From Category: Fiction
Part novel of ideas, part romantic comedy, this book begins with a young skinhead walking into the office of World Brotherhood Watch, a human-rights group run by a Holocaust survivor, and saying he wants to help them "save guys like me from becoming guys like me." The events that follow reveal each character to be a very human mix of vanity and genuine altruism, with the latter most often emerging in small moments away from the spotlight. The novel raises provocative questions about the tension between service to grand causes and caring for the individuals in one's personal life, though Prose could have accomplished more with this theme by introducing a true villain to raise the stakes in the conflicts between characters.
By Don Mitchell. Humorous, poignant, and enlightening, these linked short stories are set among the Nagovisi people of Bougainville Island in the Southwestern Pacific. The young American anthropologist in their midst learns as much about himself as about the villagers who have indulgently accepted him as an oddball member of their community. He mourns the collateral damage wrought on this small but culturally rich island by international wars and mining companies.
By Robert Olen Butler. Through brilliant use of flashbacks and alternating perspectives, this intimate novel tells the story of Michael and Kelly Hays, a Southern professional couple who are divorcing after two decades of marriage, though it becomes apparent that they are both still painfully in love with each other. As soon as the reader starts to side with one character, a new twist reveals the other character's vulnerability and the dysfunctional family pattern that he or she is struggling to break. The novel winds toward a suspenseful climax as we wait to discover whether they will tell each other the truth before it's too late.
By Jane Smiley. Winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this American tragedy recasts the story of King Lear on an Iowa farm in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. When a tyrannical but enfeebled patriarch divides his farm unequally among his three daughters, their prosperous, provincial world is torn apart by long-simmering rivalries and recovered memories of incest. Not only does Smiley nail the dynamics of a family in denial, she believably ties the personal drama to the American diseases of patriarchal entitlement and the rape of the land.
In this short story collection, tornados real and metaphorical rip through the lives of not-so-ordinary people, flinging them into unexpected intimacies and tearing away identities once thought airtight. Luvaas' poetic prose is powerful as the Santa Ana winds yet delicate enough to limn the silences that speak louder than words, as in the title story, where the bond between a widow and her dying handyman is too profound to risk actual words of love.
In this epic historical novel, Haley, the author of Roots, traces his lineage on his father's side from the love affair of an Irish-American plantation owner and a black slave. Though the cast of characters becomes overcrowded in places, this saga provides a grand overview of America's tortured racial history from Andrew Jackson's presidency through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Queen, the author's grandmother, survives incredible trials to see her children reach heights she could never have imagined.
By Jami Attenberg. This novel about the last day in the life of a corrupt real estate developer in New Orleans is an insightful, morbidly funny story about how tragic choices reverberate through the generations. One could call it a Jewish version of "The Sopranos", but where that show was cynical and bleak, this book is full of compassion and even a kind of poetic justice at the end.
By Eve Tushnet. This debut novel by a popular blogger on Catholic sexual ethics combines brilliant satire, heartbreak, and hope. A half-dozen alcoholics from all walks of life are selected for a reality-TV show set in a residential rehab clinic. When healing and repentance become co-opted into the postmodern performance of the "self", is transformative grace still possible? Sometimes, incredibly, it is, but not always, and not in a fashion that anyone associated with the show could control or predict.
By Linda McCullough Moore. Grace abounds, though sentimentality may be skewered, in these sparkling stories about women taking stock of their flawed relationships with husbands and families—and often finding a surprising bit of information that shifts their longstanding narrative of their lives. A self-lacerating quip or satirical observation of human nature will be followed by a moment of raw loneliness or unexpected kindness that turns the reader's laughter to tears and back again.
This enjoyable collection of short fiction in the Western genre features the top stories from the Cowboy Up contest sponsored by Moonlight Mesa Associates. The book includes adventure tales, humor, and romance, in settings both modern and historical.
By Hubert & Kerascoët. This memorable graphic novel is a tragicomic feminist fairy tale for adults, sketched in an effortless retro style with an earthy color palette suggestive of old storybooks. A troublemaking fairy grants a homely peasant girl's wish for supreme beauty, but the maiden soon finds that being a maddening object of desire is no safer than her old life of humiliation. Her reversals of fortune add up to a profound fable about power, illusion, and sexism.
In this enchanting, multifaceted novel, a shy boy begins to uncover the secrets of his family of vaudeville performers when he finds a ventriloquist's dummy belonging to his late grandfather. (In keeping with his family's off-kilter understanding of reality, the boy was named after the dummy.) A shift from magical realism to psychological realism halfway through the book may at first disappoint fans of the former genre, but ultimately fits perfectly with the human George's choice to break the family pattern of sacrificing truth to illusion.
