The Rooster

The 2018 Tournament of Books Long List

Here they are: our favorite, Rooster-worthy novels from 2017. A few weeks from now we’ll narrow these down to our final list for the 2018 Tournament of Books presented by Field Notes.

What a year for reading books. Our democracy is going through a seminal moment. The news is non-stop. The headlines are frenzied. And yet it’s only when we turned to fiction this year that we really began to understand what’s real. The best novels we read this year broadened our understanding and increased our compassion. They made our fears more meaningful and deeply felt. Stories that had nothing to do with our politics helped put them in perspective. That’s what good novels do: They clarify life.

The following list of 72 books represents some of the finest works published in English, mostly in America, in 2017. The usual caveats apply. The easiest one: We missed some, no doubt, probably including your favorite. Our list is arbitrary and inconsistent; it is adamantly not a “best of the year” compilation. It doesn’t take into account wonderful titles published in Nigeria this year, or the Netherlands. It’s based on our own reading, plus recommendations from family, publishers, critics, authors, hardcore reader types, short lunches in San Francisco, long breakfasts in New York, and an eloquent drug dealer we met at a party. Also, none of us on the ToB committee have read all of the titles below; none of us have even read most of them. But we do think the list contains some very, very fine books that we happily recommend.

Here’s what happens next: Over the next couple weeks we’ll whittle down the titles, then on Jan. 3, we’ll release the final list of books and judges that will participate in the 2018 Tournament of Books, presented by our mighty sponsor Field Notes, to be held here in March 2018.

By the way, do you know about Field Notes? Have you experienced their wonderful notebooks? Do you travel with one in your pocket and another in your carry-on, like us? Have you seen their latest edition, the “Resolution” Edition, and does it reheat your cockles?

Finally, we want to say a gigantic thank you to our Sustaining Members, who have made this year’s Tournament possible. That’s not an exaggeration; we wouldn’t be publishing this today without them. (Here are the details about why.) If you haven’t already, become a Sustaining Member today. You also get a 50 percent discount on merch in the TMN store.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody, from all of us at the ToB. The Rooster wishes you a very safe and peaceful holiday season.

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Book descriptions are excerpted from publishers’ summaries and edited for length. We get a cut from purchases made through the book links. Here is a spreadsheet of the full list.

 

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Who is Andrea Bern? When her dippy therapist asks the question, Andrea knows the right things to say: She’s a designer, a friend, a daughter, a sister. But it’s what she leaves unsaid—she’s alone, a drinker, a former artist, a shrieker in bed, captain of the sinking ship that is her flesh—that feels the most true. Everyone around her seems to have an entirely different idea of what it means to be an adult, though. But when Andrea’s niece finally arrives, born with a heartbreaking ailment, the Bern family is forced to reexamine what really matters. Will this drive them together or tear them apart? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

It’s 2016. Tom Barren is from a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and teleportation. But despite the dazzling technology and global peace, Tom can’t seem to find his place in the world, and that’s before he does the kind of thing you do when you’re heartbroken and have a time machine—something stupid. He finds himself stranded in what seems to him to be a dystopian wasteland, but which we recognize as our real world: the wrong 2016. Tom is desperate to fix his mistake until he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and the woman who might just be the love of his life. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

American War by Omar El Akkad

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Best friends and artistic partners since the first week of college, Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses spent their twenties ensconced in a gritty Brooklyn studio. Now, after a decade of striving, the two are finally celebrating the release of their first full-length feature and stand at the cusp of making it big. But with their success comes doubt and destruction, cracks in their relationship. When the only other partner Sharon has ever truly known—her troubled, charismatic childhood best friend, Teddy—reappears, long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Augustown by Kei Miller

April 11, 1982: A smell is coming down John Golding Road right alongside the boy-child, something attached to him, like a spirit but not quite. Ma Taffy is growing worried. She knows that something is going to happen. Something terrible is going to pour out into the world. But if she can hold it off for just a little bit longer, she will. So she asks a question that surprises herself even as she asks it, “Kaia, I ever tell you bout the flying preacherman?” (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Autumn by Ali Smith

Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That’s what it felt like for Keats in 1819. How about Autumn 2016? Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic, once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand-in-hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

