The theme of the year is "tumult." Do we even need to explain?
It's certainly been a tumultuous year in bookselling, and we're not just talking noise around bucket hats. Multiple sources told us this year was a year like no other. The election last fall and the outgoing presidency meant a lot of books had been held back or postponed; there's little enough room in the popular culture to build buzz around fiction (especially novels that hadn't been plucked for attention and development deals by the world's Witherspoons), and some insiders told us that publishers disliked the idea of competing with pandemic/insurgency/social justice/etc. Which helps explain why the shelves have been so packed with big names this summer and fall.
Frankly, if you're a novelist who's won a Pulitzer or National Book Award previously, and you didn't publish this year, are you still breathing?
Today we're releasing the long list for the 2022 Tournament of Books, our 18th rendition of this oddball event, presented by Field Notes. In a few weeks we'll release the shortlist of the 16 or so books that will be in play come March, and those titles will be selected from the 68 works of fiction below.
For anyone who's new to the Tournament of Books, here is an explanation as to how the cookie crumbles, and here's a brief history of memorable moments.
The list below is organized by alphabetical order and that's about it. Perhaps "tumult" is a common theme in the works themselves, but not always. Our list is mainly a round-up of books we loved and/or found fascinating (it's not always the same thing), or books that were loved and/or found fascinating by people we know and trust. They are American and foreign, award-winners and award-losers, published by big houses and small. They were recommended by booksellers. They were sent to us by editors, and in two cases by the authors themselves. They were recommended by publicists who work in places not named Brooklyn, and they were recommended by a meme feed on Instagram. (One title slipped into our DMs.) Basically, our books come from everywhere, probably the same as yours, and if we didn't include your favorites from the year, all we can say again is: tumult.
Our immense gratitude goes first to Field Notes, 2022’s presenting sponsor. We love Field Notes. We buy their notebooks because we use them every day. (They're also practically the Tournament's life partner at this point.) And we're thrilled to say that Bookshop.org—the online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores—is joining us once again as the Tournament's book sponsor. Hooray for Bookshop.org! Finally, our biggest thanks go to our Sustaining Members. Without their support, none of this would be possible. If you care about the Tournament of Books, please join their ranks today. You'll also score 50 percent off all ToB merch—including our Winter 2021 items, which bring back our sought-after 2016 design by Janet Hansen.
Make sure you sign up for the Rooster Newsletter for ToB updates. Also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram, and check out our daily Headlines newsletter. Finally, a note to any small or large businesses who love the Rooster and its hardcore readers: We have several sponsorships still available, email us to find out more!
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.
100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
Transgressive, foulmouthed, and brutally funny, these semi-linked vignettes are a revelatory spiral into the imperfect lives of queer men desperately fighting the urge to self-sabotage. As they tiptoe through minefields of romantic, substance-fueled misadventure―from dirty warehouses and gentrified bars in Oakland to desolate farm towns in Alabama―they strive for belonging in a world that dismisses them for being Black, broke, and queer. In spite of it―or perhaps because of it―they shine.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, this story collection offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family. A high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner tries to relive his glory days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers attend a wedding afterparty and hatch a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair sparks between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher obsessed with Moby-Dick. And in the sweeping final story, a nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.
All's Well by Mona Awad
Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now, she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised and cost her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers. That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.
And Then the Gray Heaven by RE Katz
Jules's partner B has recently died in a freak accident. Confronting the red tape of the hospital, the dissociation and cruelty of B’s family, and the unimaginable void now at the center of their lives, Jules and new friend Theo embark on a road trip to bury two thirds of B’s ashes in the places they most belong. Along the way, Katz delves into their relationship and their life stories—Jules’s rise from abandoned baby origins through the Florida foster care system, and B’s artistic transformation, surrounded by kindred spirits who helped them realize it was possible to be regarded as a human and not as a body.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a breakup, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while singlehandedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin’s emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain.
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
One year after the death of his beloved musician father, 13-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house—a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous. At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers.
