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All Literary Fiction Coverage

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

The engrossing 10th novel from Nobel laureate Gurnah is filled with compassion and historical insight.

Afterlives book cover

All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

Bitingly funny and sweetly earnest, Mathews’ debut is one of those rare novels that feels just like life.

All This Could Be Different

The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li

Not since Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend has a novel so deftly probed the magical and sometimes destructive friendships that can occur between two girls.

The Book of Goose

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah

When your heritage and ancestry are the reasons for your oppression, to whom can you turn in order to survive, but to family? Hokeah’s exceptional debut novel follows a Native American man’s life through the many leaves of his family tree.

Calling for a Blanket Dance

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Egan’s empathetic interest in human behavior is what drives The Candy House, making her companion novel to A Visit From the Goon Squad more than a literary experiment.

The Candy House

The Consequences by Manuel Muñoz

In this story collection, Muñoz forges a new Latinx narrative, wherein all aspects of Latinx life are displayed with richness and complexity.

Book jacket image for The Consequences by Manuel Munoz

Either/Or by Elif Batuman

Selin, the hero of Batuman’s The Idiot, returns with a voice that is more mature, reflective and droll.

Either Or book jacket

The Furrows by Namwali Serpell

Serpell’s award-winning debut novel, The Old Drift, was a genre-defying epic about three generations of Zambian families, and her purposely disconcerting follow-up will reinforce readers’ appreciation of her daring experimentation and keen talent.

Book jacket image for The Furrows by Namwali Serpell

How It Went by Wendell Berry

Taken together, the 13 stories in Berry’s How It Went create a tale that gently unwinds and doubles back on itself, not so much like a river but more like a flowering vine.

Book jacket image for How It Went by Wendell Berry

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

Escoffery’s connected stories offer an imaginative, fresh take on being a man and nonwhite immigrant in America.

If I Survive You book jacket

Lessons by Ian McEwan

This scathing, unsettling novel posits that knaves and heroes come in all guises.

Lessons cover

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Garmus’ devastating and funny debut novel blows the lid off simplistic myths about the 1950s.

Lessons in Chemistry book cover

Natural History by Andrea Barrett

The stories in Barrett’s dazzling collection demonstrate that while history distills events, fiction can bring messy humanity to life.

Natural History book cover

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Ng is undoubtedly at the top of her game as she portrays an American society overcome by fear.

Our Missing Hearts book cover

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Despite its doomed Midwestern setting, Gunty’s debut novel makes storytelling seem like the most fun a person can have.

The Rabbit Hutch book jacket

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

It’s impossible to predict how, exactly, you’ll fall in love with this novel, but it’s an eventuality you can’t escape.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow book cover

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Diaz’s second novel is a beautifully composed masterpiece that examines the insidious disparities between rich and poor, truth and fiction.

Trust book cover

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Stuart’s follow-up to Shuggie Bain is a marvelous feat of storytelling, a mix of tender emotion and grisly violence.

Young Mungo book cover

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

The year’s best fiction included a remarkable number of groundbreaking story collections—some deeply interconnected like Oscar Hokeah’s and Jonathan Escoffery’s, others bound mostly by theme and setting, such as Manuel Muñoz’s. We also reveled in several major releases from well-established authors, including Celeste Ng, Ian McEwan, Yiyun Li and Gabrielle Zevin.

Sophomore novels from Hernan Diaz, Namwali Serpell, Douglas Stuart and Elif Batuman surpassed the high bars of their debuts, and first-timers Tess Gunty, Sarah Thankam Mathews and Bonnie Garmus made a hell of a splash.

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Kliph Nesteroff’s We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy is an intriguing look at how Native Americans have influenced the world of comedy. Starting with the Wild West shows of the 1800s, Nesteroff chronicles the presence and impact of Native comedic performers through the decades. His lively narrative draws on in-depth research and interviews with today’s up-and-coming comedians. Entertainment stereotypes and representation in media are but a few of the book’s rich discussion topics.

Set in Nashville in the 1920s, Margaret Verble’s novel When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky tells the story of a Cherokee woman named Two Feathers who performs as a horse-diver at the Glendale Park Zoo. After an accident occurs while Two is performing, strange events take place at the zoo, including sightings of ghosts. Two finds a friend in Clive the zookeeper, and together they try to make sense of the odd goings-on at Glendale Park. An enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Verble paints an extraordinary portrait of connection in defiance of racism in this moving novel.

In Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America, Nicole Eustace builds a fascinating narrative around a historical incident: the killing of a Seneca hunter by white fur traders in 1722 Pennsylvania. The murder occurred right before a summit between the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee and the English colonists, and it heightened tensions between the two sides at a fragile moment. Eustace brings the era and its seminal events to vivid life as she examines Native attitudes toward retribution and reparation. 

Cree Canadian author Michelle Good’s novel Five Little Indians follows a group of First Nation youngsters who must find their way in the world after growing up during the 1960s in a Canadian residential school, a boarding school for First Nation children designed to isolate them from their culture. As adults in Vancouver, British Columbia, Lucy, Howie, Clara, Maisie and Kenny struggle to make lives for themselves and escape painful memories of the past. Clara joins the American Indian Movement, while Lucy dreams of building a future with Kenny. Good explores the repercussions of Canada’s horrific residential school system through the divergent yet unified stories of her characters, crafting a multilayered novel filled with yearning and hope.

These Indigenous stories are perfect for your book club, from a history of Native comedians to the true story of a murder in colonial Pennsylvania.
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Two words occupy the central focus of Cassandra Williams’ existence: “Where’s Wayne?” While seeking the answer to this question, readers of The Furrows: An Elegy, Namwali Serpell’s mesmerizing and endlessly thought-provoking second novel, should keep the book’s opening lines in mind: “I don’t want to tell you what happened. I want to tell you how it felt.” 

Narrator Cassandra, or Cee, describes how her 7-year-old brother, Wayne, drowned in her care while at the beach when she was 12. His body was never recovered. As an adult looking back on the event, Cee admits that her initial account of the tragedy “must have been incoherent, inconsistent, perhaps self-contradictory.” That statement becomes an understatement as the novel progresses.

True to the subtitle, this elegy laments not only Wayne’s death but also the end of Cee’s life as she knew it, and ultimately the dissolution of her family. Cee’s mother, who remains convinced that Wayne is alive despite Cee’s insistence that he is dead, starts a nonprofit for missing children called Vigil. Eventually, Cee’s father moves away to start a new family. 

As Cee speaks with different therapists, the details of her story begin to vary: Wayne was hit by a car; no, he fell off a carousel. “I’ve been trained my whole life to tell stories to strangers,” Cee reveals, describing how she rearranges her “abacus beads of memories.” She believes she encounters an adult Wayne more than once, and she even has a sizzling affair with a mysterious man who calls himself Wayne Williams. Despite the story’s blurred but precisely chiseled layers of reality, The Furrows remains sharply focused, even when, midway through, this new Wayne suddenly takes over as narrator. 

Serpell’s award-winning debut novel, The Old Drift (2019), was a genre-defying epic about three generations of Zambian families, and her purposely disconcerting second novel will reinforce readers’ appreciation of her daring experimentation and keen talent. Serpell, who was born in Zambia and raised in a Baltimore suburb, is a Harvard professor whose book of essays, Stranger Faces, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Having lost an older sister when she was a teenager, she writes convincingly about undulating waves of grief, with intriguing nods to such literary forebears as Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston and Edgar Allan Poe. 

​​True to her opening lines, Serpell lets readers know exactly how Cee feels as she mourns, as grief “tugs [her] back into the scooped water, the furrows, those relentless grooves. This is the incomplete, repeated shape of it: sail into the brim of life, sink back into the cave of death, again and again.” Turbulent, poetic and haunting, The Furrows is a stellar achievement.

Namwali Serpell’s award-winning debut novel, The Old Drift, was a genre-defying epic about three generations of Zambian families, and her purposely disconcerting follow-up will reinforce readers’ appreciation of her daring experimentation and keen talent.

It’s been seven years since the publication of John Irving’s last novel (Avenue of Mysteries), so for fans who’ve followed him over the course of a career spanning more than half a century, The Last Chairlift will feel like settling into a well-worn pair of slippers. They’ll have plenty of time to savor that comfortable sensation in this 900-page family story that’s packed with emotion, insight and compassion for our flawed humanity.

“My life could be a movie,” writes Adam Brewster, the first-person narrator of the novel, and there’s definitely a cinematic quality to the story. (The novel includes two of Adam’s full-length screenplays, and a character from the film business plays a central role.) Like Irving, Adam was born in 1942, raised in the town of Exeter, New Hampshire, and is a novelist with a “disaster-prone imagination” who writes several bestselling books after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. These are far from the only correlations between creator and protagonist.