In the near future, world wars have transformed Earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine has made a career of tracking down missing persons, and she has a better record at it than the FBI. But when a young woman, Gabriela, asks for her help, a world of mystery and sorrow opens up. Gabriela’s father went missing on the border of Montana and Wyoming. He was assumed to have died from a grizzly mauling, but his body was never found. Now, as Celine and her partner head to Yellowstone National Park, investigating a trail gone cold, it becomes clear that they are being followed—that this is a case someone desperately wants to keep closed. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Apollo Kagwa is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, when his wife Emma begins acting strange. Disconnected and uninterested in their new baby boy, Emma at first seems to be exhibiting all the signs of post-partum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go far beyond that. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air. Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall

When her husband is arrested in Nazi-occupied Poland, Izolda endures unending brutality to ensure his safety. This canonical work of Polish reportage is a terse, unexpected human lesson born of an occupation-era love story. Based on a true story, the raw interplay of history and fictionalization spans the Warsaw Ghetto, the war-torn countryside, and the nightmare of Auschwitz. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Chemistry by Weike Wang

Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She’s tormented by her failed research—and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her parents. But there’s another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her boyfriend. Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew behind. And for the first time, she’s confronted with a question she won’t find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

College student Frances devotes herself to a life of the mind—and to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa’s orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband. Private property, Frances believes, is a cultural evil—and Nick, a bored actor who never quite lived up to his potential, looks like patriarchy made flesh. But however amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman

An Arab American with a conflicted past, Haris Abadi is now in Turkey, attempting to cross into Syria and join the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But he is robbed before he can make it, and is taken in by Amir, a charismatic Syrian refugee and former revolutionary, and Amir’s wife, Daphne, a sophisticated beauty haunted by grief. As it becomes clear that Daphne is also desperate to return to Syria, Haris’s choices become ever more wrenching: Whose side is he really on? And will he be able to bring meaning to a life of increasing frustration and helplessness? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt

In these marvelously inventive stories, an FBI agent falls in love with a robot built for a suicide mission. A young woman unintentionally cheats on her husband when she is transformed, nightly, into a deer. Two strangers become lovers and find themselves somehow responsible for the resurrection of a dog. A woman tries to start her life anew after the loss of a child but cannot help riddling that new life with lies. Thirteen pregnant teenagers develop a strange relationship with the Founding Fathers of American history. A lonely woman’s fertility treatments become the stuff of science fiction. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim

In a small Midwestern town, two Asian-American boys bond over their outcast status and a mutual love of comic books. Meanwhile, in an alternative or perhaps future universe, a team of superheroes ponders modern society during their time off. Between black-ops missions and rescuing hostages, they swap stories of artistic malaise and muse on the seemingly inescapable grip of market economics. All the while, a mysterious cybernetic book of clairvoyance beckons, and trusted allies start to disappear. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Eat Only When You’re Hungry by Lindsay Hunter

Greg is the father of Greg Junior, GJ, who has been missing for three weeks. GJ’s been an addict his whole adult life, disappearing for days at a time, but for some reason this absence feels different, and Greg has convinced himself that he’s the only one who can find his son. So he drives to the outskirts of Orlando, the last place GJ was seen. As we travel down the streets of the bizarroland that is Florida, the urgency to find GJ slowly recedes into the background, and the truths about Greg’s mistakes—as a father, a husband, a man—are uncovered. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis

“Every morning in the bathroom I would repeat the same phrase to myself over and over again… Today I’m really gonna be a tough guy.” Growing up in a poor village in northern France, all Eddy Bellegueule wanted was to be a man in the eyes of his family and neighbors. But from childhood, he was different—“girlish,” intellectually precocious, and attracted to other men. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people, Nadia and Saeed, embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through… (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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Extraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace

Things happen to other people, and Edsel Bronfman knows it. Until, that is, he gets a call telling him that he’s won a free weekend at a beachfront condo in Destin, Fla. But there’s a catch: The offer is intended for a couple, and Bronfman has only 79 days to find someone to take with him. The phone call jolts Bronfman into motion, initiating a series of truly extraordinary adventures as he sets out to find a companion for his weekend getaway. Open at last to the possibilities of life, Bronfman now believes that anything can happen. And it does. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family. (As the winner of the 2017 Rooster Summer Reading Challenge, Fever Dream receives an automatic berth in the 2018 Tournament of Books.) (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, 30-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town, and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