A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris
Someone is telling the story of the life of Charlie Barnes, and it doesn't appear to be going well. Too often divorced, discontent with life's compromises and in a house he hates, this lifelong schemer and eternal romantic would like out of his present circumstances and into the American dream. But when the twin calamities of the Great Recession and a cancer scare come along to compound his troubles, his dreams dwindle further, and an infinite past full of forking paths quickly tapers to a black dot. Then, against all odds, something goes right for a change: Charlie is granted a second act. With help from his storyteller son, he surveys the facts of his life and finds his true calling where he least expects it—in a sacrifice that redounds with selflessness and love—at last becoming the man his son always knew he could be.
Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins
Laila desperately wants to become a mother, but each of her previous pregnancies has ended in heartbreak. This time has to be different, so she turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power. When a deal for Laila to acquire a piece of caul falls through, she is heartbroken, but when the child is stillborn, she is overcome with grief and rage. What she doesn’t know is that a baby will soon be delivered in her family—by her niece, Amara, an ambitious college student—and delivered to the Melancons to raise as one of their own. Hallow is special: She’s born with a caul, and their matriarch, Maman, predicts the girl will restore the family’s prosperity.
Civilizations by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor
Freydis is a woman warrior and leader of a band of Viking explorers setting out to the south. They meet local tribes, exchange skills, are taken prisoner, and get as far as Panama. But nobody ultimately knows what became of them. Over 500 years later, Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, arrives in Europe in the ships stolen from Columbus. He finds a continent divided by religious and dynastic quarrels, the Spanish Inquisition, Luther's Reformation, capitalism, the miracle of the printing press, endless warmongering between the ruling monarchies, and constant threat from the Turks. But most of all he finds downtrodden populations ready for revolution. Fortunately, he has a recent bestseller as a guidebook to acquiring power—Machiavelli's The Prince. The stage is set for a Europe ruled by Incas and Aztecs, and for a great war that will change history forever.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Thirteen-year-old Anna lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father.
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Traumatized by his reeducation at the hands of his former best friend, Man, and struggling to assimilate into French culture, the unnamed Sympathizer finds Paris both seductive and disturbing. As he falls in with a group of left-wing intellectuals whom he meets at dinner parties given by his French Vietnamese “aunt,” he finds stimulation for his mind but also customers for his narcotic merchandise. But the new life he is making has perils he has not foreseen, whether the self-torture of addiction, the authoritarianism of a state locked in a colonial mindset, or the seeming paradox of how to reunite his two closest friends whose worldviews put them in absolute opposition. The Sympathizer will need all his wits, resourcefulness, and moral flexibility if he is to prevail.
The Confession of Copeland Cane by Keenan Norris
A slightly eccentric, flip-phone loving kid with analog tendencies and a sideline hustling sneakers, the boundaries of Copeland Cane V’s life are demarcated from the jump by urban toxicity, an educational apparatus with confounding intentions, and a police state that has merged with media conglomerates—the highly-rated Insurgency Alert Desk that surveils and harasses his neighborhood in the name of anti-terrorism. Recruited by the nearby private school even as he and his folks face eviction, Copeland is doing his damnedest to do right by himself, for himself. And yet the forces at play entrap him in a reality that chews up his past and obscures his future.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
It’s Dec. 23, 1971, and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless—unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother Perry, who’s been selling drugs to seventh graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.
Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters
Reese had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning would make life easier, but that decision cost him Reese—and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals she’s pregnant with his baby—and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it—Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family—and raise the baby together?
A Door Behind a Door by Yelena Moskovich
Having immigrated to Milwaukee, Wis., as part of the Soviet diaspora of ’91, Olga grows up and meets a girl and falls in love, beginning to believe that she can settle down. But a phone call from a bad man from her past brings to life a haunted childhood in an apartment building in the Soviet Union: an unexplained murder in her block, a supernatural stray dog, and the mystery of her beloved brother Moshe, who lost an eye and later vanished. We get pulled into Olga’s past as she puzzles her way through an underground Midwestern Russian mafia, in pursuit of a string of mathematical stabbings.
Dream Girl by Laura Lippman
After being injured in an accident, novelist Gerry Andersen lies in a hospital bed in his apartment, utterly dependent on two women he barely knows: his young assistant and a night nurse whose competency he questions. But Gerry is also beginning to question his own competency. As he moves in and out of dreamlike memories and seemingly random appearances of a persistent ex-girlfriend at his bedside, he fears he may be losing his grip on reality, much like his mother who recently passed away from dementia. Most distressing, he believes he’s being plagued by strange telephone calls, in which a woman claiming to be the titular character of his hit novel Dream Girl swears she will be coming to see him soon.
