While we’re still primarily a music site, we try to write about books when we get the chance. It’s not always easy to stay up to date with new releases, so we’re never going to be able to provide a comprehensive look at what was published this year, but here is a list of some of our favourites (some of which we even got around to reviewing).
Jennifer Egan – Manhattan Beach
Corsair / Scribner
“Beneath the exciting plot and readable prose, Egan is still examining the modes and consequences of power in the United States. As such, Manhattan Beach is the introduction to the Look At Me‘s conclusion, the two texts book-ending an American fantasy which opened and closed in war.”
Steve Erickson – Shadowbahn
Blue Rider Press
“In Steve Erickson’s Shadowbahn, the Twin Towers return, fully formed, in the middle of the Dakota Badlands. Thousands are drawn to this “American Stonehenge,” and rumours start of a figure on the upper floors. This person, we find out, is Jesse Presley, the stillborn twin of Elvis—a man with no singing voice haunted by the spectre of his brother, and the memory of a parallel America where Elvis was never born. Growing increasingly strange, the dream-like novel charts the movement of several characters through this world, where a second reality impinges on our own, as though the line between two dimensions has grown porous, slowly melding into one.” (Taken from our review of Protomartyr’s Relatives In Descent).
Ottessa Moshfegh – Homesick for Another World
“I don’t know what they teach you in Utah,” warns an elderly gossip column writer in one of the stories from Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World, “but even Jesus would get greedy here.” Similarly black and bleak, the entire collection is built on characters who, in one way or another, are reaching a point of unbearable tension within their current state. From the alcoholic, grade-fudging teacher of opener ‘Bettering Myself’ to the wannabee actor and of ‘The Weirdos’, the people here are somehow jarred slightly out of reality, lost within the only world they know, or reaching a fatal point of self-destruction—exploding in some great flash of light or disintegrating into dust and shifted high on the wind. Consistently funny and sad and interesting, Homesick cements Moshfegh’s position as one of the best writers plying their trade right now.
Gabe Habash – Stephen Florida
Coffee House Press
Stephen Florida follows the final year of a lonely young wrestler in a North Dakota college, the last chance to achieve his dream of winning the Division IV NCAA Championship. Evoking the likes of DeLillo‘s Logos College and Wallace’s Enfield Tennis Academy, the college is a paradoxical blend of logic and madness, the ascetic athletic routine straining around the neurotic inner lives of the athletes, the competition between the boys blossoming into obsession and violence. Florida himself is either the ultimate unreliable narrator, or the most reliable narrator literature has ever seen, sucking us into his strange life and having us root for him, no matter how futile we both realise the quest to be.
Chavisa Woods – Things To Do When You’re a Goth in the Country
Seven Stories Press
“The stories are a reminder that despite much of the bluster and bravado it presents internationally, America is a dense mosaic of misfits, many of whom are trapped in damaging cycles by powers beyond their control. Whether dealing with war, drugs, queer relationships or, well… being a goth in the country, Chavisa Woods achieves a tone that’s simultaneously streetwise and sympathetic, and is exactly the kind of fiction we’re going to need to get us through currents times.”
Daniel Magariel – One of the Boys
Short, sharp and striking, Magariel’s debut One of the Boys blends sensitivity and ferocity to explore the relationship between two young boys and their abusive father. Fleeing their mother (inventing stories of maltreatment to gain custody), the volatile dad drives his sons to Albuquerque, promising a tight-knit relationship and a better life. But instead he slowly descends into the nadir of addiction, leaving the brothers to navigate the complexities of adult life alone, learning the importance of the unsaid, the truth behind closed doors.
Joseph Scapellato – Big Lonesome
“Here, times gone are both something to escape and retreat into, to remember and forget, questions and answers and warnings all rolled into one. They come with lessons we’d do well to learn, expectations we’d do well to ignore. Ultimately, Big Lonesome paints the past as something that can destroy us, and as something that could save our souls.”
Omar El Akkad – American War
Picador / Knopf
“For all of its futuristic flourishes, this war could be any number of places from the past fifty years. The refugee camps, the suicide bombers, the baseless incarceration and torture. The distant foreign concern, the malicious intervention. The self-perpetuating violence. Angry young people killing angry young people, creating more angry young people. So, beneath the YA-style coming-of-age plot and sci-fi dressing, the novel is a study of radicalisation, of finding identity and purpose within chaos through unflinching world views and gestures of loyalty.”
George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo
“The majority of the action takes place in a state of existence between life and whatever comes next. The space is laid over our own, the spirits that inhabit it able to see the real world and pass across it, but unable to successfully interact with anything tangible, or communicate with anyone living. The result is a frustrating and confusing isolation, where words can be voiced but not heard, gestured made but never quite received. They are, therefore, left as bewildered viewers of the living, incapable of altering their paths and decisions, and wondering when, if ever, something might change.” (Taken from our review of Friendship’s Shock out of Season).
Nathan Hill – The Nix
“Hill is dedicated to the Wallacean endeavor of sincerity while simultaneously warning of the dangers that arise from a complete suspension of skepticism and irony. The Nix enacts a constantly revolving committal to criticism and skepticism coupled with attempts at understanding and empathy, a perpetual readjustment of the scales so that neither irony nor sincerity can gain detrimental prevalence.” (From a piece for Critique).
Chanelle Benz – The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead
The debut collection of stories by Chanelle Benz, The Man Who Shot Out My Eye is Dead stretches across eras, places and styles to become one of the most diverse and wide-ranging books of the year. From Western bank hold-ups and contemporary wanderers to Middle Eastern subterfuge and a metafictional pastiche/parody of Gothic romance classics, the structure, tone and content veers from piece to piece, leaving it unclear quite where Benz’s true voice will settle, but offering a handful of viable avenues for the future.