Please note: The 2016 Tournament of Books short list and judges have been announced since the publication of the long list below. You can check out all our Rooster coverage right here, browse previous tournaments at the official ToB website, or support some of our tremendous sponsors like Field Notes and Powell’s. Thanks!
Very soon, early January, we’re going to release the short list and judges for our 12th annual Tournament of Books, to take place in March 2016, presented by the beautiful folks and products behind Field Notes.
But because you’ve asked us to do this many times before, and because we enjoy doing this—telling you what books we loved over the past year—here is our long-ass list: 86 titles that we believe represent many of the finest works of fiction published in English (mostly in America) in 2015.
Where do these titles come from? Friends, strangers, countrymen. Randos we met in the hotel bar. Booksellers we value, relatives we stomach, reviewers we stalk on social media. This list is unranked and is not comprehensive, not conclusive, possibly not even well-thought-out. Already, we’re whacking our foreheads about the titles we forgot or didn’t know to include. But the fiction included below is damn fine.
Big thanks as always to our presenting sponsor Field Notes, manufacturer of the best pocket notebooks on Earth, and also our book sponsor, the great Powells.com. If you’re looking for something for writing or reading this holiday season, seek them out.
Happy holidays, everyone, and see you in a couple weeks. We’ve got a bunch of new features planned for this year’s tournament, and we can’t wait to share them with you. For now the Rooster slumbers, but only lightly.
We get a cut from any purchases made through the links below. Book descriptions are excerpted from publishers’ summaries and edited for length.
Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman
Aziz and his older brother Ali are coming of age amid the pine forests and endless mountains of eastern Afghanistan. When a convoy of armed men arrives in their village one day, their world crumbles.
The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz
Jorie has just received some terrible news. A phone full of missed calls and sympathetic text messages seem to indicate that her husband, Jim is dead. Only, not quite—rather, his head has been removed from his body and cryogenically frozen. Jim awakes to find himself in an altogether unique situation, to say the least.
After Birth by Elisa Albert
A year has passed since Ari gave birth to Walker, though it went so badly awry she has trouble calling it “birth” and still she can’t locate herself in her altered universe. When Mina—older, self-contained, alone, and nine-months pregnant—moves to town, Ari sees the possibility of a new friend, despite her unfortunate habit of generally mistrusting women. Soon they become comrades-in-arms, and the previously hostile terrain seems almost navigable.
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
It’s the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty—even when Prohibition kicks in—and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.
A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball
A man and a woman have moved into a small house in a small village. The woman is an “examiner,” the man, her “claimant.” The examiner is both doctor and guide, charged with teaching the claimant a series of simple functions: This is a chair, this is a fork, this is how you meet people. One day the examiner brings the claimant to a party, where he meets Hilda, a charismatic but volatile woman whose surprising assertions throw everything the claimant has learned into question.
There’s Something I Want You to Do by Charles Baxter
These interrelated stories are cast with characters who appear and reappear throughout the collection, their actions equally divided between the praiseworthy and the loathsome. Each story has at its center a request or a demand, but each one plays out differently: in a hit-and-run, an assault or murder, a rescue, a startling love affair, or, of all things, a gesture of kindness and charity.
The State We’re In by Ann Beattie
This collection is woven around Jocelyn, a wry, disaffected teenager living with her aunt and uncle for the summer, forging new friendships, avoiding her mothers calls, taking writing classes, and encountering mortality for the first time. As in life, the narratives of other characters interrupt Jocelyn’s, sometimes challenging and sometimes embellishing her view.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.”
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
With her trademark blend of humor and melancholy, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday—uncovering moments of grace in the cafeterias and Laundromats of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Northern California upper classes, and from the perspective of a cleaning woman alone in a hotel dining room in Mexico City.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, NJ. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was 15, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events in the early 1950s is the haunting story of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, whose lives are profoundly changed by these disasters.
The Harder They Come by TC Boyle
Set in contemporary Northern California, The Harder They Come explores the volatile connections between three damaged people—an aging ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran, his psychologically unstable son, and the son’s paranoid, much-older lover—as they careen toward an explosive confrontation.
In Every Way by Nic Brown
College student Maria finds herself in a predicament—unexpectedly pregnant at 19. Still reeling from the fresh discovery of her mothers diagnosis with cancer, Maria’s decision to give her daughter up for adoption is one that seems to be in everyone’s best interest. When her mother proposes a trip to sleepy coastal town Beaufort—the same town that the adoptive couple Maria chose for her daughter just happens to live in—Maria jumps at the chance to escape.
Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe.
The Clasp by Sloane Crosley
Kezia, Nathaniel, and Victor are reunited for the extravagant wedding of a college friend. Now at the tail end of their twenties, they arrive completely absorbed in their own lives—Kezia the second-in-command to a madwoman jewelry designer in Manhattan; Nathaniel the former literary cool kid, selling his wares in Hollywood; and the Eeyore-esque Victor, just fired from a middling search engine. They soon slip back into old roles: Victor loves Kezia. Kezia loves Nathaniel. Nathaniel loves Nathaniel.
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
When Lizet—the daughter of Cuban immigrants and the first in her family to graduate from high school—secretly applies and is accepted to an ultra-elite college, her parents are furious at her decision to leave Miami. Just weeks before she’s set to start school, her parents divorce and her father sells her childhood home, leaving Lizet, her mother, and Leidy—Lizet’s older sister, a brand-new single mom—without a steady income and scrambling for a place to live.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
A man and a woman are seated next to each other on a plane. They get to talking—about their destination, their careers, their families. Grievances are aired, family tragedies discussed, marriages and divorces analyzed. An intimacy is established as two strangers contrast their own fictions about their lives.
She Came From Beyond! by Nadine Darling
Esme “Easy” Hardwick, is the geek eye candy on a cable access show. Now on the cusp of 30 and a very minor celebrity in Troubador, Ore., Easy is content with her quiet life in a go-nowhere town and her internet flirtations with ardent fans. But when Syfy picks up her show and her online message board repartee with one of her fans carries over into real-life romance, things quickly spin out of control and she’s forced into a reckoning with her past.
The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell
Inez wanders a post-pandemic world, strangely immune to disease, making her living by volunteering as a test subject. She is hired to provide genetic material to a grief-stricken, affluent mother, who lost all four of her daughters within four short weeks. This experimental genetic work is policed by a hazy network of governmental ethics committees, and threatened by the Knights of Life, religious zealots who raze the rural farms where much of this experimentation is done.
The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein
In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been upended—Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha arrives from Brooklyn to fulfill his beloved fathers last wish: to be buried “at the top of the world.” They have come to learn how to be alone.
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
In 1843, fragile naturalist Zadock Thomas must leave his beloved in Chicago to deliver a secret letter to an infamous general on the front lines of the war over Texas. The fate of the volatile republic, along with Zadock’s future, depends on his mission. When a cloud of bats leads him off the trail, he happens upon something impossible…
The Infernal by Mark Doten
In the early years of the Iraq War, a severely burned boy appears on a remote rock formation in the Akkad Valley. A shadowy, powerful group within the US government speculates: Who is he? And, crucially, what does he know? In pursuit of that information, an interrogator is summoned from his prison cell, and a hideous and forgotten apparatus of torture, which extracts “perfect confessions,” is retrieved from the vaults. Over the course of four days, a cavalcade of voices rises up from the Akkad boy, each one striving to tell his or her own story.
A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison
At 19, Annie Black trades a bleak future in a washed-out California town for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Twenty years later, she is a San Francisco lighting designer and happily married mother of three who has put her reckless youth behind her. Then a photo from that distant winter in Europe arrives inexplicably in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
Here is the dazzling saga of two women, the brilliant, bookish Elena and the fiery uncontainable Lila. In this book, both are adults; life’s great discoveries have been made, its vagaries and losses have been suffered. Through it all, the women’s friendship, examined in its every detail over the course of four books, remains the gravitational center of their lives.
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over 50 years. Their house has seen 13 children grown and gone—and some returned; it has seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts—and shapes—their family’s future.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
Young Pip Tyler doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she’ll ever have a normal life. Then a glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world—including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins.
Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser
At their New England art school, Paulina and Fran both stand apart from the crowd. Paulina is striking and sexually adventurous. Fran is quirky, sweet, and sexually innocent. When Fran winds up dating one of Paulina’s ex-boyfriends, an incensed Paulina becomes determined to destroy the couple, creating a rift that will shape their lives well past the halcyon days of art school.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At age 22, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
New York City, 1976. Meet Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city’s great fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by downtown’s punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter and his idealistic neighbor—and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year’s Eve.
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
Darlene, a widow and mother devastated by the unforeseen death of her husband, turns to drugs to erase the trauma. While in this fog of grief, she is lured with the promise of a great job to a mysterious farm run by a shady company—with disastrous consequences for both her and her young son, Eddie, who is left behind in a panic-stricken search for her.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have long been aware of each other. What Addie has come to ask—since she and Louis have been living alone for so long in houses now empty of family, and the nights are so terribly lonely—is whether he might be willing to spend them with her, in her bed, so they can have someone to talk with.
Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey
“You were going to work your way into my marriage and you were going to call its new three-way shape holy,” writes the unnamed narrator. The thief is Nina, or Butterfly, who disappeared 18 years earlier and who is being summoned by this letter, this bomb, these recollections, revisions, accusations, and confessions. “Sometimes I imagine, out of sheer playfulness, that I am writing this as a kind of defence for having murdered and buried you under the patio.”
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
Traversing this lonely territory along the border between Mexico and the United States is Makina, a young woman who knows only too well how to survive in a violent, macho world. Leaving behind her life in Mexico to search for her brother, she is smuggled into the USA carrying a pair of secret messages—one from her mother and one from the Mexican underworld.
Submission by Michel Houellebecq
It’s 2022. François is a middle-aged lecturer at the New Sorbonne University and an expert on J.K. Huysmans, the famous 19th-century Decadent author. But François’s own decadence is considerably smaller in scale. He sleeps with his students, eats microwave dinners, rereads Huysmans, queues up YouPorn. Meanwhile, it’s election season. In an alliance with the Socialists, France’s new Islamic party sweeps to power. Women are veiled, polygamy is encouraged, and François is offered an irresistible advancement—on the condition that he convert to Islam.
Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
As an older man, Juan Diego will take a trip to the Philippines, but what travels with him are his dreams and memories; he is most alive in his childhood and early adolescence in Mexico. The chain of events, the links in our lives—what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming and what we do—all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
“You’ve long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it’s time now to think on it anew. There’s a journey we must go on, and no more delay…” The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years.
The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James
Orphaned by poachers and sold into a life of labor and exhibition, an infamous elephant known as the Gravedigger breaks free of his chains and begins terrorizing the countryside, earning his name from the humans he kills and then tenderly buries. Manu loses his cousin to the Gravedigger’s violence and is drawn, with his wayward brother Jayan, into the sordid world of poaching. Emma is a young American working on a documentary with her college best friend, who witnesses the porous boundary between conservation and corruption. These three storylines fuse into a wrenching meditation on love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature.
Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson
In “Hurricanes Anonymous” a young man searches for the mother of his son in a Louisiana devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “Nirvana” portrays a programmer whose wife has a rare disease finding solace in a digital simulacrum of the president of the United States. The title story depicts two defectors from Pyongyang who are trying to adapt to their new lives in Seoul, while one cannot forget the woman he left behind.
Loving Day by Mat Johnson
Warren Duffy has returned to America for all the worst reasons: His marriage to a beautiful Welsh woman has come apart; his comics shop in Cardiff has failed; and his Irish-American father has died, bequeathing to Warren his last possession, a roofless, half-renovated mansion in the heart of black Philadelphia. Warren sets off to remake his life with a reluctant daughter he’s never known, in a haunted house with a history he knows too well.
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Born and raised in Braggsville, in the heart of old Dixie, D’aron Davenport finds himself in unfamiliar territory his freshman year at UC Berkeley. When he lets slip that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, his announcement is met with righteous indignation. Armed with youthful self-importance, makeshift slave costumes, righteous zeal, and their own misguided ideas about the South, he and his new friends descend on Braggsville. Their journey through backwoods churches, backroom politics, Waffle Houses, and drunken family barbecues is uproarious at first but has devastating consequences.
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
Here is Cheryl, a tightly wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. When Cheryl’s bosses ask if their 21-year-old daughter, Clee, can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl’s eccentrically ordered world explodes. And yet it is Clee—the selfish, cruel blond bombshell—who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, provides her the love of a lifetime.
Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
Ban en Banlieue follows a brown (black) girl as she walks home from school in the first moments of a riot. By the end of the night, Ban moves into an incarnate and untethered presence, becoming all matter— soot, meat, diesel oil and force—as she loops the city with the energy of global weather.
All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski
A farm estate in East Prussia, in the hinterland of the Frisches Haff. Here lives the family Globig, second-generation Wilhelmian bureaucratic aristocracy. The old Globig acquired the land and began farming it. His son Eberhard sold most of the land and invested the money in English steel stocks and certificates of a Romanian rice-mill factory. The small family—Eberhard, his pretty wife Katharina, and his son Peter—were for a time able to lead a life of luxury. Now, in the sixth winter of the war, much has changed. The Eastern Front is being pushed westward, and the Red Army is on the heels of a steadily increasing flood of refugees.