By Wendy Waters. Fans of Anne Rice and "The Phantom of the Opera" will enjoy this paranormal romance/horror novel that asks creative questions about God, love, and power. The angel Gabriel has tried so long to enlighten humanity that he has become bitter and violent. He has lost faith in love, and believes that humanity must be redeemed by force. He rescues an abused girl who is a musical prodigy, in exchange for a claim on her talent—but her love and innocent wisdom make him question whether the end justifies the means.
By Robert Walton. Set in 1864, this historical novel tells the story of the bloodiest year of the American Civil War, brought to life with a chorus of voices both real and fictional. The cast of narrators includes President Lincoln, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and the women and escaped slaves who fought for the Union and cared for the wounded in field hospitals. This book would be a good addition to a history curriculum for young adults.
A classic in science fiction's end-of-the-world genre. As much wisdom about philosophy and society as you'll find anywhere, all in a gripping novel that never flags.
By Alexander Chee. In this poetic debut novel, a sexually abusive choir director forever alters the lives of a gay Korean-American youth and the friends he loves. The protagonist finds healing through artistic imagination, the survival stories of his refugee family, and taking responsibility for the dark side of his own desires.
This gorgeous collection of linked stories from Main Street Rag is comprised of variations on the theme of the Fat Girl. All the unnamed protagonists share this mythic epithet and all are employed at the Large & Luscious Large Women's Clothing Boutique in a prototypical shopping mall, but beyond that, they are individuals who gloriously resist social stereotyping and invisibility.
By Julian K. Jarboe. Queer magical realism unites the brilliantly inventive tales in this debut short story collection, in which the humor and verve of rebellious outsiders offer sparks of hope in the dystopian world we've made. A sassy queer witch seeks shelter from a manipulative priest in a town rapidly sinking beneath the waters of global warming. A young person's dysphoria is made literal when they menstruate sharp objects instead of blood. Kafka's "Metamorphosis" gets a new twist from a narrator who wants to transition into "a beautiful bug" despite authorities who insist that it's only a metaphor.
A mysterious curate revives a dreary Catholic parish in 1950s Britain. This magical-realist novel combines the whimsy of Terry Pratchett with Anthony Trollope's affectionate satire of clerical life.
By Raina Telgemeier. Children and adults alike will shed happy tears over this graphic novel about a Mexican-American family whose younger daughter has cystic fibrosis. In the days leading up to Día de los Muertos, the sick girl and her older sister cope with impending mortality through encounters with friendly spirits.
Richly detailed, lively historical novel set in Victorian England, starring a visionary entrepreneur who founds a haulage firm. The careers of Adam Swann's nine children are a microcosm of British society at the turn of the century, while his wife Henrietta combines femininity and independence in a way that many modern women might envy. One of the best fictional portraits I've seen of a strong marriage and how it changes over time. This is the first book in a trilogy; the other books are Theirs Was the Kingdom and Give Us This Day.
In this hilarious fantasy novel, an angel and a devil try to stave off the apocalypse because they enjoy life on earth too much. Along the way, the authors slip in some profound insights about the necessary balance between the light and the dark sides of human nature.
This website includes the full text of many of his stories in the 1872 English translation by H.P. Paull, plus links to biographical information and other resources.
By Carmen Maria Machado. This splendidly original collection of feminist horror and magical realist stories literalizes the metaphors for women's oppression, going to extremes that break through our numb familiarity with these everyday dangers. Women fade, fall apart, are haunted by cast-off parts of themselves. Yet intimacy and sensual pleasure remain alive like flowering weeds pushing through the cracked cement of the most murderous city.
By Nick White. In this contemporary Southern Gothic novel, a disaffected young man must confront his memories of an "ex-gay conversion" camp he was forced to attend as a teen, when another former camper makes a horror movie based on a death that occurred there. The book parallels the structure of traumatic memory recovery, converging on the pivotal time period with scenes set before and after the protagonist's fateful summer. His Christian family members are drawn with depth and compassion, and the surprising redemptive ending feels earned.
By Mira Grant. Masterful pacing and character development distinguish this cosmic horror novel about a scientific voyage to discover man-eating mermaids, set in a near-future where climate change and pollution are reshaping our relationship to the ocean. On a state-of-the-art ship commissioned by an American entertainment company, a diverse team of researchers fight to survive (and even study) a mysterious predator that overwhelms their defenses and challenges their belief in humanity's dominance of the ecosystem. Several crew members have disabilities, which turn out to give them unique knowledge that proves integral to saving their shipmates. A lesbian romance subplot lends a spark of hope to a terrifying situation.
Brilliantly written novel-in-stories seduces the reader with witty sketches of Manhattanites in love and lust, but what began as social comedy ends as a surprisingly moving tale of darkness and redemption. Aspiring short story writers should study Schickler's way with the details that reveal character and milieu.
