Maybe I say this every year, but I really mean it this time: 2020 looks like a fantastic year for fiction. Read on for the 30 works of literary fiction we’re most looking forward to checking out this year.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Putnam | December 31, 2019
Sometimes it can feel like it’s simply impossible to wade into a discussion of race and class. What is the right thing to say? How much of our own prejudices will be revealed? How can we talk about potentially hurtful behavior—and maybe change it—if we can’t talk about it? As a wholly original, deeply entertaining, compassionate story of both black and white people, their blind spots, weaknesses, strengths and missteps, Kiley Reid’s debut has the power to change the world. It has our January issue’s stamp of approval—as well as Reese Witherspoon’s.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Flatiron | January 21
In recent years, a number of authors have explored the global refugee crisis in excellent books. (Click here for some of the best immigrant and refugee novels.) With horrific events and terrifying threats on every page, Cummins’ buzzy, anxiety-inducing latest can be best described as a refugee thriller as it follows a Mexican mother and son who hop trains and skirt death in a desperate bid for the border.
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
Random House | February 25
An apeirogon is a shape with an infinite number of sides, and the latest novel from Colum McCann conjures this prismatic structure through 1,001 short paragraphs to tell the stories of a Palestinian man, an Israeli man and their daughters over the course of a single day. It’s based on a true story and incorporates real transcripts in one of the most daring, ambitious books of the year.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
Riverhead | March 3
Award-winning author James McBride takes us to south Brooklyn in 1969, a place filled with people you’ll never forget, from the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church to the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, up-and-coming drug runners, local cops and all the black and Latinx neighbors caught in the middle. Amid this world of little lives, money and stolen chances, an old church deacon named Sportcoat shoots the housing project’s drug dealer—and from this opening scene spirals a mystery, a history, a chance at love, slapstick scenes, boisterous wisecracks and so much more.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
Harper | March 3
The National Book Award-winning author digs into her own family history for her latest novel about a night watchman at a factory in North Dakota who joins with his niece to fight against the Termination Act of 1953. It’s a heartbreaker (is there a Louise Erdrich novel that isn’t?) as well as a loving depiction of the Chippewa community.
The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
Holt | March 10
In what may be the biggest book of the year, Hilary Mantel brings her bestselling trilogy (following Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both winners of the Man Booker Prize) to an end. The book is strictly embargoed, but we know it explores the final years of Thomas Cromwell’s life, beginning in 1536—the year that shaped Henry VIII as a merciless tyrant.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
William Morrow | March 10
This complicated #MeToo novel is one that everyone will be talking about. Through the story of a woman looking back on her teenage relationship with her much older English teacher, this debut takes on questions of responsibility, guilt and how manipulation and abuse appear from both within and outside of relationships.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf | March 24
Station Eleven tops so many of our favorite-of-all-time lists that our office copy of Emily St. John Mandel’s latest novel is an extremely hot commodity. Books that unfold with tantalizing details don’t often work this well, but this is a masterclass of never revealing too much or too little, laying down a plot as brilliantly constructed as A Visit from the Goon Squad. Plus, the characters are unforgettable, from the financial criminal to the bartender at a secluded hotel.
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
Algonquin | April 7
In her first adult novel in almost 15 years, Julia Alvarez offers a tale both compact and heart-heavy that brims with love of language. It’s the story of an immigrant writer who has just retired when her husband dies, and then amid her grief, her sister goes missing and a pregnant, undocumented young woman appears at her front door.
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
William Morrow | April 14
We selected Paulette Jiles’ quiet historical masterpiece News of the World as our Best Book of 2016, so we’re keeping an eye out for her follow-up, set at the end of the Civil War. It follows a reluctant Confederate fiddle player with a chip on his shoulder as he travels through Texas, trying to find his way to the Irish woman who stole his heart.
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
Penguin Press | April 21
No one’s work inspires better discussion than Ottessa Moshfegh’s. It seems that for every person who loves her work, there’s someone who completely disagrees—which is, in my opinion, one of the best things about reading. Her latest is a sinister tale of an elderly widow who finds a distressing note pinned to a tree near her new neighborhood.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Viking | April 21
There are few debuts as beloved as The Secret Life of Bees, and if she’d wanted, Sue Monk Kidd could’ve pulled a Harper Lee and just produced that one spectacular work. Fortunately, though, Kidd has continued to deliver great stories. She’s now on her fourth novel, this one set during the first century, when a young woman named Ana encounters 18-year-old Jesus.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Riverhead | May 5
The latest from bookstore owner, bestselling author and beloved human Emma Straub is likely to be the book that every single person will be reading this summer (just a guess). Set in a small town in the Hudson Valley, it’s about a woman who looks back with a shocking, fresh perspective on her years as a parent with young children, and about her children and grandchildren as well.