The Last Chairlift follows Adam from birth through late middle age, and much of the story is animated by his search for the man who fathered him in Aspen, Colorado, at the real-life Hotel Jerome. Adam is raised by his ski instructor mother, Rachel, and, as he enters his teens, a stepfather, Elliot Barlow. Elliot eventually undergoes a gender transition, and Rachel settles into a long-term relationship with Molly, whom she meets at a New Hampshire ski resort. Two other characters play major roles: Adam’s cousin Nora and her nonspeaking partner, Emily, who perform a standup routine called “Two Dykes, One Who Talks” at a New York City comedy club with the lugubrious name of the Gallows Lounge.

Along with raising questions of sexual identity and gender bias, The Last Chairlift nods prominently to Irving’s earlier novels The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany, and features many of his familiar narrative flourishes: murders, wrestling, spectacular accidents (a lightning strike and an avalanche-caused train derailment, for starters), pointed social commentary on subjects such as the Vietnam War and the AIDS epidemic, and loads of dark humor. Irving has long acknowledged his debt to Charles Dickens, and the novel does have its Dickensian moments, but the work whose spirit hovers most prominently over this story is Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, a favorite of several characters and a frequent reference point.

“Unrevised, real life is just mess,” Adam writes in one of his screenplays, and Irving has served up a substantial helping of that messiness in this empathetic novel. With Irving celebrating his 80th birthday earlier this year, his publisher has announced that The Last Chairlift will be his last big novel. For all the enjoyment more modest works may bring, this one is a fitting valediction to his distinguished literary career. 

With John Irving celebrating his 80th birthday earlier this year, his publisher has announced that The Last Chairlift will be his last big novel. For all the enjoyment more modest works may bring, this one is a fitting valediction to his distinguished literary career.
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Kevin Chen’s dark and eerie novel opens with a question: “Where are you from?” This seemingly simple question reverberates throughout Ghost Town, and though its many characters are all desperate for an answer, satisfaction eludes them. Watching them try—as they tumble through their lives and wrestle with their complicated relationships to both home and family—makes for a rich and layered reading experience.

Ghost Town centers on the Chen family. Patriarch Cliff makes a living as a small-time merchant in a rural Taiwanese town. Cliff and his wife, Cicada, are disappointed by the births of their five daughters before finally having two sons. Keith, the youngest, becomes a writer and eventually leaves Taiwan for Germany, hungry to get out from under the weight of familial expectations. He falls in love with a German man, whom he eventually murders.

The novel opens with Keith’s return home after years in jail. His homecoming coincides with the Ghost Festival, a time when spirits visit the world of the living, who in turn make offerings to honor the ghosts and ease their suffering. Several chapters are narrated by ghosts, but they’re not just characters. Their presence permeates the book as a constant humming backdrop—the ghosts of the dead and the might-have-been, the ghosts of inherited trauma and domestic violence, the ghosts of memory.

It’s a dramatic setup, but the first two-thirds of Ghost Town are deliciously slow, lingering in the details and inviting readers into the characters’ internal lives. Keith muses for pages about the changes to the swimming pool where he learned to swim. Betty, his sister who now lives in Taipei, remembers a bookshop she frequented as a child. Middle sister Belinda describes her rich husband’s domestic abuse with chilling detachment. This attention to the ongoing drama and minuate of the family’s life causes the larger mystery—why Keith murdered his boyfriend—to recede into the background.

The final third contains the kind of grand revelations that can sometimes feel overwrought, especially after such a slow, meandering journey through memory and loss. But Chen sets it up masterfully enough that, instead, the ending feels inevitable.

Winner of both the Taiwan Literature Award and the Golden Tripod Award (one of the highest honors in Taiwanese publishing), Ghost Town is full of gauzy prose and dark imagery. Darryl Sterk’s translation has a dreamlike quality, and it’s clear how much care he took to render the nuances of the original Taiwanese into English. This isn’t an easy read, but like a ghost, it lingers.

This dark and eerie novel isn’t an easy read, but like a ghost, it lingers.
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Ask a mathematician about the distinction between zero and nothing, and prepare for a clear answer: Zero, they’ll say, is a numerical value. Nothing, to put it simply, is a concept that represents an absence or something of no importance. At some point, everyone encounters people or power structures that make them feel like nothing. But what if “nothing” were a tangible entity that could be weaponized against perceived enemies? That’s the wickedly clever conceit Percival Everett plays with in Dr. No.