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
Set in the three years after the Norman invasion, The Wake tells the story of a fractured band of guerilla fighters who take up arms against the invaders. Carefully hung on the known historical facts about the almost forgotten war of resistance that spread across England in the decade after 1066, it is a story of the brutal shattering of lives, a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world.
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman
A woman known only as A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C. A eats mostly popsicles and oranges, watches endless amounts of television, often just for the commercials, and models herself on a standard of beauty that exists only in such advertising. Meanwhile, B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who in turn hungers for something to give meaning to her life. Maybe something like what’s gotten into her neighbors across the street, the family who’s begun “ghosting” themselves beneath white sheets and whose garage door features a strange scrawl of graffiti: He who sits next to me, may we eat as one.
My Struggle: Book Four by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Book Four finds an 18-year-old Karl Ove in a tiny fishing village in Northern Norway, where he has been hired as a schoolteacher and is living on his own for the first time. When the ferocious winter takes hold, Karl Ove—in the company of the Håfjord locals, a warm and earthy group who have spent their lives working, drinking, joking together in close quarters—confronts private demons, reels from humiliations, and is elated by small victories. In Book Four, Karl Ove must weigh the realities of his new life as a writer against everything he had believed it would be.
I Am Radar by Reif Larsen
The moment just before Radar Radmanovic is born, all of the hospital’s electricity mysteriously fails. The delivery takes place in total darkness. Lights back on, the staff sees a healthy baby boy—with pitch-black skin—born to the stunned white parents. No one understands the uncanny electrical event or the unexpected skin color. A childbirth is an explosion,” the ancient physician says by way of explanation. Some shrapnel is inevitable, isn’t it?”
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a middle-aged movie star makes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Highway is a late-in-life world traveller, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer. His most precious possessions are the teeth of the ‘notorious infamous’ like Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf.
How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz
When UC Santa Cruz roommates Anna and Kate find passed-out Georgiana Leoni on a lawn one night, they wheel her to their dorm in a shopping cart. Twenty years later, they gather around a campfire on the lawn of a New England mansion. What happens in between—the web of wild adventures, unspoken jealousies, and sudden tragedies that alter the course of their lives—is charted with sharp wit and aching sadness.
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts.
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
When we first meet U., our narrator, he is waiting out a delay in the Turin airport. Clicking through corridors of trivia on his laptop he stumbles on information about the Shroud of Turin—and is struck by the degree to which our access to the truth is always mediated by a set of veils or screens, with any world built on those truths inherently unstable. A “corporate ethnographer,” U. is tasked with writing the “Great Report,” an ell-encompassing document that would sum up our era. As he begins to wonder if the Great Report might remain a shapeless, oozing plasma, his senses are startled awake by a dream of an apocalyptic cityscape.
Slade House by David Mitchell
Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late…
So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano
In the stillness of his Paris apartment, Jean Daragane has built a life of total solitude. Then a surprising phone call shatters the silence of an unusually hot September, and the threatening voice on the other end of the line leaves Daragane wary but irresistibly curious. Almost at once, he finds himself entangled with a shady gambler and a beautiful, fragile young woman, who draw Daragane into the mystery of a decades-old murder. The investigation will force him to confront the memory of a trauma he had all but buried.
Hotels of North America by Rick Moody
Reginald Edward Morse is one of the top reviewers on RateYourLodging.com, where his many reviews reveal more than just details of hotels around the globe—they tell his life story. The puzzle of Reginald’s life comes together through reviews that comment upon his motivational speaking career, the dissolution of his marriage, the separation from his beloved daughter, and his devotion to an amour known only as “K.” But when Reginald disappears, we are left with the fragments of a life—or at least the life he has carefully constructed.
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish… Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother… Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she’s suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother… and Sweetness, Bride’s mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
While marooned at his banking job in the bewilderingly damp and insular realm known as Ireland, Claude Martingale is approached by a down-on-his-luck author, Paul, looking for his next great subject. Claude finds that his life gets steadily more exciting under Paul’s fictionalizing influence; he even falls in love with a beautiful waitress. But Paul’s plan is not what it seems—and neither is Claude’s employer, which swells through dodgy takeovers and derivatives trading until—well, you can probably guess how that shakes out.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is 11 when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.
Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont
Jack Shanley is a well-known New York artist, charming and vain, who doesn’t mean to plunge his family into crisis. His wife, Deb, gladly left behind a difficult career as a dancer to raise the two children she adores. In the ensuing years, she has mostly avoided coming face-to-face with the weaknesses of the man she married. But then an anonymously sent package arrives in the mail: a cardboard box containing sheaves of printed emails chronicling Jack’s secret life. The package is addressed to Deb, but it’s delivered into the wrong hands: her children’s.
The Whites by Richard Price
Back in the mid-’90s, when Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a 10-year-old boy while stopping an angel-dusted berserker. For the next 18 years Billy endured one dead-end posting after another. Now in his early forties, Billy is called to a 4:00 a.m. fatal slashing of a man in Penn Station. When he discovers the victim was once a suspect in an unsolved murder with connections to the former members of the Wild Geese, the bad old days are back in Billy’s life, tearing apart enduring friendships and even threatening the safety of his family.
Fuck Seth Price by Seth Price
Price’s unnamed protagonist moves in and out of contemporary non-spaces on a confounding and enigmatic quest, all the while meditating on art in the broadest sense: not simply painting and sculpture but also film, architecture, literature, and poetry. From boutique hotels and highway bridges to PC terminals and off-ramps; from Kanye West and Jeff Koons to George Bush and Patricia Highsmith; from the playground to the internet to the mirror, Price’s hybrid of fiction, essay, and memoir gets to the central questions not only of art, but of how we live now.
Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash
Les, a long-time sheriff nearing retirement, contends with the ravages of poverty and crystal meth on his small Appalachian town. Becky, a park ranger, arrives in this remote patch of North Carolina hoping to ease the anguish of a harrowing past. A vicious crime will plunge both sheriff and ranger into deep and murky waters, forging an unexpected bond between them. Caught in a vortex of duplicity, lies, and betrayal, they must navigate the dangerous currents of a tragedy that turns neighbor against neighbor—and threatens to sweep them all over the edge.
The Voiceover Artist by Dave Reidy
Since his youth, Simon Davies has suffered from a crippling stutter inherited from his father. Overshadowed by his charming younger brother, Connor, Simon doesn’t speak for eighteen years, but harbors a secret dream to become a famous voiceover artist. Once Simon finds his voice, he must learn to live alongside Connor, or continue to suffer silently on his own.
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
The “war with no name” has begun, with human extinction as its goal. The instigator of this war is the Colony, a race of intelligent ants. Former housecat turned war hero, Mort(e) is famous for taking on the most dangerous missions, but the true motivation behind his recklessness is his ongoing search for a friend—a dog named Sheba. When he receives a mysterious message claiming Sheba is alive, he begins a journey that will take him from the remaining human strongholds to the heart of the Colony.
War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda
Adrià Guinart is leaving Barcelona, embarking on a long journey through the backwaters of a rural land that one can only suppose is Catalonia, accompanied by the interminable, distant rumblings of an indefinable war. In vignette-like chapters and with a narrative style imbued with the fantastic, Guinart meets with numerous adventures and peculiar characters who offer him a composite, if surrealistic, view of an impoverished, war-ravaged society and shape his perception of his place in the world.
Oreo by Fran Ross
Oreo is raised by her maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. Her black mother tours with a theatrical troupe, and her Jewish deadbeat dad disappeared when she was an infant, leaving behind a mysterious note that triggers her quest to find him. Our young hero navigates the labyrinth of sound studios and brothels and subway tunnels in Manhattan, seeking to claim her birthright while unwittingly experiencing and triggering a mythic journey of self-discovery.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
From Wikipedia: “A generation ship is launched from Saturn in 2545, consisting of 24 self-contained biomes and an average population of 2,000 people. One hundred sixty years and approximately seven generations later it is beginning its approach to the Tau Ceti system to begin colonization of a gas giant planet’s moon, an Earth analog, which has been named Aurora.”
The Poser by Jacob Rubin
All his life, Giovanni Bernini has possessed an uncanny gift: He can imitate anyone he meets. Honed by his mother at a young age, the talent catapults him from small-town obscurity to stardom. As his fame grows, Giovanni encounters a beautiful and enigmatic stage singer, Lucy Starlight—the only person whose thread he cannot find—and becomes increasingly trapped inside his many poses. Ultimately, he must assume the one identity he has never been able to master: his own.
The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
Aron is a young boy whose family is driven from the countryside into the Warsaw Ghetto. As his family is slowly stripped away from him, Aron and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives to keep their people alive, hunted all the while by blackmailers and by Jewish, Polish, and German police. Eventually Aron is “rescued” by Janusz Korczak, a Jewish-Polish doctor and advocate of children’s rights. In the end, he and his staff and all the children are put on a train to Treblinka, but has Aron managed to escape, to spread word about the atrocities, as Korczak hoped he would?
