This spring’s most-anticipated debut novels shake up traditional notions: Ben Metcalf takes on language and Southern culture; Viet Thanh Nguyen offers a new account of the Vietnam conflict, told from the perspective of a double-crossing Army captain; and Sarah Gerard has a cerebral take on the classic road-trip novel. These and the rest of our picks point to an exciting, unsettling season for fiction.

Rebecca Dinerstein: Finding Inspiration at the Top of the World

In 2009, on a poetry fellowship from Yale, the newly graduated Dinerstein traveled to Norway, settling in an art colony in Lofoten, an archipelago in the Arctic.

Jill Alexander Essbaum: Exploring the Dilemma of Domesticity

Poet Essbaum set her debut novel, Hausfrau, in suburban Zurich, but it was on the road between Houston and Austin, where she lives, that she was hit with the aha moment that started her writing a novel.

Angela Flournoy: Summoning the Ghosts of Detroit

The Turner House is a family epic set in Detroit during the spring of 2008, when the 13 Turner family siblings—ranging in age from 40 to 64—are faced with deciding the fate of their ancestral home.

Sarah Gerard: The Language of the Stars Is Also the Language of Love

The trope of damaged lovebirds trekking across the United States appears everywhere from Lolita to Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. So, how does a contemporary author breathe new life into such a classic conceit?

Paula Hawkins: A Debut Thriller Writer on the Express Track

The “train novel” would seem to belong to the literary past: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and the peripatetic protagonists of Edith Wharton and Graham Greene have shown us the narrative treasures of rail travel, but does the once-new mode of transport still have a place in today’s fiction?

Ben Metcalf: An Experimental Cri de Coeur 10 Years in the Making

Metcalf is the former literary editor of Harper’s and an essayist with bylines in that magazine as well in the Baffler and other publications. But he spent “the better part of a decade” working on a novel called Against the Country.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: A Subversive Debut Adds a New Facet to an Old Story

The conflict in Vietnam has given rise to countless books and movies dealing with American experiences of the war. But Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American English professor at USC, said, “[I wanted] to make the case for how the end of that war extended well after the cease-fires.”

Robert Repino: A Cross-Species Conflict in a Cross-Genre Debut

Repino’s Mort(e), a literary science fiction novel about a war between humans and animals, began as a dream.

Matt Sumell: Mining the Personal for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Matt Sumell didn’t set out to be a writer. Making Nice, his debut, is a collection of linked stories, all featuring the same character—a troubled but lovable lout named Alby.

Daniel Lefferts is a writer living in New York City.