A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett
Centering transgender women seeking stable, adult lives, these short stories find quiet truths in prairie high-rises and New York warehouses, and in freezing Canadian winters and drizzly Oregon days. In “Hazel and Christopher,” two childhood friends reconnect as adults after one of them has transitioned. In “Perfect Places,” a woman grapples with undesirability as she navigates fetish play with a man. In “Couldn’t Hear You Talk Anymore,” the narrator reflects on past trauma and what might have been as she recalls tender moments with another trans woman.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Evelyn Caldwell’s husband Nathan has been having an affair—with Evelyn Caldwell. Or, to be exact, with a genetically cloned replica. After a morning that begins with a confrontation and ends with Nathan’s body bleeding out on the kitchen floor, the two Caldwell wives will have to think fast—before sharing everything includes sharing a jail cell.
Edie Richter Is Not Alone by Rebecca Handler
Funny, acerbic Edie Richter is moving with her husband from San Francisco to Perth, Australia. She leaves behind a sister and mother still mourning the recent death of her father. Before the move, Edie and her husband were content, if socially awkward―given her disinclination for small talk. In Perth, Edie finds herself in a remarkably isolated yet verdant corner of the world, but Edie has a secret: She committed an unthinkable act that she can barely admit to herself. In some ways, the landscape mirrors her own complicated inner life, and rather than escaping her past, Edie is increasingly forced to confront what she's done.
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen
In the small town of Leonberg in 1618, Katharina, an illiterate widow, is known by her neighbors for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, the renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. It’s enough to make anyone jealous, and Katharina has done herself no favors by being out and about and in everyone’s business. So when the deranged and insipid Ursula Reinbold accuses Katharina of offering her a bitter, witchy drink that has made her ill, Katharina is in trouble. Her son must turn his attention from the music of the spheres to the job of defending his mother. Facing the threat of financial ruin, torture, and even execution, Katharina tells her side of the story to her friend and neighbor Simon, a reclusive widower imperiled by his own secrets.
Field Notes® limited release for the fall is the “Harvest” Edition. Noted American artist John Burgoyne’s illustrations grace the covers of the six Memo Books in this series.
The illustrations are embossed into a sturdy, hemp-based cover stock and the pages are perforated for sharing recipes and grocery lists. “Harvest” makes a great holiday gift for the chef or gardener in your life.
Field Notes is proud to present the 2022 Morning News Tournament of Books. Now get reading!
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
When Swiv is temporarily kicked out of school, her grandma gives her an assignment to write a letter to her absent father. Swiv’s assignment to Grandma is to write a letter to Gord, her unborn grandchild and Swiv’s brother or sister. “You are a small thing,” Grandma writes to Gord, “but you must learn to fight.” Grandma has been fighting all her life: from her upbringing in a strictly religious community, ruled over by the odious Will Braun, she has fought the people who wanted to take away her joy, her independence, and her spirit; she has fought to protect her family, and she has fought to make peace with her loved ones when they have chosen to leave her. Swiv’s mother, too, is fighting “on every front,” as Grandma puts it, “Internally. Externally.”
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Opal is a fiercely independent young musician, Afro-punk before that term existed. When aspiring singer/songwriter Neville Charles meets her, she takes him up on his offer to make music together. In early '70s New York City, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, a music journalist seizes the chance to explore that moment, when Opal's bold protest and the violence that ensued set off a chain of events that served as a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan
Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island. But when the Wilde family moves in, they trigger their neighbors’ worst fears. Dad Arlo’s a has-been rock star. Mom Gertie’s got a thick Brooklyn accent. They don’t fit with the way Maple Street sees itself. Though Maple Street’s Queen Bee, Rhea Schroeder welcomed Gertie and her family at first, relations went south. As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes. Suddenly, it is one mom’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.
Hard Like Water by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas
On his way back to his ancestral village after a service in the Army, Gao Aijun sees a strikingly attractive woman, Xia Hongmei, and is instantly smitten. Hiding their relationship from their spouses, the pair hurl themselves into the struggle to bring revolution to their backwater village. They spend their days and nights writing pamphlets, organizing work brigades, and attending rallies. Emboldened by encouragement from the Party, the couple dig a literal “tunnel of love” between their homes, where underneath the village their revolutionary and sexual fervor reaches a boiling point. But when their torrid relationship is finally discovered, their dreams of a bright future together begin to fray. Will their great revolutionary energy save their skins, or will they too fall victim to the revolution that is swallowing up the country?