The novel’s title, a deliberate reference to Ian Fleming’s 1958 James Bond novel that became a 1962 film, tips off readers that a goof on the secret agent story awaits them. As fans of Everett’s previous work know, hijinks are always in the service of serious themes, usually related to race in America. In this case, they involve two men: a “slightly racially ambiguous” billionaire who yearns to be a Bond villain and a Black professor whose specialty, quite literally, is nothing.

The professor calls himself Wala Kitu, the Tagalog and Swahili terms, respectively, for nothing. He teaches mathematics at Brown University and has spent his career “contemplating and searching for nothing. . . . I work very hard and wish I could say that I have nothing to show for it,” because “to experience the power of nothing would be to understand everything; to harness the power of nothing would be to negate all that is.” 

Someone with nefarious intentions might want to harness that power, too. One such criminal is John Milton Bradley Sill, who gives Wala $3 million to help him enact a plan: Break into the vault at Fort Knox and steal a shoebox that contains a special kind of nothing, then purloin a similarly destructive kind of nothing from the Naval Observatory. Sill intends to use these tools against those who “have never given anything to us,” meaning Black people. “It’s time,” Sill says, “we gave nothing back.”

That’s the sort of twisted logic that readers find throughout Dr. No, along with clever references and character names, including Wala’s one-legged bulldog, Trigo (short for trigonometry), and his colleague Eigen Vector, a straight-laced sort who’s excited about helping a supervillain, because, as she says, she wants to do “bang, bang, stabby, stabby, spy stuff.” 

The result is a memorable work that has fun with spy-novel tropes while also addressing the treatment of Black people in America. Dr. No takes a while to get going, but there’s plenty of classic Everett sophistication to delight his fans. “Nothing matters,” Wala says. In more ways than one, this brilliant novel demonstrates how true that can be.

What if “nothing” were a tangible entity that could be used against perceived enemies? That’s the wickedly clever conceit Percival Everett plays with in his novel Dr. No.

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, we turn to all things cozy—and we can think of nothing more heartwarming than an unexpected friendship. Here are the platonic pairings that made the BookPage editors feel all snuggly inside.

The Secret Place

In Tana French’s The Secret Place, Detective Stephen Moran gets his chance to join the Murder Squad when 16-year-old Holly Mackey brings him new evidence in an investigation into a murder that took place on the grounds of her boarding school. Stephen heads to Holly’s school to investigate alongside Antoinette Conway, the original detective assigned to the case. Their first interactions are anything but promising, given their diametrically opposed approaches to their work. Stephen masks his ambition behind a friendly, unassuming persona, but Antoinette, who is biracial, has long since given up on playing nice with people determined to hate her due to her gender, racial background or both. As they interrogate Holly and her friends over the course of one long day, a tentative respect begins to grow between the two of them, thanks to their mutual intellect and their common experience of clawing their way up the ranks from working-class backgrounds. It could be the start of a beautiful partnership, and French makes readers as invested in Stephen and Antoinette’s burgeoning friendship as they are in the mystery’s solution.

—Savanna, Associate Editor

Frank and the Bad Surprise

I’m going to cut to the chase here. The titular character in Martha Brockenbrough and Jon Lau’s Frank and the Bad Surprise is a cat who lives a good life with his humans, and the bad surprise is a new puppy. The puppy interrupts Frank’s naps, has gross puppy breath and eats Frank’s food, so Frank decides it’s time to move on. “Good luck with that puppy,” he writes in a note to his humans. “You will need it.” There’s so much to love about this illustrated chapter book, from the way Brockenbrough’s wry prose perfectly captures Frank’s feline perspective to the way Lau’s paintings bring Frank’s personality to life. In several images, you’ll swear you can almost hear Frank purring. But the best part is the way Brockenbrough engineers a moving reconciliation between the two former enemies, neatly sidestepping schlock and sentiment and going straight for understated emotional truth. It’s positively the cat’s pajamas.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Lolly Willowes

In Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1926 novel, an aging woman breaks away from her grating London family and has a go at independent life in the countryside. After keeping house for her father and brother for over 40 years, Laura Willowes feels liberated in Buckinghamshire—finally free to take long walks in nature and enjoy her own company. Until her nephew visits. Suddenly she is reduced to her old Aunt Lolly self again—put upon and bedeviled—and she becomes so desperate that she calls out for help. Luckily Satan answers, and the novel transforms into a fantastical tale of Lolly’s burgeoning talents as a witch. Along the way, the devil turns out to be a chummy pal: giving Lolly the power to hex her nephew, listening to her complaints about society’s treatment of women. (Satan, as it turns out, is a compassionate and attentive listener.) It’s a darkly humorous novel of a middle-aged woman who is so desperate for autonomy that she’s willing to make a deal—or at least make friends—with the devil.

