To the chagrin of plenty, when people ask me about Miriam Toews (and when they don't), I often say her name in the same breath as "greatest novelist writing in English today" and "the best writer on grief and loss living on this continent," superlatives that surely test my credibility and raise eyebrows, but I stand by them. So help me. It's easy for me to articulate what makes Toews so compelling: her acidic humor, her total inability to play by the rules, always one eye on the specter of death. Rivaling some of Toews's best novels (All My Puny Sorrows, Women Talking, A Complicated Kindness, to name a few), FIGHT NIGHT is the most invigorating work of art in Toews's oeuvre thus far. Come for Toews's unparalleled knack for writing sour grandmothers; stay for Swiv, the precocious child narrator who says things like this: "I don't know why saying bowel movement and stool is better than vag and piehole. It doesn't matter what words you use in life, it's not gonna prevent you from suffering."
The Divorce rivals The Literary Conference and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter as my favorite Aira to date. Nutty, full of preposterous coincidence, always veering in impossible directions. We call César Aira a writer of fiction (is he a magical realist? surrealist?) because there's no other name for what he does.
Let me introduce you to Brian Evenson. He can write in nearly every genre imaginable. He's the Rod Serling of books, guiding you through moral tales of ecological horror, the violent history of American religion, the monstrous, self-destructive nature of our species. Booksellers, critics, hard-boiled genre writers, and the snooty upper echelon of literary novelists speak about Brian Evenson in hushed, reverent tones. He never misses.
A Memoir of facism, childhood, and then motherhood in early 20th century Italy, written in a unique, pointillist style made famous (relatively speaking) by the stylings of Annie Ernaux or the fiction of Renata Adler. Jarre's speciality is writing the unspoken peculiarities of childhood. Read the first paragraph and tell me you wouldn't read 200 pages of Jarre's work. An immense story of a life.
Our ill-fated narrator is Aurora Berro, who dies in the novel’s opening pages when a vinyl record, screaming across the sky like a “demented boomerang,” slices her jugular in unspectacular fashion. What ensues is a nightmare of vaudevillian overtones and magnificent solitude (think Carmen Boullosa meets Jon Fosse meets Marx Brothers). Out of the Cage made me feel uneasy in my skin, uneasy about the fact of my birth, and suddenly unsure of how my mother really felt about me.
Arguably the first work of modern fiction in Chinese to feature a transgender protagonist, The Membranes presents a searing future in which the planet's surface is so hot as to be uninhabitable, forcing humanity to 'migrate' to (ie. colonize) the bottom fo the ocean. We’re still a warmongering, profit-starved, app-addled, climate-havocked military state in Chi's vision of the future, but it's not all so bleak. The Membranes is somehow still an illuminating novel about the importance of touch and familial bonds, with a Matrix-worthy plot twist of astonishing intimacy.
Pew, Catherine Lacey's genderless protagonist, arrives in the American South one day, without shelter or memory of whence they came. A strange event called the Forgiveness Festival looms over the novel, a gathering that brings about the book's unnerving but ultimately cathartic climax—like reading Ursula K Le Guin, or Ágota Kristóf, or Jesse Ball. Pew is Catherine Lacey's weirdest, most provocative book to date, the novel that she'll be remembered for for years to come.
You may have no desire to know the intimate backroad histories of old LA, you might not be a film buff, but I'm telling you... you don't have to be much of anything to fall in love with this book. I couldn't stop until I found its author, the inimitable Matthew Specktor, in possession of success or happiness or peace or something that resembles those impossible objects. These aren't just essays about Fitzgerald, Warren Zevon, Thomas McGuane, Renata Adler; this is a book about what it is to be an artist in America. Specktor's story is both erudite and crafty magic.
It's hard to prepare yourself for a book like Seek You. Not quite memoir, not quite essay, and never what you'd expect, Kristen Radtke has somehow captured the essence of loneliness in an era that will surely be defined by it. There are panels of ocean tides and isolated sitcom-watchers that send me deeper into myself every time I see them—I've been those isolated sitcom-watchers; I've felt those ocean tides. Radtke diagnoses our loneliness without pity or preciousness. What else to call this but a masterpiece?
