A little late, but my favorite fiction of 2013
Pretty proud of the variation and spread of my favorites from last year:
- The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer — she herself is so charming and her writing is so smart and not nearly enough people know about her.
- The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy — This was my first introduction to WORD favorite Simon Van Booy, and I was extremely impressed. Such spare prose and such deep and heartfelt observations. Sometimes interwoven novels that jump from era to era, person to person, continent to continent can feel disjointed, but Van Booy’s narrative is masterful, and truly does allow you to believe that seemingly disparate lives can connect in the most beautiful ways.
- The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt — I trust Europa when it comes to world noir, and they certainly have succeeded with this one. Zane Lovitt writes like sort of an Australian Chandler, with the quick, snappy dialogue and observations that you’d expect from a private investigator, but also with the stunning descriptions of beauty and squalor that have perhaps nothing to do with his cases. It jumps around chronologically, so you have to enjoy each chapter on its own to an extent. But the final story, and the way it brings everything together, and the way it ends, the last few pages, they took my breath away.
- The Humans by Matt Haig — This was my beach read of the summer. I picked it up because Jeanette Winterson blurbed it. A mathematician makes a huge discovery, and it causes concern among distant aliens who fear humans will rise above their station in the universe. So, of course, they send one of their own to inhabit his body, destroy the proof and anyone who knew about it, and dispose of his wife and teenage son. The alien’s disgust at the human race and the crazy situations that arise while he’s inhabiting the object of his revulsion are pretty hysterical, and you won’t be surprised to learn that the cold and heartless alien gets more heart the more time he spends on Earth.
- The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal — After an accident as a child, Juan Salvatierra never spoke again. But he painted. And painted. And painted. He painted every day on rolls — a diary of his life and the life of the village and its shifting landscapes — and by the time he died there were hundreds of them. His estranged children had to decide what to do with them and became intrigued when they realized that one roll was missing. What kind of secret life did their father have that year? And is anyone still around who remembers it?
- The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert — I was surprised to be so taken in by this book. It just reminded me that I shouldn’t make assumptions about my own reading tastes, let alone anyone else’s. In Alma Whittaker, we get to see firsthand the frustrations built in to being born privileged and brilliant — and a woman — in the early days of the American republic. And Gilbert has also crafted one of those rare novels that presents the reader with a life, a full life, and keeps your interest the whole time. I haven’t read one done so well since John Williams’ Stoner. And splurge for the hardcover — it’s got the most beautiful endpapers.
- Rage of Poseidon by Anders Nilsen — recommended for anyone who enjoys mythology, revisionist history, and beautiful book objects.
- Nothing by Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon — The narrative flows with both a breathy intensity and a cool hollowness in Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon's debut novel, Nothing. The rise and fall of a toxic friendship, the pulsing house parties that stop after a girl dies, the wildfires and mountains, the middle class kid who hops trains to Missoula to find the truth about his father — they swirl and converge and blur together like smoke in your eyes, but the light, it’s sharpened and heightened somehow too. She captures perfectly that early adulthood wasteland where you’re friends with people and you do things, but you’re not really sure why anymore, and either the momentum carries you through or it doesn’t, either you emerge at the other end of the tunnel or the walls come crashing down, and there’s something about the dialog, the rhythm. I don’t know, it’s just that the ambivalence and hesitation and put-on confidence are exactly as they should be.
Okay, folks! Get thee to an independent bookstore!