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Ray Carney is an upstanding salesman of furniture, making a decent life for his family. Still, cash is tight, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa—and volunteers Ray’s services as a fence. But the heist doesn’t go as planned, and thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
An African-American author sets out on a cross-country book tour to promote his bestselling novel, which also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and the Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour. Throughout the book, there always is the tragic story of a police shooting playing over and over on the news. Who has been killed? Who is the Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind?
History in One Act by William Arkin
It's a fresh retelling of 9/11, filled with revelation and insight that will shock readers into the world of al Qaeda as it grows in strength and moves forward to undertake its world-changing attacks. And it infiltrates the secret domain of American intelligence, which has its own plans, seeking to use what is coming as the means to achieve its own holy grail of national security. We all know how it ends, but as lives meet and events unfold, we come to understand that 9/11 was neither the beginning nor the end, that everyone has a reason for what they do, that individuals do matter—and, indeed, that history can be created in one act.
How to Wrestle a Girl by Venita Blackburn
Stark and sharp, hilarious and ominous, these short stories are scabbed, bruised, and prone to scarring. Many of the pieces, set in Southern California, follow a teenage girl in the aftermath of her beloved father’s death and capture her sister’s and mother’s encounters with men of all ages, as well as the girl’s budding attraction to her best friend, Esperanza. In and out of school, participating in wrestling and softball, attending church with her hysterically complicated family, and dominating boys in arm wrestling, she grapples with her burgeoning queerness and her emerging body, becoming wary of clarity rather than hoping for it.
In Concrete by Anne Garréta, translated by Emma Ramadan
Here we follow the mania that descends upon a family when the father finds himself in possession of a concrete mixer. As he seeks to modernize every aspect of their lives, disaster strikes when the younger sister is subsumed by concrete.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence. She urgently needs to get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to be reunited with her family. How this family came to occupy two different countries comes into focus. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love against a backdrop of civil war. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
An interpreter has come to the Hague to escape New York and work at the International Court. A woman of many languages and identities, she is looking for a place to finally call home. She’s drawn into simmering personal dramas: her lover, Adriaan, is separated from his wife but still entangled in his marriage. Her friend Jana witnesses a seemingly random act of violence, a crime the interpreter becomes increasingly obsessed with as she befriends the victim’s sister. And she’s pulled into an explosive political controversy when she’s asked to interpret for a former president accused of war crimes. She is soon pushed to the precipice, where betrayal and heartbreak threaten to overwhelm her, forcing her to decide what she wants from her life.
Jaguars' Tomb by Angelica Gorodischer, translated by Amalia Gladhart
A novel in three parts, written by three interconnected characters. Part one, "Hidden Variables" by María Celina Igarzábal, is narrated by Bruno Seguer. Seguer in turn is the author of the second part, "Recounting from Zero" ("Contar desde zero"), in which Evelynne Harrington, author of the third, is a central character. Harrington, finally, is the author of "Uncertainty" ("La incertidumbre"), whose protagonist is the dying Igarzábal. Each of the three parts revolves around the octagonal room that is alternately the jaguars' tomb, the central space of the torture center, and the heart of an abandoned house that hides an adulterous affair.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. (As the winner of Camp ToB 2021, Klara and the Sun receives an automatic berth in the 2022 Tournament of Books.)
Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich, translated by Howard Curtis
In a city smothering under the summer sun and an overdose of la dolce vita, Leo Gazarra spends his time in an alcoholic haze, bouncing between run-down hotels and the homes of his rich and well-educated friends, without whom he would probably starve. At 30, he's still drifting: between professions that mean nothing to him, between human relationships both ephemeral and frayed. Everyone he knows wants to graduate, get married, get rich—but not him. He has no ambitions whatsoever. Rather than toil and spin, isn't it better to submit to the sweet alienation of the Eternal City? Rome, sometimes a cruel and indifferent mistress, sometimes sweet and sublime. There can be no half-measures with her, either she’s the love of your life or you have to leave her.
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Coming of age in a free Black community in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else. And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her light-skinned mother, Libertie will not be able to pass for white. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it.