—Christy, Associate Editor

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders’ first (and so far, only) novel brings together some odd characters. In Lincoln in the Bardo, a group of ghosts works together to save Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, Willie, from a place between life and death. Here in the bardo, the ghosts know all of one another’s quirks and faults and dreams and regrets. They’ve come to love one another, and as a reader, I found it easy to love them too. The most unlikely best friendship in the bardo is between middle-aged, carnally frustrated Hans Vollman and Roger Bevins III, a heartbroken young man who took his own life and now bursts involuntarily into poetry about the beauty of the world he left behind. One of Saunders’ most remarkable gifts is his ability to make even unpleasant characters deeply befriendable. He outdoes himself with this book, crafting 166 distinct, compelling voices and interspersing them with excerpts from real and invented historical sources. He fantastically spins a moment in American history into a philosophical exploration of how grief can either isolate or unite us.

—Phoebe Farrell-Sherman, Subscriptions

The Kindest Lie

People aren’t all that different, even though it often feels that way, and therein lies one of the key superpowers of the “unlikely friendship” trope: bridging polarized experiences to discover where people actually overlap, where one person’s hand fits snugly into another’s. Nancy Johnson’s debut, The Kindest Lie, is one of the novels that most successfully encompasses both the political optimism of 2008 and the insidious racial divisions that were worsened by the economic stress of the Great Recession. Johnson’s protagonist, Ruth, is a Black chemical engineer who returns to her Rust Belt hometown to seek out the child she placed for adoption when she was 17. Upon her return, Ruth bonds with Midnight, an 11-year-old white boy who is mostly being raised by his grandmother but still hopes for connection with his neglectful, bigoted father. Ruth’s and Midnight’s experiences of race, class and privilege are very different, but they’re both lonely, lost and understandably flawed people, and together they find something akin to belonging in a heartbreaking world.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

You’ve got a friend in me! These books feature platonic pairings that made us feel all warm and snuggly inside.
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Throughout history, female healers have been cast out, feared and labeled as witches, even though their work in herbalism and midwifery helped shape medicine as we know it today. In fiction, the witch—that wise, rebellious female character—can be even more disruptive, her healing gifts even more supernaturally powerful.

Nettle & Bone 

T. Kingfisher’s dark (but still extremely funny) fantasy novel is full of female characters who carve out power for themselves: protagonist Princess Marra, who cherishes the peace of her convent home; the Sister Apothecary at Marra’s convent; and two frighteningly powerful fairy godmothers. But the only witch of the bunch is the dust-wife, and folks, she is an icon. A necromancer who tends a graveyard, the dust-wife can talk to the dead, keeps a demon-possessed chicken as a familiar, and agrees to help kill Marra’s sister’s abusive husband even though she believes their quest will fail—because wicked men should be held accountable. Despite her ruthlessly realistic view of the world, the dust-wife values the optimism of other characters, even Marra’s fairy godmother, Agnes, a sweet older dear who gives only good health as a blessing and frets over baby chicks. The dust-wife and Agnes bicker their way to becoming ride-or-die besties, and I would read an entire series about their adventures. 

—Savanna, Associate Editor

Little Witch Hazel

If you look up charming in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure you’ll find the entry illustrated with a portrait of the titular hero of Phoebe Wahl’s delightful picture book, Little Witch Hazel. In four short tales—one for each season of the year—Wahl captures the close-knit forest community to which Little Witch Hazel belongs. In “The Blizzard,” we see Little Witch Hazel make her rounds, visiting a chipmunk with a toothache, a mole with an injured paw and Mrs. Rabbit and her four new kits. Wahl also conveys how the residents of Mosswood Forest care for Little Witch Hazel: Her friends Wendell and Nadine encourage her to take a much-needed break from her errands on an idyllic summer day, and later in the year, Otis the owl rescues her from a fierce snowstorm. With a classical tone, Wahl offers a still-revolutionary portrayal of a female healer and the difference she makes in her community.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Year of Wonders

Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders fictionalizes the true story of a small English village that was nearly overcome by the bubonic plague in 1665. When the local rector convinces the town to close their gate to prevent the plague’s spread, young widow Anna Frith finds herself quarantined with a few hundred of her neighbors, watching their numbers dwindle over the course of an extraordinary year. Among those neighbors are Mem and Anys Gowdie, an aunt and niece whose extensive knowledge of herblore gets them accused of, then executed for, witchcraft. When Anna visits the Gowdies’ abandoned house shortly after, she realizes that all of their dried herbs and foraged weeds, their tinctures and potions—the very things that had gotten them killed—are what had kept the pair from catching the Black Death before their violent ends. As Anna learns the Gowdies’ trade and brings their healing knowledge to the rest of the town, the novel becomes a moving portrait of women’s community-centered heroism in the face of unjust persecution.

—Christy, Associate Editor

A Discovery of Witches

Tenured professor Diana Bishop is a brilliant woman—a formidable entity in her own right—but she is also a witch with impressive magical powers. The hero of Deborah Harkness’ bestselling All Souls trilogy turned away from the magical community after her parents’ untimely death, swearing off her family legacy and instead creating a name for herself in academia. But her worlds crash together when she discovers a long-lost enchanted manuscript, which awakens an enormous power within her. Diana is the first person to have seen the manuscript in 150 years, and suddenly the whole magical community is after her. A centuries-old vampire named Matthew Clairmont becomes her protector as she navigates a dangerous world that she had purposely avoided for most of her life. Hunted for her power and knowledge, Diana realizes that she can no longer hide from her destiny. She must embrace her power, her magical legacy and herself—her whole self.

—Meagan, Brand & Production Designer

Red Clocks

Human interdependence is at the heart of Leni Zumas’ 2018 novel, which shifts among the stories of four adult women and one girl, all living in a small Oregon fishing town. But this is no gentle sisterhood novel, as Red Clocks finds female characters pitted against one another in an America where reproductive freedoms have been severely limited and single-parent adoption is outlawed. Gin Percival, a reclusive healer who’s feared as a witch by superstitious fishermen, lives firmly outside the expectations placed on women: She’s messy and smells like onions, prefers animals over people and is “uninterested in being pleasing to other persons.” She also provides herbal remedies and menstrual care for the women who visit her, which means she’s operating outside the law. Through Gin’s story, which culminates in her arrest and subsequent trial, Zumas draws a connection between the 17th-century practice of blaming women for any misfortune and our contemporary society’s concern with women who buck social norms and don’t care one bit what you think about it.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

All hail the menders, rebel healers and witchy women.
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True crime writer Gage Chandler, the protagonist of John Darnielle’s Devil House, jumps at the opportunity to live at the “Devil House,” a building where two gruesome, possibly satanic murders took place in 1986. Blamed on some rebellious teenagers, the case remains unsolved. Once Gage moves in and starts researching the murders, he’s drawn into a deeper examination of the significance of his own work. At once a magnetic thriller and an intriguing look at the true crime genre, Darnielle’s novel is filled with rich themes for discussion, including the slippery nature of crime reporting and the demands of the artistic process.

In Gilly Macmillan’s I Know You Know, Cody Swift seeks closure regarding his two childhood friends’ murders, which occurred 20 years ago in Bristol, England. Undertaking his own investigation, Cody returns to Bristol in search of new information and launches a podcast to share his story. But then a body is discovered in the same place Cody’s friends were found, and soon a new homicide investigation is underway. Macmillan incorporates flashbacks to Cody’s childhood and episodes of his podcast in this sophisticated, multilayered mystery.

Denise Mina’s Conviction tells the story of Anna McDonald, who loses herself in true crime podcasts as she struggles to put her painful past behind her. After Anna’s husband leaves her for her best friend, Estelle, Anna connects with Estelle’s husband, singer Fin Cohen. Together they delve into the murder case that’s the subject of Anna’s favorite podcast and start a podcast of their own. When Anna realizes that she is linked to the case, a tragic chapter from her life is reopened. Mina’s skillful development of multiple plot lines and crack comic timing will give reading groups plenty to talk about.

In Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim, Rachel Krall, host of the popular true crime podcast “Guilty or Not Guilty,” travels to a small North Carolina town to report on the trial of swimming champion Scott Blair. Accused of raping the teenage granddaughter of the local police chief, Scott and his case have attracted national attention. While in North Carolina, Rachel is also drawn to a cold case involving the drowning of a 16-year-old that took place more than two decades before. As she works to unravel the two cases, she realizes that they share disturbing parallels. Goldin builds a mood of intense suspense in this searing look at how crime can impact a small community.

Go meta with one of these mysteries starring true crime podcasters and writers.
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For those of a contemplative mind, Stacey D’Erasmo’s novel The Complicities is full of lingering questions. What’s with the whale, you might ask yourself. Or, who else besides the narrator, Suzanne Flaherty, is complicit here? What does it even mean to be complicit? And if you are complicit and everything basically falls apart, what kind of restitution is needed or possible?

The story begins with Suzanne arriving in Chesham, Massachusetts, a lower-middle-class beach town on Cape Cod, not too long after her divorce. Her former husband, Alan, has been imprisoned after committing large-scale financial crimes. Despite the apparent similarities, Suzanne should not be compared to the wife of Bernie Madoff; this is a quieter, more inward tale. 

Rejected by her college-age son, who feels that she’s abandoned the family, Suzanne takes an online class in massage, frames the program’s certificate on the wall of her drab apartment, starts seeing clients and feels a genuine power and sensitivity flowing through her hands. When a rare right whale beaches itself nearby, Suzanne gets deeply involved with its rescue. This is not Captain Ahab’s white whale, but the novel’s three sections refer to it provocatively: “The Whale’s Breath,” “Whalefall” and “The Whale’s Bones.”

D’Erasmo is admirably skillful in moving the story backward and forward through time. For a while, Suzanne is in contact with the other two important women in Alan’s life. Lydia, an artist and paralegal who, a decade earlier, survived a car crash and still has burn scars on half her face, becomes Alan’s second wife after he is paroled early. Alan calls her “the girl with hell in her eyes.” Sylvia, Alan’s mother, surrendered her legal rights to him when he was a child. Now she’s a Walmart employee with a mathematical gift for gambling. She imagines finding Alan, but does little to do so.

All of these intriguing and sharply drawn characters fudge little bits of their past. Is that important? Should we believe Alan has reformed, or is his new venture in housing development just another scam? Does a little white lie matter? Is this, as Suzanne says at one point, “the way damage moves, the way it seeps and wanders”?

D’Erasmo’s descriptions are vivid. Her similes and metaphors are often explosive. Of the beached right whale, Suzanne thinks, “The leviathan looked like another sun, fallen to earth on the broad, flat beach.” And as Sylvia enjoys the presence of a very quiet man, she thinks, “If talk were rain, he was like a cactus.”

Full of small mysteries that deserve lengthy discussions with well-read friends, The Complicities is a superb book club selection.

Full of small mysteries that deserve lengthy discussions with well-read friends, The Complicities is a superb book club selection.

A writer’s parents have both died, and their physical space will be gone soon. Back at the family home near Boston, an estate sale will clear out belongings amassed by her parents during the decades of their lives. A real estate agent will list the home. But their memory—especially that of her mother, most recently deceased—lives on with the writer.

She wanders the streets of London, a meandering journey that takes her from the London Eye to museums to the theater. She is surrounded by people but rarely in conversation with them. Instead, she recalls a trip made with her mother, whose dramatic, colorful personality continues to keep the writer company.

Though she never introduces herself by name, the narrator of Elizabeth McCracken’s The Hero of This Book welcomes the reader to join her in processing her mother’s death. McCracken slips between action, memory and internal monologue, seamlessly exploring her narrator’s world with no border between the internal and external. The writer intersperses observations about the writing craft with these recollections. The genre of the resulting tale is certainly up for debate: Is it autofiction? Memoir? A novel? McCracken even inserts cheeky asides about what makes a book fiction, further confusing the line between narrator and author.

“I used to not believe in plot because I wasn’t interested: All my plots were about time,” she writes—and this novel follows that rule. “That might have been because not much had happened to me, not so much as a broken bone. Then a few things did befall me, and I understood plot in a different way: I discovered that a single event could alter the course of a life.”

Readers who enjoy tales of quiet, internal reflection will find themselves right at home here. Regardless of label, The Hero of This Book is a thoughtful exploration of the lived experience of grief.

The narrator of Elizabeth McCracken's The Hero of This Book doesn't introduce herself by name, but she welcomes the reader to join her in processing her mother's death.

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