After his mother’s death, 11-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina island with his great aunt, who points out a ruined cottage where a boy and his parents disappeared during a hurricane 50 years before. During his lonely hours, Marcus visits the cottage daily, even after the ghost of the boy who died seems to reveal himself. Full of curiosity and open to the unfamiliar and uncanny given the recent upending of his life, he courts the ghost boy, never certain whether the ghost is friendly or follows some sinister agenda. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the novella “Especially Heinous,” every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is reimagined as a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

In this eerily unsettling short-story collection, characters are all unsteady on their feet in one way or another; they all yearn for connection and betterment, though in very different ways each to each, but they are often tripped up by their own baser impulses. The flesh is weak; the timber is crooked; people are cruel to each other, and stupid, and hurtful. But beauty comes from strange sources. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Huck Out West by Robert Coover

At the end of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, on the eve of the Civil War, Huck and Tom Sawyer decide to “light out for the Territory.” Here, the boys do just that, riding for the Pony Express, then working as scouts for both sides in the war. They are suddenly separated when Tom returns East with his new wife to learn the law from her father. Huck, abandoned and “dreadful lonely,” rides shotgun on coaches, joins a gang of bandits, guides wagon trains, gets dragged into US Army massacres, and suffers a series of misadventures. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Ann and Wade have carved out a living for themselves from a rugged landscape, but they are bound together by more than love. In a story told from multiple perspectives—Ann, Wade, Wade’s first wife Jenny, now in prison for murder—and in exquisite, razor-sharp prose, we gradually learn of the shocking act that originally brought Ann and Wade together, and which reverberates through the lives of every character in Idaho. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. Almost by accident, she begins emailing with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. Selin’s summer in Europe is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Thirty years ago, Dustin Tillman’s family—his parents and his aunt and uncle—were murdered in a shocking massacre. His foster brother, Rusty, was convicted of the crime. Now, Rusty’s conviction is overturned, and suddenly Dustin, now a psychologist, must question whether his testimony that imprisoned his brother was accurate. When one of his patients, an ex-cop, gets him deeply involved in a series of unsolved murders, Dustin’s happy suburban life starts to unravel, as his uncertainties about his past and present life begin to merge. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

A young Swedish immigrant finds himself penniless and alone in California. The boy travels East in search of his brother, moving on foot against the great current of emigrants pushing West. Driven back again and again, he meets naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, swindlers, Indians, and lawmen, and his exploits turn him into a legend. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Isadora by Amelia Gray

In 1913, the restless world sat on the brink of unimaginable suffering. But for one woman, the darkness of a new era had already made itself at home. Isadora Duncan would come to be known as the mother of modern dance, but in the spring of 1913 she was a grieving mother, after a freak accident in Paris resulted in the drowning death of her two young children. The accident cracked Isadora’s life in two: on one side, the brilliant young talent who captivated audiences the world over; on the other, a heartbroken mother spinning dangerously on the edge of sanity. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

Evelyn is a Creole woman who comes of age in New Orleans at the height of World War II. In 1982, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, is a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband’s drug addiction. Jackie’s son, T.C., was a square before Hurricane Katrina, but the New Orleans he knew didn’t survive the storm. Fresh out of a four-month stint for drug charges, T.C. decides to start over—until an old friend convinces him to stake his new beginning on one last deal. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera

Beats, daggers, girls, and graft: can the Artist sing truth to power where a Mexican drug baron holds court? In the court of the King, everyone knows their place. But as the Artist wins hearts and egos with his ballads, uncomfortable truths emerge that shake the Kingdom to its core. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin

A car smashes into a sculpture of a giant cowgirl, and the police find two bodies in the trunk. Nineteen-year-old Nick Toussaint, Jr., is arrested for murder, and after details of the crime rip across the internet, his 16-year-old girlfriend, Emily Portis, is nearly consumed by a public hungry for every lurid detail. Emily and Nick are not the only ones whose lives come unmoored, as Emily’s father, the town sheriff, is finally forced to confront a monstrous secret. (Please note: Rosecrans Baldwin is on the Tournament of Books committee, and he also wrote one of our favorite novels of the year, so it’s included here. However, it won’t be eligible for the final list.) (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her. With his mother gone, 11-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

