Humor may be the hardest thing to write. Everyone’s sense of humor is different, and it takes a very special person to see the hilarity in day-to-day life, so it’s understandably hard to find a novel that truly makes you laugh. For me, Elizabeth Strout, Gail Honeyman and Jen Beagin make me laugh (though, honestly, Mary Roach’s nonfiction is my go-to laugh machine).
In 2019, we’ve enjoyed a number of good comic tales—but they’re dark, a little wicked, and even when they’re a little fantastical, they’re deeply, utterly real. Here are five of our favorites.
Gravity Is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty
The stronger the wellness and self-help industry grows, the more we need fiction to poke fun at it. Moriarty had me guffawing from the opening pages of her debut, the story of a woman who attends a retreat to discover the mystery behind The Guidebook, a strange guide that has been mailed to her for 20 years, one chapter at a time, and certainly not in order. But the humor serves to break down any skepticism in the reader (because the premise definitely gets stranger), allowing them to be vulnerable and receptive to the underlying message of loss, grief and recovery.
Live a Little by Howard Jacobson
There’s always a place on our reading lists for late-in-life love stories and tales of grumpy old men and women. In Jacobson’s latest novel, the humor is highbrow and crotchety, as two nonagenarians strike up a conversation that blooms into a friendship and more. Of the two characters, snarky Beryl Dusinbery’s very bad attitude was my favorite, but I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed her snide remarks without the counterbalance of Shimi Carmelli. It takes a little while to get to the wittiest parts, but patient readers will be rewarded.
There’s a Word for That by Sloane Tanen
It’s a feat to write a novel about a flawed family that makes the reader laugh—but not at the characters. I’m not interested in ridicule or judgment of complicated, ridiculous people, and neither is Tanen. Her latest novel, about two crumbling celebrity families that collide at a rehab clinic, will appeal to optimistic readers who love Hollywood stories and thoughtful takedowns of delusional, self-involved characters.
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
I’m just as surprised as you are that the story of a divorced dad being inundated with sexual advances via his dating app is necessary reading for 2019, but here we are. Brodesser-Akner is vicious as she nails the woe-is-me cry of a man who has no idea how much of a fool he is. For divorcees, for dating-app users, for anyone trying to understand what love is or what marriage is, this is the book. But if you’re not sure if this one appeals to you, I suggest trying it on audiobook. Reader Allyson Ryan nails the satirical tone, so you’ll never miss a punchline.
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
Who, I thought as I started reading Buxton’s debut novel earlier this year, who am I going to recommend this book to?! The answer is: weirdos with an outstanding sense of humor. It’s a philosophical zombie novel narrated by a Cheetos-loving, foul-mouthed crow who sets out on a journey to try and save humanity. You already know if this appeals to you just from that line—so check it out, hug your pets and then blow your friends’ minds by telling them all about the novel you just read.