The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright
Fred Daniels, a Black man, is picked up by the police after a brutal double murder and tortured until he confesses to a crime he did not commit. After signing a confession, he escapes from custody and flees into the city’s sewer system.
Matrix by Lauren Groff
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey. At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie’s vision be bulwark enough?
Maxwell’s Demon by Steven Hall
Failed novelist Thomas Quinn is stuck writing short stories and audio scripts for other people’s characters. The bills are piling up, the dirty dishes are stacking in the sink, and the whole world seems to be hurtling toward entropic collapse. Then he gets a voicemail from his father, who has been dead for seven years. Thomas’s relationship with Stanley Quinn—a world-famous writer and erstwhile absent father—was always shaky, not least because Stanley always seemed to prefer his enigmatic assistant and protégé Andrew Black to his own son. Yet after Black published his first book, Cupid’s Engine, which went on to sell over a million copies, he disappeared completely. Now strange things are happening to Thomas, and he can’t help but wonder if Black is tugging at the seams of his world behind the scenes.
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
Rachel is 24, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a 90-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting. Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.
Nervous System by Lina Meruane, translated by Megan McDowell
Ella is an astrophysicist struggling with her doctoral thesis in the “country of the present” but she is from the “country of the past,” a place burdened in her memory by both personal and political tragedies. Consumed by writer’s block, she finds herself wishing she would become ill, which would provide time for writing and perhaps an excuse for her lack of progress. Then she begins to experience mysterious symptoms that doctors find undiagnosable. As Ella’s anxiety grows, the past begins to exert a strong gravitational pull, and other members of her family come into focus: the widowed Father, the Stepmother, the Twins, and the Firstborn. Each of them has their own experience of illness and violence, and eventually the systems that both hold them together and atomize them are exposed.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later, she discovers a dense patch of hair on the back of her neck. In the mirror, her canines suddenly look sharper than she remembers. Her husband, who travels for work five days a week, casually dismisses her fears from faraway hotel rooms. As the mother’s symptoms intensify, and her temptation to give in to her new dog impulses peak, she struggles to keep her alter-canine-identity secret. Seeking a cure at the library, she discovers the mysterious academic tome which becomes her bible, A Field Guide to Magical Women: A Mythical Ethnography, and meets a group of mommies involved in a multilevel-marketing scheme who may also be more than what they seem.
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
A woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?” Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy Barton recounts her complex, tender relationship with William, her first husband—and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidant. Recalling their college years, through the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a decades-long partnership.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
It’s March 2020 and a calamity is unfolding. A group of friends and friends-of-friends gathers in a country house to wait out the pandemic. Over the next six months new friendships and romances will take hold, while old betrayals will emerge, forcing each character to reevaulate whom they love and what matters most. The unlikely cast of characters include: a Russian-born novelist; his Russian-born psychiatrist wife; their precocious child obsessed with K-pop; a struggling Indian American writer; a wildly successful Korean American app developer; a global dandy with three passports; a young flame-thrower of an essayist, originally from the Carolinas; and a movie star, the Actor, whose arrival upsets the equilibrium of this chosen family.
Outlawed by Anna North
The day of her wedding, 17-year-old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows. She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.
Picnic in the Ruins by Todd Robert Petersen
Anthropologist Sophia Shepard is researching the impact of tourism on cultural sites in a remote national monument on the Utah-Arizona border when she crosses paths with two small-time criminals. The Ashdown brothers were hired to steal maps from a “collector” of Native American artifacts, but their ineptitude has alerted the local sheriff to their presence. Their employer, a former lobbyist seeking lucrative monument land that may soon be open to energy exploration, sends a fixer to clean up their mess. Suddenly, Sophia must put her theories to the test in the real world, and the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined.
Popisho by Leone Ross
Somewhere far away―or maybe right nearby―lies an archipelago called Popisho. A place of stunning beauty and incorrigible mischief, destiny and mystery, it is also a place in need of change. Xavier Redchoose is the macaenus of his generation, anointed by the gods to make each resident one perfect meal when the time is right. Anise, his long-lost love, is on a march toward reckoning with her healing powers. The governor’s daughter, Sonteine, still hasn’t come into her cors, but her corrupt father is demanding the macaenus make a feast for her wedding. Meanwhile, graffiti messages from an unknown source are asking hard questions. A storm is brewing.