"That is our 'pointed task. Love & die." So says John Berryman, the pre-eminent lovedrunk poet and the central obsession of Andrew Palmer's debut novel, The Bachelor, a book that is, yes, partially about romantic love in the age of reality television. But what if you're not a fame-starved Instagram model, and instead a brooding but friendly millennial type, recently void of artistic ambition? Palmer's brilliant work is full of insight and romantic mistakes, like reading the best of Andrew Martin, Ben Lerner, or Elif Batuman. Palmer extracts the language of love for what it is—its hollowness! its empty repetition! ("I've never felt this way before." "I think I'm falling for you.") It's a difficult thing to watch, as it starts to indict us all.
A truly unique book, perfect in pitch, perfect in form, perfect in many things. The Organs of Sense is like a sour George Saunders novel or an astronomical Bernhard with a degree in the science history, but seriously, only a writer as bizarrely talented as Adam Ehrlich Sachs could have written it.
When Geissler's narrator, a writer and translator, is unable to afford a life on freelance wages, she takes up a seasonal position at an Amazon fulfillment center. As a prose writer, Geissler is like a German Valeria Luiselli or Sheila Heti; like no other book I've read, she makes the humiliations of wage labor unavoidably clear. Read this if you've ever purchased a book from Amazon (or a shower curtain, or anything really). This book is not a journalist's hit piece on the megacorporation—it's a nightmare, an intellectual life subdued, a novel full of nuance and dread worthy of Kafka.
I can't believe how incredible this book is: at once philosophical and present, comic and rapturous. Miriam Toews could have easily unearthed and translated this text from an archeological dig, so closely does it resemble an ancient tragedy. Women Talking is a novel that touches everything and will, God help us, ripple past the bubble of bookworld and into the classroom, your legislative offices, your father's nightstand.
Lewis Hyde imagines a world in which the loss of memory—not published thought, not the Cloud, not ink spilled or the tyranny of documentation—is not only a gift, but a foundation for nations, the self, and creation. Lewis Hyde's goal isn't to comfort, but to create a new mythology of loss, citing Borges, Virgil, Emerson, John Cage, and dozens more, pasting together quotes and anecdotes, aphorism and vignette in what must be Hyde's greatest work, a sublime museum of loss as swift and venerable as the river Lethe.
Selva Almada's novel lasts only a moment but echoes across deserts. She treats the subject of God with an honesty both skeptical and earnest. In this sharp translation by Chris Andrews, Almado is one of those mysterious debuts who has eschewed naivety, achieving perfect mood.
From the legendary Japenese author Osamu Dazai, father of Yuko Tsushima, comes this miserable book, hardly a novel at all, a book about extreme alienation and cruelty that somehow perfectly describes the discomfort and obscurity of coming of age.
Make It Scream, Make It Burn eschews preciousness, dives into the weird and desolate, and brings us some of the finest curiosities in nonfiction today. Leslie Jamison's celebrated return to the essay form is marked by everything we want and more: The unheard dirge of loneliest whale in the world! The devout banality of Second Life citizens! Stepmotherhood and motherhood! True to form, Jamison doesn't stop at essay, criticism, or memoir—we, the readers, get this multi-genre, loose, unknown thing, imperfect in design, just as it should be.
Jesse Ball: a jester of sorts, and his novels are cosmic dramas. Reading The Divers' Game is a lesson in ingenuity, gameplaying, worldbuilding, and moral empathy. No spoilers, but the final pages are a novel in themselves, as a woman writes a letter during her last moments on earth. Some would call this 'classic Jesse Ball,' but I've come to learn there's no such thing.
"If you thought workplace fiction couldn't feel more defeated, you were wrong. The New Me is somehow both hyper-contemporary and universal, representative of the malaise of the millennial condition and modern workplace. It's for smart people! It's for dour people! It's for the young and the bewildered! Halle Butler is nothing less than stunning."
A beautifully disjointed novel that communicates knowledge truer than fact, with a careless, flawed protagonist (often vain, often marred by his own intellect) who survives beyond corporeal form or linear time. I was gobsmacked by Levy’s brilliance and all the dark movement beneath her prose. The Man Who Saw Everything is somehow before our time and after; of the political moment and reaching in all directions.