila – the two begin a restaurant business, employing the audience members who regularly attend Will’s sets. Things immediately start to get weird. Household appliances gain sentience and develop feelings; Tampa’s water system becomes tainted with psychotropics; Will keeps disappearing and reappearing, and starts going kind of mad with power; and a cult run by a man who looks like Santa may or may not be orchestrating everything from a motel in St. Petersburg. Through it all, our Florida man keeps getting distracted by arcade games and his own thoughts.
60. Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, Translated by Geraldine Harcourt (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The brilliance of Territory is that Tsushima’s skilled attention to her narrator’s inner struggles ultimately asks the reader to feel empathy not just for one woman but also for a whole strata of women living with little societal support . . . By rendering the everyday details of the mother’s life, whether disastrous or beautiful, Tsushima allows her protagonist a complexity that those around her do not. In the present age, in which mothers are still often seen as monsters or angels, this portrait of an imperfect mother who strives to provide a good life for her child feels painfully relevant. ―Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, The Atlantic