This standout first novel paints a tender, comical portrait of an Idaho small town in the 1980s, where a motley collection of trailer-park residents yearn for connection (and sometimes, against all odds, find it) across the barriers of class, sexual orientation, illness, separatist piety, drug abuse, and plain old social ineptness. You'll want to linger on the luscious writing, but keep turning the pages to find out what happens to the characters who've won a place in your heart.
By Charles Burns. This volume collects Burns' acclaimed graphic novels X'ed Out, The Hive, and Sugar Skull. Imagine that Samuel Beckett and Hieronymus Bosch dropped acid together and wrote a Tintin comic. These horror comics braid the real-world story of Doug, a photographer and failed performance artist obsessed with his lost love Sarah, with the nightmare visions of his alter ego, Johnny 23, a low-level functionary in a breeding factory where woman-like creatures produce monstrous eggs. The features of his grotesque dream world gradually reveal parallels to Doug's real life and the relationship patterns that trap him in isolation. Subtle clues toward the end indicate a Buddhist message about purifying one's mind to escape the wheel of rebirth.
In this novel, a retired scholar in a working-class Midwestern town struggles to process her memories of childhood incest and unravel its effects on her psyche. This book's strengths are its sharp characterization of people and cultural settings, and the connections it draws between domestic abuse and sexist institutions that conspire to keep it secret. On her long journey to claim her truth, the narrator must rethink not only her family's official storyline of virtue and vice, but the messages from religious authorities and psychologists who dismiss a woman's perspective. Metaphors from her scientific research give her a creative way to resist. This book shows how trauma can give birth to an artist's intellect that notices and questions human behavior.
By Laila Ibrahim. In this timely, heartwarming novel, a conservative Christian mother is forced to question her beliefs about homosexuality when her son attempts suicide. Their journey to acceptance includes a realistic depiction of so-called conversion therapy and how it can tear apart a loving family with a witch-hunt for nonexistent trauma. Sympathetic to faith, this book shows the diversity of views even within evangelical families, as well as the social pressure to keep silent about one's doubts.
By Matt Ruff. This suspenseful and satirical novel-in-stories follows an African-American family in 1950s Chicago who tangle with a cabal of upper-class white occultists. Each chapter cleverly inverts the xenophobic tropes of one of H.P. Lovecraft's classic horror stories, with the implication that the heartless and greedy cosmic forces of the Cthulhu Mythos are more a self-portrait of Jim Crow's America than an enemy from beyond the stars.
A pregnant woman develops a craving for bugs. A couple bond over the failure of their wife-swapping party. A father consoles his child over the dinosaurs' extinction, while wishing his own parents had allowed him to believe in heaven. These are some of the seeds from which spring Randall Brown's quirky, brilliant, heart-rending short-short stories. This collection won the 2007-08 Flume Press Fiction Chapbook Competition. Their book design is also a standout.
Dark, innovative, beautiful, strange variations on classic fairy tales from around the world. Some stories remain within the fantasy-horror genre, while others reenact the fairy tale's psychological themes in a contemporary realist setting. Each story is followed by the author's reflections on the source material and how it inspired them. Notable contributors include playwright Neil LaBute, poets Joyelle McSweeney, Kim Addonizio, and Sabrina Orah Mark, and fiction writers Michael Cunningham and Gregory Maguire. This book is not appropriate for normal children.
This quietly heartbreaking and provocative novel is equal parts British boarding-school story, dystopian science fiction, and Kafkaesque fable about conformity. While the premise (human clones harvested for their organs) seems ripped from the headlines, the absence of plausible science in the plot suggests that the clones are a metaphor for the myriad ways we sacrifice our human potential by failing to question authority.
Innovative collection of short stories that integrate Buddhist precepts into contemporary settings. Some of the pieces use form as well as content to explore Buddhist concerns with present awareness and change.
This darkly comical autobiographical novel is narrated with deadpan wit but also a certain tenderness toward her own and her family's eccentricities. Raised by a fervent Pentecostal mother in a provincial British town, the protagonist finds her world shaken to its core when she discovers her attraction to other girls.
Enter the deranged theme park of this unique writer's imagination, in surreal tales that exaggerate the insincere cheer of mass-media corporate culture to show the ruthlessness beneath. Beneath Saunders' manic wit lies a fierce compassion for misfits waging a losing battle for authenticity in a world of manufactured messages.
Brooding, poetic tale of two brothers whose love is shattered by their passion for the same woman. Cook exploits the conventions of the Gothic thriller to build up expectations that he constantly reverses with his surprising plot twists, ultimately producing a wise commentary on storytelling itself and how it both inspires and entraps us.
