Like many of the heroines of the Victorian novels she favors, Madeline Hanna, Brown University class of 1982 English major, must choose between men: the hungry wanderer Mitchell Grammaticus or the brilliant but troubled Leonard Bankhead. Madeline goes with the latter, sidelining her own intellectual pursuits in favor of riding a manic depressive's roller-coaster through the dawn of semiotics, post-structuralism, identity politics, and psychopharmacology. A coming-of-age novel that's as unapologetically erudite as it is funny, fun, and profound.
Born in Punjab in 1931, Ahmad wrote the pages that would become his delayed debut while working for the Pakistani Civil Service at outposts in the remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas where Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan meet. Hidden away for 30 years and unearthed by his family, the novel is a captivating wonder that illuminates the harsh difficulties of life in this region.
Over three decades behind the Iron Curtain, a "perfect" (read powerful and relentless) Tartar matriarch narrats the hilarious and tragic story of her efforts to control her daughter and granddaughter as they attempt to flee her influence.
The Commodore wants Hermann Kermit Warm dead. And brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, loving, bickering, and feared, are given the job for one reason: they are very good at killing. This darkly comic, expertly crafted picaresque western tracks their unsteady progress atop loyal horses Nimble and Tub (poor Tub), as gold fever grips the west and the brothers struggle to stay sober, ride side-by-side, and complete their dirty job.
Goldman, whose young wife, Aura, like the Aura of the story, died an untimely death after a tragic surf accident on Mexico's western coast, calls his book fiction, an audacious and brilliant choice. A New Yorker excerpt solidified it as a "grief novel," but it's much more: a tender revelation of May-December love and marriage and the coincidences and arbitrariness of life.
In eight tough, tight stories, Heathcock descends into an unforgiving world of hardship and hurt. Recalling Daniel Woodrell's Ozarks and Donald Ray Pollock's Knockemstiff County, these tales unfold with Heathcock's very own grim economy, which can find a man's life altered terribly in the span of a single paragraph.
The Booker Prize–winning author's new novel covers a century and traces a love triangle torn from the pages of Brideshead Revisited, though at least one side of the triangle is addressed more directly than Waugh did in his classic tale. With ambition and scope Hollinghurst uses a "love in wartime" narrative to explore the deep and wildly complicated connections between memory and what passes for history.
This astoundingly assured, pared down, and self-contained gem traces the life of Robert Grainer, a hard, unlucky man who earns his living with his hands as the 20th century unfolds. By pursuing Grainer over several decades of ups and downs, Johnson tracks America's crawl to the top.
Writers turn to important moments in history for their fiction all the time, but Kennedy has borne personal witness to the epic moments he writes about in Changó. Set during the Cuban revolution as well as on the day that Robert Kennedy was shot, the seventh book in the Albany cycle showcases a writer in his 80s working at the top of his game.
An enchanting, extravagantly imaginative debut with a traveling night circus as the setting for the progeny of two magicians to compete and, thickening the plot, fall in love. The secret is, the magic is real.
Take a man from Ohio who's worked blue collar, send him for an M.F.A., and set him loose. Pollock, whose debut collection, Knockemstiff, was a knockout, strikes again with a terrifying cast of rural characters: the haunted WWII veteran, the husband and wife serial killers who target young men along the Interstate, the predatory revival preacher and his wheelchair-bound guitar-playing cousin, all tied together with violence, sin, and gorgeous prose into a mesmerizing slice of Americana.
Boldly and playfully told in the form of a rural veterinarian's bullet-pointed log that shouldn't be anywhere near as sustainable as it is, Murphy's novel is effortless and absorbing. Almost daily calls—"a woman needs her horse's teeth floated"—bring work, healing, food, errands, death, travel, and contemplation on manure, the efficacy of ponchos, time travel, and more. Life unfolds along pretty quotidian lines until the vet catches a glimpse of strange objects in the sky on his way from giving a sheep its shots.
An escaped zoo tiger and a man who seems impervious to death stalk the impressive debut of "20 under 40" youngster Obreht, in which Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living in an unnamed country much like the author's native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about her late beloved grandfather, also a doctor.
In his masterful final novel, Nobel Prize–winner Saramago (1922–2010) sends the biblical Cain on adventures through the stories of the sacred book, all the while arguing with his God. A thunder bolt, and pure Saramago.
Dense, thoughtful, and humorous, Shakar's first novel is an alternate history that slyly showcases the ridiculousness of life right now. The tale is framed around two brothers—one brilliant and comatose, the other adrift after their tech startup was wrestled away. This enticing stew envelops ideas of spirituality, virtual reality, disaster simulation, utopia, and, yes, September 11, 2001.
With these formally inventive and linguistically nimble stories, Tillman tackles the strangeness of sex and love (and news events including, surprisingly, Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings) with considerable intellect and sly humor.
A woman looks back on a long marriage as she spends the night at the bedside of her newly dead husband. Tuck brings together the tenderness and the conflicts of love and conjoined life in a beautiful frame of memory.
The best two female adversaries in recent memory cut a swath through the Amazon rain forest in Patchett's exotic, intelligent, ambitious, and engaging novel. A straitlaced, sincere research scientist from Minnesota is sent to find and assess the progress of the unorthodox septuagenarian doctor who's gone native while on a fact-finding mission to extend female fertility.
One night at an unruly dinner party, a guest named Miles goes upstairs, locks himself in the spare bedroom, and refuses to come out—for months. Smith uses this absurd bit of theater to explore some serious issues, privacy (reference is made to the U.K.'s carpet of CCTV cameras) and authenticity among them. But it's the author's effortlessly inventive form (narration comes from four different characters, none of whom knows Miles well), and her playful, breathlessly ebullient style that make this book a gem.