Something about the deadpan confidence of Haber's work has the power to convince me that imaginary paintings are real, conjured writers have walked the Earth, and the sky is purple and filled with green clouds. We're all gullible neophytes before Mark Haber's breathless novels. Saint Sebastian's Abyss is one of the first of its kind by an American writer, a sleek novel about Renaissance art, rivalry between friends and devotees, and the meaning of the obsessions that orbit our careers. There's not a single sentence in this book that isn't ecstatic.
Mieko Kawakami has the talent to quietly devastate through her poetic narratives, bringing a uniquely female voice to contemporary Japanese literature. While I read this in one sitting, I kept having to take little breaks to sigh and swell, taking in all the beautiful minute details of Fuyuko Irie's lonely freelance life, and the sparse moments of companionship she finds with the kind but mysterious physics teacher she met under strange circumstances.
A bookseller at the famed Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Mark Haber has written an unbelievably funny and dour novel about the nature of melancholy, set in a South American jungle. I still remember a particular scene involving rabid hounds roaming Tolstoy's estate, which was so detailed and so good I thought it was somehow true, but it was not. This is the joy of reading Mark Haber—falling into fictions face first.
Zambra's novels can be cheeky and experimental, but there's always substance. Chilean Poet is an exquisite book about bad juvenilia (in the funniest ways), unconventional fatherhood, and how the most obscure realms of literature and bookstores can connect generations. His characters can be jerks who love books, but boy, aren't we all?
The Chilean writer, painter, art critic, and avant-garde surrealist Juan Emar has never been translated into English… but if Megan McDowell’s brilliant translation is any indication, we’ll all be Emar fanatics soon. (Many of your favorite Chilean writers probably grew up reading him.) In Yesterday’s most notable scene, an ostrich defecates a lion. I couldn’t tell you what else it’s about, but I found it all wonderful.
This novel, like a certain Canadian punk band’s debut studio album, is all killer, no filler. Rejean Ducharme, a virtual unknown in this country, was a reclusive Quebecois author known for his fluvial cynicism. Ducharme's Berenice is an over-intelligent and cantankerous 9-year-old, the sum of her environment and the whole cruel human ecosystem, and yet she delights in the first snow of winter, and experiences 'some kind of miracle' while hunting for bugs. Madeleine Stratford has translated Ducharme in a strange and most meaningful way—with conviction, with clarity, with a bit of finger-pointing in every sentence. A book that will endure, even if I'm the only one who reads it.
Jon Fosse's Septology cycle has been one of my most meaningful encounters of the pandemic. Hypnotic, soothing, intellectually reverent. Damion Searls is the perfect translator for Fosse's unending sentences, that repeat and circle back on themselves with mathematical beauty, creating some of the most significant literature I've read on alcoholism, faith, and artmaking I can remember. Septology could fill a hundred volumes, and I would read forever.
Addicting, spiraling, all-consuming. As our main character suffers a brain injury, we spin out alongside her as she avoids scooping her life up from the debris of her hurricaned house in North Carolina to her hometown in New Jersey to the beaches of Miami. A whirlwind of shapeless blobs that also have teeth and bite. This hurricane girl will be with me for a while.
I love when writers like Lara Williams write an absurd novel like this, making you believe in this little world as if it made sense. We are dropped on a cruise ship with Ingrid, in her fifth year of working on sea to escape her life on land. We see her devotion to her wabi sabi boss, her game of Family with her coworkers, her overconsumption on her days off the ship in new locales. I was completely on board from the first page right up when she drops me off on the last.
If 2001: A Space Odyssey was also about chilling, unnameable workplace minutiae... well, here you go. In the far future, a spaceship orbits a planet littered with strange objects, and the ship's crew—janitors, captains, all—become obsessed with these mysterious mementos. A story of dread and survival, both existential and physical, to be read in a morning, quaking over your coffee. You won't forget it.