On Feb. 22, 1862, two days after his death, 11-year-old Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Locals by Jonathan Dee

Mark Firth is a contractor in Howland, Mass., who, after being swindled by a financial advisor, feels opportunity passing him and his family by. What future can he promise to his wife Karen and their young daughter Haley? Then a wealthy money manager, Philip Hadi, moves to Howland and hires Mark to turn his house into a “secure location.” When the town’s first selectman passes away suddenly, Hadi runs for office and begins subtly transforming the town in his image with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children dream up a plan for the most extraordinary circus show the world has ever seen. Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite, the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Soli is 18 when she embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border, arriving weeks later in Berkeley, Calif., dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. Kavya, a chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house, is consumed by the unexpected desire to have a child. When she can’t get pregnant, Kavya and her husband are set on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya’s care. As Kavya learns to be a mother, she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else’s child. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Anna Kerrigan’s father has disappeared, and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets a man who knew her father, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life and the reasons he might have vanished. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Everything about 15-year-old Cat’s new town is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

First we meet Anjum—who used to be Aftab—unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. Later we encounter Tilo and the men who loved her—including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris

Set against the tumultuous political backdrop of late ’60s Chicago, this is the graphic diary of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, filled with B-movie horror and pulp monster magazines iconography. Karen Reyes tries to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, while the interconnected stories of those around her unfold. When Karen’s investigation takes us back to Anka’s life in Nazi Germany, we discover how the personal, the political, the past, and the present converge. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A Natural by Ross Raisin

His bright future as a successful soccer player now threatened, Tom finds himself playing for a tiny club in a town he has never heard of. But as he navigates his isolation and his need for recognition, a sudden and thrilling encounter offers him the promise of an escape, and Tom is forced to question whether he can reconcile his suppressed desires with his dreams of success. Leah, the captain’s wife, has almost forgotten the dreams she once held. Moving again, as her husband is transferred from club to club, she is lost, disillusioned with where life has taken her. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Marina Willett, MD, has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, in particular with one episode in the legendary horror writer’s life: In the summer of 1934, the “old gent” lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert Barlow, at Barlow’s family home in central Florida. What were the two of them up to? Were they friends—or something more? Just when Charlie thinks he’s solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it’s suicide. Marina is a psychiatrist, and she doesn’t believe them. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Not Constantinople by Nicholas Bredie

Expats living in Istanbul and working at the university, Fred and Virginia come home one night to find their apartment occupied by a family of Greeks. Barred by a quirk of Turkish law from evicting them, Fred comes to a strange kind of understanding with their new squatters; looking to make his fortune before returning to the States, he starts a racket with the Greek patriarch, selling term papers to his own students. Between get-rich schemes and run-ins with Kurdish separatists, Fred watches the city transform at the hands of greedy developers and the city’s rapacious elite. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

After a bitter divorce and custody battle, a 12-year-old boy, his older brother, and their father leave their Kansas home and drive through the night to Albuquerque, united by the thrilling possibility of carving out a new life. The boys go to school, join basketball teams, make friends. Meanwhile their father works from home, smoking cheap cigars to hide another smell. But soon the little missteps—the dead-eyed absentmindedness, the late night noises, the comings and goings of increasingly odd characters—become worrisome, and the boys find themselves watching their father change, grow erratic, then dangerous. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The One-Eyed Man by Ron Currie

After his wife dies, K. loses his metaphorical capacity, becoming so wedded to the notion of clarity that he infuriates everyone. When he intervenes in an armed robbery, K. finds himself both an inadvertent hero and the star of a new reality television program. Together with Claire, a grocery store clerk with a sharp tongue and a yen for celebrity, he travels the country, ruffling feathers and gaining fame at the intersection of American politics and entertainment. But soon, through a conflagration of biblical proportions, he discovers that the world will fight viciously to preserve its delusions about itself. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant-and that her lover is married-she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

After an accident lands her in the hospital, 15-year-old Julia returns to her grandfather’s estate, and begins to suspect there was more to her injury than she first thought. Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan, the boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister, Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep her new friends from being framed for the crime. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Refuge by Dina Nayeri

