Saturday, December 30, 2017

Best of 2017: Fiction

Well, I thought about not recapping the year's reading. After all, I've been thinking about almost nothing but my own novel for the last several months, and I can barely type other sentences. All of the synapses are clogged with novel parts. 

Nevertheless and regardless of compromised brain function, I did read 54 books this year. And by my official count, 28 of those books were works of adult fiction, many in my own genre of contemporary women's fiction. So I figured, let's just go for it. Here are my favorite five works of adult fiction in alphabetical order by author:

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
Alice Pearse, a 38-year-old part-time books editor and mother of three, finds herself in need of a higher paying job. Enter Scroll, a company with a vision of chic reading lounges stocked with e-book downloads and "carbon-based" first editions and "originals." Alice is recruited to curate the book selection - a dream job! - and promptly loses her hold on life, falling into swirling pit of corporate expectations mixed with family expectations, marital expectations, flagging friendships, and children morphing into their next stages without her noticing. 

I mean, this is my life, and it's nice to laugh at it a little bit. Well-done and emotionally en pointe.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
The story of two refugees, Nadia and Saeed, who escape their embattled homeland through magical doors. The portals deliver them to new dangers and obstacles, even as they escape the shellings and gunfire. Hamid intersperses vignettes of other displaced people, illustrating that "[w]e are all migrants through time." This is both ultimately of-the-moment and timeless. It's really something.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
30-year-old Ruth gets dumped in the worst way - her fiancé says they're packing to move to a new apartment, and then it turns out only Ruth is moving while he shacks up with someone else. At the same time, Ruth's mother summons her home to help care for her father whose Alzheimer's is progressing. Goodbye, Vitamin is told in the diary entries she writes during the year she's there, working with one of her dad's grad students to sweetly simulate his teaching career (it's been terminated) and reconnecting with her mom and brother. Everyone's memories of each other are faded and unreliable. But everyone cares about each other so much. This is quirky, fresh, and lovely.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I read Ng's sophomore effort in a single day. I love her. This novel chronicles the life of Mia Warren, an unconventional mother and brilliant artist who promises her daughter stability in Shaker Heights, OH, after a childhood on the road. Pearl, the daughter, settles into their new community, becoming enmeshed in the Richardson family, a seemingly perfect household helmed by Elena, a reporter for the local paper. When another Shaker Heights family engages in a court battle to adopt a Chinese-American baby, Mia and Elena come down on opposing sides, and Elena becomes determined to unearth the mysteries of Mia's past. This is a fabulous family drama.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
A fascinating, unconventional family portrait written in verse and starring a crow as a physical stand-in for grief. This belongs with Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation in the "like nothing I've ever read" category. The mother has died, and the boys and the father - they have to carry on, crow or no crow.

And here are the rest of this year's titles:

  • You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott - An unputdownable psychological thriller centered on an elite gymnast, her parents, her coaches, and their collective ambition.
  • Rich and Pretty by Ruman Alam - The writing intrigues
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton - Our pick for our family road trip. Excellent for this purpose.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - A hugely ambitious exploration of the legacy of slavery and perceptions of blackness.
  • The One that Got Away by Leigh Himes - It took me awhile to care about the characters, but then I did.
  • Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson - Highly enjoyable with a great premise.
  • I Found You by Lisa Jewell - A missing husband, a man with no memory, and a mystery buried for 20 years. Page-turning goodness.
  • Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella - So delightfully frothy, I couldn't stop. 
  • Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz - I got invested in Portia, an admissions officer at Princeton with stunted relationship skills, but the book was just too long. 
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - Impressive in scope. Everyone loves it but me.
  • I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh - A satisfying thriller with an especially malevolent villian. After a major twist in the middle, I couldn't put it down.
  • The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty - A quirky family, their secrets, and finding peace.
  • Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty - Triplets in their early thirties come to terms with themselves, their mistakes, and each other.
  • Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh - The writing is superb; the sentiment is exhausting
  • The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny - These mysteries have so much heart. I love the series.
  • Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel - A delightful story about a young woman's accidental foray into private school admissions. 
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - An addicting old-Hollywood tale. Perfect vacation reading.
  • Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid - I loved this Sliding Doors-style dual love story in which we're left to ponder whether life is "meant to be" or "what we make it."
  • One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid - So light and lovely that the improbable premise didn't bug me.
  • Startup by Doree Shafrir - Men, women, drinking, smoking, and the crazy culture at tech startups. I didn't like any of the characters, but I was invested in the story.
  • The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney - It's about the "black sheep," the legacy of sibling rivalries and loyalties, and the destructive potency of unearned money. 
  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware - Classic locked-room mystery aboard an elegant yacht in the Norwegian fjords. 
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin - An utterly readable, funny, warm-hearted story about identity and redemption.

Okay, I'm glad I did that. Past book lists are HERE. I'm going to list my favorites in other genres in the coming days! 


mm said...

Little Fires Everywhere is on my list to read. Thanks for sharing.

LH said...

This is an amazing list. A good resource for me for 2018.

President Obama also liked the Hamid book.