Memoirs and Misinformation by Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon
Knopf | May 5
It’s not often that an actor trying out fiction writing will make one of our most anticipated lists. Too often these novels are the result of just not hearing “no” enough. But for better or for worse, I’m really looking forward to this one. It’s a (deep breath) satirical, semi-autobiographical “anti-memoir” that includes Nicholas Cage and Charlie Kaufman among its cast, and is co-written with the author of an investment banking novel called Mergers & Acquisitions. It sounds bananas.
Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin
Bloomsbury | May 5
What is it that holds us together, through years and big changes? It can feel indescribable—unless someone like Gail Godwin gets her hands on it. An award-winning, powerhouse storyteller who has brought us so many smart, heartfelt novels like Grief Cottage and Flora, Godwin delivers a glimpse into the bond sustained by two women ever since they first became friends in college.
Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks
Del Rey | May 12
To many zombie fiction fans, Max Brooks’ World War Z was nothing less than a bible. Now, Brooks is taking on Bigfoot‚ and if you believe this legendary creature is a peaceful beast, now’s the time to look away. A journal is recovered in the aftermath of a bloody event, revealing the tragic, terrifying story of a small Pacific Northwest town that’s cut off from the rest of civilization after Mt. Rainier erupts.
These Women by Ivy Pochoda
Ecco | May 19
Ivy Pochoda’s novels hit that sweet spot between literary fiction and thrilling genre fiction, which makes it perfect for fans of Oyinkan Braithwaite. Pochoda’s latest novel, like Wonder Valley before it, is set in Los Angeles. It’s a serial killer tale that promises to focus less on the dangerous man and more on the five women caught up in his terrible game.
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Random House | June 2
In his first novel since 2014, the twice Booker-shortlisted author of Cloud Atlas chronicles the rise of a titular psychedelic-rock band in late-1960s London, from its successes and album releases to its members’ drug use and tragedies, their formation of a family and all their attempts to make sense of the world. It’ll be a big and big-hearted exploration of fame, art and—perhaps the most elusive thing to write about—music.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Riverhead | June 2
We’ve waited four long years for this follow-up to The Mothers from Brit Bennett, one of the National Book Award Foundation’s “5 Under 35,” and it’s so close we can taste it. Bennett’s latest tells the story of twin girls from a small Southern black community who grow up to live completely different lives: one as a black woman still in that community, the other passing as white.
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
Europa | June 9
Just bring us absolutely anything connected to Elena Ferrante, from her Neapolitan Quartet (obviously) to her Guardian column to any heated discussions about her “unmasking.” There are no details for this one, though the opening line is already the stuff of legend: “Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly.”
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
Random House | June 16
Imbolo Mbue’s 2016 debut, Behold the Dreamers, was widely celebrated, and her second novel sounds tough but necessary, as it tells the story of a small African village living in fear of an American oil company.
Mother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman
Scribner | June 23
Think the unreliable and amnesiac narrator is played out? Think again, because Robin Wasserman, author of Girls on Fire, is preparing to completely upend our expectations for this trope. The woman at the heart of this story, who is diagnosed with dissociative fugue, is being studied and investigated—but of course, she’s more than just an experiment.
The Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama
HarperVia | July 7
It’s been far too long since we’ve had a book from Gail Tsukiyama—seven years!—but in the interim, she founded a nonprofit called Waterbridge Outreach: Books + Water, which provides literacy materials, books and water in developing countries. Her new novel follows a Japanese American family in Hawai'i, alternating between the Mauna Loa eruption in 1935 to decades prior.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Riverhead | August 4
Akwaeke Emezi occupies a special place in fiction where rules are meant to be bent, where each new character is more unexpected than the one before. FX is currently developing a series based on her debut, Freshwater, and her YA novel, Pet, was one of our favorites of 2019. Her next adult novel centers on an adolescent who is mysterious and different (much like with her previous two books) in what promises to be another powerful tale of identity.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
Little, Brown | September 8
Talk about timely. The author of American Dervish and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced leads us into a politically fraught autumn with a story about an American son and his immigrant father living in post-9/11 America.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Bloomsbury | September 15
Susanna Clarke’s 2004 bestseller, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, reportedly sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, so I assume the squeals for her sophomore novel can be heard from space. The titular character, who lives in a place called the House, is enlisted by his friend, the Other, to help with a scientific project that leads them into some horrifying discoveries.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Knopf | September 15
Yaa Gyasi’s sweeping 2016 debut, Homegoing, was set in the 18th-century British African colony that is now Ghana, where two half-sisters are born and live nearly intersecting lives. Her follow-up takes readers to Alabama, where we meet a Ghanian family encumbered with grief. Daughter Gifty, a doctoral student of neuroscience, seeks to understand this grief through science and faith.
Daddy by Emma Cline
Random House | Fall 2020
The author of The Girls, her debut novel inspired by Charles Manson and his followers, returns with a short story collection.
Memorial by Bryan Washington
Riverhead | Fall 2020
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Random House | Fall 2020
If you loved Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, a novel inspired by the life of first lady Laura Bush, you’ll join us in waiting not-so-patiently for her next novel, which imagines Hillary Rodham’s life if she had refused to marry Bill Clinton.