An Iranian girl escapes to America as a child, but her father stays behind. Over 20 years, daughter and father know each other only from four crucial visits over two decades, each in a different international city. The longer they are apart, the more their lives diverge. Meanwhile, refugees of all nationalities are flowing into Europe under troubling conditions. Wanting to help, but also looking for a lost sense of home, our grown-up transplant finds herself quickly entranced by a world that is at once everything she has missed and nothing that she has ever known. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Release by Patrick Ness

Between Adam Thorn’s religious family, an unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his ex, Enzo, it seems as though his life is falling apart. At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?), and his best friend, Angela. But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac

Rosa Ostreech, a pseudonym for the narrator, carries around a trilingual edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, struggles with her thesis on violence and culture, sleeps with a bourgeois former guerrilla, and pursues her elderly professor with a highly charged blend of eroticism and desperation. Elsewhere on campus, Pabst and Kamtchowsky tour the underground scene of Buenos Aires, dabbling in ketamine, group sex, video games, and hacking. And in Africa in 1917, a Dutch anthropologist works on a theory explaining human consciousness and civilization by reference to our early primate ancestors—animals, who, in the process of becoming human, spent thousands of years as prey. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux

A young man in the Crimea is drawn out of his world by an eccentric female journalist, leading to a life as a Russian spy infiltrating anarchist circles and going undercover in British India where, seeking refuge from a confrontation with a British officer, he discovers a manuscript which holds the secret of Jesus’s lost years from the age of 12 to 30. But is this gospel true? (Amazon)

 

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: It’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, alone, she gets word that her ex has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged southern Peloponnese; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

In a future where no one living can remember an actual war, a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end. The world’s leaders have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a few secret murders, mathematically planned. Mycroft Canner, convict, sentenced to wander the globe, knows more about this conspiracy than he can admit. Carlyle Foster, counselor, sensayer, has the burden of secrets as well. And both Mycroft and Carlyle are privy to the greatest secret of all: Bridger, the child who can bring inanimate objects to life. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet

Paris, 1980. The literary critic Roland Barthes dies—struck by a laundry van—after lunch with the presidential candidate François Mitterand. But what if it wasn’t an accident at all? What if Barthes was murdered? In this madcap secret history of the French intelligentsia starring Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Julia Kristeva—as well as the hapless police detective Jacques Bayard, whose new case will plunge him into the depths of literary theory. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson

When the Twin Towers suddenly reappear in South Dakota 20 years after their fall, nobody can explain their return. To the tens of thousands drawn to the “American Stonehenge”—including siblings Parker and Zema—the Towers seem to sing, even as everybody hears a different song. On the 93rd floor, Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin suddenly awakes, driven mad by the memory of a country where he survived in his brother’s place. Meanwhile, Parker and Zema cross a possessed landscape by a mysterious detour no one knows, charted on a map that no one has seen. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Jojo is 13, and his mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is black and her children’s father, Michael, is white. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. When Michael is released from prison, the family drives north to the heart of Mississippi and the state penitentiary, where another 13-year-old boy—the ghost of a dead inmate—carries the South’s ugly history with him. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, legacies, violence, and love. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Six Degrees of Freedom by Nicolas Dickner

Lisa is a young woman whose longing for adventure is tethered by the demands of an eccentric mother and a father slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Lisa’s friend Éric is an agoraphobic hacker who becomes independently wealthy before his 18th birthday. And Jay is a former computer pirate who’s paying her debt to society, day by stultifying day, working for the RCMP in Montreal. But when Jay learns of the existence of the mysterious shipping container Papa Zulu, she begins a clandestine investigation to discover who made it disappear and what they are trying to hide. (Amazon / IndieBound)

 

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

For five days, the parents of a seven-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl sat and listened to the demands of their daughter’s kidnapper. They would never learn his identity. They would never see their daughter again. For the 14 years that followed, the Japanese public listened to the police’s apologies. They would never forgive the authorities for their failure. For one week in late 2002, the press officer attached to the police department confronted an anomaly in the case. He could never imagine what he would uncover. He would never have looked if he’d known what he would find. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Smile by Roddy Doyle

One evening, enjoying a pint at Donnelly’s, Victor Forde is interrupted by a man who seems to know Victor’s name and to remember him from secondary school. Victor dislikes him on sight, dislikes too the memories the man stirs up of being taught by the Christian Brothers. He prompts other memories—of his beautiful wife who became a celebrity, and of Victor’s claim to fame as the man who would say the unsayable on the radio. But it’s the memories of school, and of one particular Brother, that Victor cannot control and which eventually threaten to destroy his sanity. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