The Promise by Damon Galgut
Haunted by an unmet promise, the Swart family loses touch after the death of their matriarch. Adrift, the lives of the three siblings move separately through the uncharted waters of South Africa; Anton, the golden boy who bitterly resents his life’s unfulfilled potential; Astrid, whose beauty is her power; and the youngest, Amor, whose life is shaped by a nebulous feeling of guilt. Reunited by four funerals over three decades, the dwindling family reflects the atmosphere of its country—one of resentment, renewal, and, ultimately, hope.
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.
Second Place by Rachel Cusk
A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. His provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally in the intersecting spaces of our internal and external worlds.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Soul's Day, but she simply won't leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading “with murderous attention,” must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.
Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke
Gerald, a mid-level employee of a New York–based public relations firm has been uploaded into the company’s internal Slack channels—at least his consciousness has. His colleagues assume it’s an elaborate gag to exploit the new work-from home policy, but now that Gerald’s productivity is through the roof, his bosses are only too happy to let him work from…wherever he says he is. Faced with the looming abyss of a disembodied life online, Gerald enlists his co-worker Pradeep to help him escape, and to find out what happened to his body. But the longer Gerald stays in the void, the more alluring and absurd his reality becomes.
Shaky Town by Lou Mathews
In these tales of working-class Los Angeles, a teenage girl is caught in the middle of a gang war and a priest has lost his faith and hit bottom. These characters live on a dangerous faultline but remain unshakable in their connections to one another.
The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate
Lucien moves to Los Angeles to be with his grandmother as she undergoes an experimental treatment for Alzheimer’s using the new drug, Memoroxin. An emerging photographer, he’s also running from the sudden death of his mother, a well-known artist whose legacy haunts him. Sophie has just landed the lead in the upcoming performance of La Sylphide with the Los Angeles Ballet Company. She still waitresses at the Chateau Marmont during her off hours, witnessing the recreational use of Memoroxin—or Mem—among the Hollywood elite. When Lucien and Sophie meet at the Center, founded by an ambitious yet conflicted doctor to treat patients who’ve abused Mem, they have no memory of how they got there—or why they feel so inexplicably drawn to each other. Is it attraction, or something they cannot remember from “before?”
Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman
East Coast novelist Patrick Hamlin has come to Hollywood with simple goals in mind: overseeing the production of a film adaptation of one of his books, preventing starlet Cassidy Carter’s disruptive behavior from derailing said production, and turning this last-ditch effort at career resuscitation into the sort of success that will dazzle his wife and daughter back home. But California is not as he imagined: Drought, wildfire, and corporate corruption are omnipresent, and the company behind a mysterious new brand of synthetic water seems to be at the root of it all. Patrick partners with Cassidy—after having been her reluctant chauffeur for weeks—and the two of them investigate the sun-scorched city’s darker crevices, where they discover that catastrophe resembles order until the last possible second.
The Space Between Two Deaths by Jamie Yourdon
In ancient Sumeria, only a thin veil separates the living from the dead. The lives of Ziz, her mother, Meshara, and her father, Temen, are disrupted when a mysterious crevasse rends the earth. Temen becomes obsessed with the mystery and, capturing a crow to guide him, he follows a path to the netherworld where he hopes to gain wisdom from his dead father. Yet he soon finds that ancestors don’t always provide the answers we need. In his absence, a grisly accident occurs on their farm—Meshara and Ziz are forced to flee. Friendless and alone, they must find a way to survive despite the brutalities of their landlord and devotees of the religious nation-state. Will the women revel in their new companionship or seek to find freedom elsewhere?
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E Harrow
It's Zinnia Gray's 21st birthday, which is an extra-special occasion, because it's the last she'll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, but the main fact for Zinnia is that no one who has it has lived to 22. Her best friend is intent on making Zin's last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, she founds herself cast into another world, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.
Subdivision by J. Robert Lennon
An unnamed woman checks into a guesthouse in a mysterious district known only as the Subdivision. With little more than a hand-drawn map and vague memories of her troubled past, the narrator ventures out in search of a job, an apartment, and a fresh start in life. Accompanied by an unusually assertive digital assistant named Cylvia, the narrator is drawn deeper into an increasingly strange, surreal, and threatening world, which reveals itself to her through a series of darkly comic encounters. A lovelorn truck driver…a mysterious child…a watchful crow. A cryptic birthday party. A baffling physics experiment in a defunct office tower where some calamity once happened. Through it all, the narrator is tempted and manipulated by the bakemono, a shape-shifting demon who poses a distinctly terrifying danger.