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes a star chef, culminating in a feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space. Five thousand years later, seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown… to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
Making Nice by Matt Sumell
Swirling at the center of Alby’s rage is a grief so big, so profound, it might swallow him whole. As he drinks, screws, and jokes his way through his pain and heartache, Alby’s anger, his kindness, and his capacity for good bubble up when he (and we) least expect it.
Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her 15-year-old life at the 100-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls. Her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing… until a split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.
The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday
All his life, Elijah Goldstein has idolized his charismatic Uncle Poxl. Intensely magnetic, cultured, and brilliant, Poxl takes Elijah under his wing, introducing him to opera and art and literature. But when Poxl publishes a memoir of how he was forced to leave his home north of Prague at the start of WWII and then avenged the deaths of his parents by flying RAF bombers over Germany during the war, killing thousands of German citizens, Elijah watches as the carefully constructed world his uncle has created begins to unravel.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon.” This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family—their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog—is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red’s father.
Find Me by Laura van den Berg
Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: She is immune.
Lovers on All Saints Day by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
A Colombian writer is witness to a murder that will mark him forever. A woman sits alone in her house, waiting for her husband to return from an expedition to find wood for their stove, while he lies in another womans bed a few miles away, unable to heal the wound in his own marriage. In these stories, there are love affairs, revenge, troubled pasts, and tender moments that reveal a persons whole history in a few sentences.
Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes
Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. It is the Summer of 2011 and things have changed. People certainly recognize him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own TV show, and people begin to listen. But the Fuhrer has another program with even greater ambition—to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.
The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
Cheryl has never really fit in with the other women in the seaside country club community of Little Neck Cove, Connecticut. Now, as she hits her mid-forties, she realizes that her husband is starting to lose interest in her, too. Her only solace is her morning walks along the beach’s nature trail, until a sudden act of violence accelerates her emotional tailspin.
Gaza, Wyoming by Seth Colter Walls
In this alternate 2015, President Obama lost in 2012. And after the Israel-Hamas conflict of 2014, President Romney’s Middle East peace plan required the US to absorb the Palestinian refugee population. With the upcoming 2016 elections, one talented Democratic campaign operative—a genderqueer individual named Persia VanSlyke—uncovers a secret that could have grave consequences for hir party. The investigative path ze must pursue is populated by gruff New Gaza officials, a Patriot Act-jailed journalist, a news anchor for a .GIF-based web-news entity, as well as an ex-citizen who has turned himself in to our growing private-prison system.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
Unrelenting drought has transfigured Southern California into a surreal, phantasmagoric landscape. In Los Angeles, two young Mojavs, Luz and Ray squat in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. The couple’s fragile love somehow blooms in this arid place, and for the moment, it seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.
The Game for Real by Richard Weiner
An unnamed hero discovers his double. Surely, he reasons, if he has a double, then his double must also have a double too, and so on… Following this, The Game for the Honor of Payback neatly inverts things: Instead of a branching, expanding adventure, a man known as Shame” embarks on a quest that collapses inward. Slapped by someone he despises, he launches a doomed crusade to return the insult. As the stakes grow ever higher, it seems that Shame will stop at nothing—even if he discovers he’s chasing his own tail.
The Cartel by Don Winslow
DEA agent Art Keller has been fighting the war on drugs for 30 years against Adán Barrera, the head of the world’s most powerful cartel. Finally putting Barrera away cost Keller dearly—the woman he loves, the beliefs he cherishes, the life he wants to lead. Then Barrera gets out, determined to rebuild the empire Keller shattered. Unwilling to live in a world with Barrera in it, Keller goes on an odyssey to take him down. His obsession with justice becomes a ruthless struggle that stretches from Mexico to Washington to Berlin and Barcelona.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted painter; Malcolm, an architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that will define his life.
Mislaid by Nell Zink
In 1960s Virginia, college freshman Peggy falls for professor Lee, and what begins as an affair results in an unplanned pregnancy and marriage. Mismatched from the start—she’s a lesbian; he’s gay—Peggy runs away with their daughter, leaving their son behind. Peggy and her daughter adopt African-American identities and live in near poverty to escape detection. Meanwhile, Lee and his son carry on, enjoying all the social privileges their gender, class, and whiteness afford them. Eventually the long-lost siblings meet, setting off a series of misunderstandings.