So Much Blue by Percival Everett

Kevin is working on a painting he won’t let anyone see. It may or may not be his masterpiece; he doesn’t know or care. What Kevin does care about is the past. Ten years ago he had an affair. It’s not clear to him why he had the affair, but he can’t let it go. In the more distant past of the late ’70s, Kevin and his best friend, Richard, traveled to El Salvador on the verge of war to retrieve Richard’s drug-dealing brother. As the past intersects with the present, Kevin struggles to justify his sacrifices and secrets. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Jared is only 16. He may smoke and drink too much, and his mom is a mess, but he also feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbors. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him—even when he’s not stoned. (Amazon / IndieBound)

 

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

In 1940, David Sparsholt arrives at Oxford to study engineering, though his sights are set on joining the Royal Air Force. Handsome, athletic, charismatic, he is unaware of his effect on others—especially on Evert Dax, the lonely son of a celebrated novelist who is destined to become a writer himself. With the world at war, and the Blitz raging in London, Oxford nevertheless exists at a strange remove: a place of fleeting beauty—and secret liaisons. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

In his senior season, when every practice, every match, is a step closer to greatness and a step further from sanity, a troubled college wrestler in North Dakota falls in love and becomes increasingly unhinged. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan

In the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. Brought in to construct the towering monuments to wealth that punctuate the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force works without the rights of citizenship, endures miserable living conditions, and is ultimately forced to leave the country. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini

Mere weeks after the 1992 riots that laid waste to Los Angeles, Eugenia, a typical Italian teenager, is rudely yanked from her privileged Roman milieu by her hippie-ish filmmaker parents and transplanted to the strange suburban world of the San Fernando Valley. She forges friendships with Henry, who runs his mother’s movie memorabilia store, and the bewitching Deva, who introduces her to the alternate cultural universe that is Topanga Canyon. And then the 1994 earthquake rocks the foundations not only of Eugenia’s home, but of the future she’d been imagining for herself. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Ties by Domenico Starnone

They were young and in love. They married, but as middle age and family obligations set in, their marital vows seemed to lose their meaning. When he left, she stayed with the kids in a city from which she felt a growing estrangement. His return is made possible by a mutual and tacit agreement: For the sake of the kids and their own sake, they will carry on as if nothing ever came between them. But can betrayal ever be swept under the carpet? Is it possible to regain what was lost? If so, at what price? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

It’s the late-’90s, pre-DVD, and Jeremy works at Video Hut in small-town Iowa. It’s quiet and predictable, but then his customers begin complaining that their rentals have other movies on them. Jeremy takes a look, and indeed, in the middle of the movies the screen is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with the sounds of someone breathing. And the barn looks a lot like one just outside of town. Suddenly, a town of placid fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening. For Jeremy and those around him, life will never be the same. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Void Star by Zachary Mason

Not far in the future the seas have risen and the central latitudes are emptying, but it’s still a good time to be rich in San Francisco. Irina has an artificial memory and acts as a medium between her employers and their AIs. Kern is one of the many refugees on the city’s periphery, where he scrapes by as a thief. Thales heads to LA after an attack cripples him; there, a stranger demands to know what he remembers. Kern flees for his life after a robbery gone wrong. Irina discovers an employer’s secret. None are safe as they’re pushed together by unseen forces. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

After Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, his similarly music-obsessed friend Carter sends it out over the internet, claiming it’s a long-lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbors. One is black, the other white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed, and are living with questions, disappointments, and secrets that have brought them shame. Sworn enemies, the two share a hedge and a deliberate hostility. One day, an unexpected event forces Hortensia and Marion together. As the physical barriers between them collapse, their bickering gradually softens into conversation, which yields a discovery of shared experiences. But are these sparks of connection enough to ignite a friendship, or is too late to expect these women to change? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

biopic

The Tournament of Books’ organizers Andrew Womack and Rosecrans Baldwin are TMN’s co-founders. Baldwin’s new novel is The Last Kid Left. Nozlee Samadzadeh is the ToB’s producer. More by The Tournament of Books Staff