The Trees by Percival Everett
When a pair of detectives arrive in the rural town of Money, Miss., to investigate a series of brutal murders, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist white townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till. The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried.
Untraceable by Sergei Lebedev, translated by Antonina W. Bouis
Russian chemist Professor Kalitin is obsessed with developing an absolutely deadly, undetectable, and untraceable poison for which there is no antidote. But Kalitin becomes consumed by guilt over countless deaths from his Faustian pact to create the ultimate venom. When the Soviet Union collapses, the chemist defects and is given a new identity in Western Europe. After another Russian is murdered with Kalitin's poison, his cover is blown and he's drawn into an investigation of the death by Western agents. Two special forces killers are sent to silence him—using his own undetectable poison.
Wayward by Dana Spiotta
On the heels of the election of 2016, Samantha Raymond’s life begins to come apart: Her mother is ill, her teenage daughter is increasingly remote, and at 52 she finds herself staring into “the Mids”—that hour of supreme wakefulness between three and four in the morning in which women of a certain age suddenly find themselves contemplating motherhood, mortality, and, in this case, the state of our unraveling nation. When she falls in love with a beautiful, decrepit house in a hardscrabble neighborhood in Syracuse, she buys it on a whim and flees her suburban life—and her family—as she grapples with how to be a wife, a mother, and a daughter, in a country that is coming apart at the seams.
We Are Watching Eliza Bright by A.E. Osworth
Eliza Bright is living the dream as an elite video game coder at Fancy Dog Games, the first woman to ascend that high in the ranks—and some people want to make sure she’s the last. When Eliza’s report of workplace harassment is quickly dismissed, she's forced to take her frustrations to a journalist who blasts her story across the internet. She's fired and doxxed, and becomes a rallying figure for women everywhere. But she's also enraged the beast comprised of online male gamers—their unreliable chorus narrates our story. Soon, Eliza is in the cross-hairs of the gaming community, threatened and stalked as they monitor her every move online and across New York City.
We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida
Teenage Eulabee and her alluring best friend, Maria Fabiola, own the streets of Sea Cliff, their foggy, oceanside San Francisco neighborhood. They know the ins and outs of the homes and beaches, Sea Cliff’s hidden corners and eccentric characters—as well as the swanky all-girls’ school they attend. Their lives move along uneventfully, with afternoon walks by the ocean and weekend sleepovers. Then everything changes. Eulabee and Maria Fabiola have a disagreement about what they did or didn’t witness on the way to school one morning, and this creates a schism in their friendship. The rupture is followed by Maria Fabiola’s sudden disappearance—a potential kidnapping that shakes the quiet community and threatens to expose unspoken truths.
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated by Adrian Nathan West
A fictional examination of the lives of real-life scientists and thinkers whose discoveries resulted in moral consequences beyond their imagining. Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger—these are some of luminaries whose troubled lives we enter, seeing how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Our narrator, a woman questioning her place in the world, wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home acts as a companion and interlocutor: traversing the streets around her house, and in parks, piazzas, museums, stores, and coffee bars, she feels less alone. We follow her to the pool she frequents, and to the train station that leads to her mother, who is mired in her own solitude after her husband’s untimely death. Among those who appear on this woman’s path are colleagues with whom she feels ill at ease, casual acquaintances, and “him,” a shadow who both consoles and unsettles her. Until one day at the sea, both overwhelmed and replenished by the sun’s vital heat, her perspective will abruptly change.
The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura, translated by Lucy North
Almost every afternoon, the Woman in the Purple Skirt sits on the same park bench, where the local children make a game of trying to get her attention. Unbeknownst to her, she is being watched—by the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. The Woman in the Purple Skirt is single, she lives in a small apartment, and she is short on money—just like the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan, who lures her to a job as a housekeeper at a hotel, where she too is a housekeeper. Soon, the Woman in the Purple Skirt is having an affair with the boss and all eyes are on her. But no one knows or cares about the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. That’s the difference between her and the Woman in the Purple Skirt.
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