By S. Chris Shirley. This funny, heartfelt, and enlightening YA novel follows a Southern preacher's kid on his journey to accept his sexuality without losing his faith. When 17-year-old Jake ventures outside his Alabama small town for a summer journalism program at Columbia University in New York City, he learns that the world is more complex than he imagined, and maybe God is too. Refreshingly, he doesn't reject his family and traditions, but instead takes on the adult responsibility of teaching and transforming them.
This graphic novel is a collaboration between poet and playwright Vikas K. Menon, artist Dan Goldman, and filmmaker Ram Devineni. The provocative story portrays an Indian female super-hero who fights against sexual violence in a Hindu-inspired mythic reality. The comic's creation was prompted by the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi. The story can be downloaded for free from the website, which also features videos and information about supporting anti-rape activism.
Imagine the Bhagavad-Gita as a Punch-and-Judy show. What do the legend of St. Eustace and particle physics have in common? In this unique novel, part mystical treatise and part fantasy-horror fiction, two millennia have passed since a nuclear war knocked Britain back to the Iron Age, and a semi-nomadic civilization has preserved only degraded fragments of our science through oral tradition in the form of puppet shows. Our narrator, 12-year-old Riddley, at first joins forces with a shifting (and shifty) cast of politicos and visionaries who hope to bring the human race back to its former glory by rediscovering the recipe for gunpowder. But soon he's on the track of bigger game: the nature of reality, and the causes of sin. Which is more fundamental, unity or duality? Why does Punch always want to kill the baby?
Masterful saga of seven generations of an African-American family, beginning with Haley's Gambian ancestor who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 18th century. Haley's fictionalized re-creation of their lives is rich with drama, humor, tragedy, political outrage, and love that defies the odds.
Ropeless is a comic, poignant story about an old-fashioned Jewish mama, her mentally disabled son, and a dutiful daughter learning to follow her dreams. Told from multiple first-person perspectives, every character's voice is pitch-perfect. Koretsky is the winner of a dozen literary awards and has received three Pushcart Prize nominations. Fans of Wally Lamb will enjoy this new author.
By Jessamyn Hope. This many-layered debut novel, set on a kibbutz (Israeli commune) in 1994, brings together an unlikely community of troubled souls whose fates intersect in surprising ways. At the heart of the story is a priceless brooch crafted by a medieval Jewish goldsmith, preserved by his descendants through centuries of anti-Semitic massacres and international migration. Adam, a drug addict from Manhattan, seeks to atone for the damage he has done to his family, by bringing the brooch to the mysterious woman his late grandfather loved when he was a Holocaust refugee on the kibbutz. His arrival stirs up painful memories for the kibbutz founder, who sacrificed her personal happiness to a utopian project that is now in danger of being disbanded. Meanwhile, his fellow volunteers are on their own desperate quests for redemption and freedom, which sometimes help and sometimes hinder Adam's mission. The novel raises profound questions about the trade-offs between individual fulfillment and collective survival.
The stories in this collection from Black Lawrence Press explore the nuances of feeling and the power dynamics of intimate moments between family members, lovers, and strangers, in a way that is deeply insightful without over-explaining. Morrison's vision of human nature contains shades of Shirley Jackson and Flannery O'Connor, though written in a more restrained style. These stories always leave the reader with the sense that there is more to the characters than the chosen anecdote can reveal.
By Leigh Bardugo. In this young adult fantasy novel, set in a cosmopolitan and mercenary city-state modeled on 19th-century Amsterdam, a crew of six thieves and underworld denizens must break into an impenetrable fortress to rescue the inventor of a magical weapon that could spark a devastating war. The world-building, social conscience, diversity of characters, and twist-filled plot are all outstanding. The story continues in the sequel Crooked Kingdom.
If there's hope for Harlan Ellison and his dark, existential science fiction, there's hope for us all. From the back cover, "When I told Houghton Mifflin that Jesus Christ had given me a quote to help promote Slippage, boy, did they go ballistic! It was a great quote, a real 'money quote'. Jesus said, 'I love Ellison's writing. I'd have a Second Coming, or even slouch toward Bethlehem, just to read this new collection!'"
Author of the acclaimed Sandman graphic novels mashes up literary classics, myths famous and obscure, and the conventions of the fantasy genre, with effects that are sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, and always a witty tour de force. Some of the best selections derive their humor from the collision between the mythic and the mundane, as when an elderly British widow finds the Holy Grail in a thrift shop, or the inhabitants of H.P. Lovecraft's Innsmouth behave like characters in a Monty Python skit.
Set in Western Massachusetts in the 18th century, during the religious revival known as the First Great Awakening, this luminous novel re-creates the domestic life and spiritual development of the theologian Jonathan Edwards. Stinson allows the complexity of the Puritan worldview to speak for itself, setting Edwards's mystical delight in nature and his deep compassion alongside his severe views of God's judgment and his defense of slave-owning.