My top five American novels of the year
Here is the best American literature I read this year, in order, with picks one and two pretty much tied as my equal favourites.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Elizabeth Strout is one of the best American writers working today, and My Name is Lucy Barton is Strout at the height of her powers. This novel is a masterpiece – short, sharp, thoughtful, simmering with emotion underneath the surface. It delves into trauma, memory, forgiveness and the relationships between mothers and daughters (which is a bit of a recurring theme in my favourite books of the year.) It’s a ‘quiet’ novel, in that it’s literary and without a lot of plot, but calling it quiet neglects the brute force of Strout’s words and fierceness of what she’s saying. I love this book with all of my heart.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Brit Bennett is supremely talented and her debut novel is extraordinary. Reading it reminded me a little of how I felt watching the first season of Friday Night Lights – there’s a small-town community, flawed young adults struggling to find a life for themselves, relationship drama, gossip, love, secrets, pain, betrayal, heartache. The Mothers is also about race, and what it means to be a young black women in America today. I adored this book, and I am recommending it to everyone I know.
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
As I wrote in my review at the time, this is not a book for everyone. It’s vicious, ridiculous, over-the-top, nasty, violent and just generally bloody fantastic. It’s the story of two teenage outcasts who are dealing with the usual problems of school, friendships and difficult families plus a bunch of secrets, lies and very bad things. It’s Gillian Flynn’s early work meets Courtney Summers meets Megan Abbott, with a touch of Heathers. I loved it, and if you share my black heart, Slytherin tendencies and delight in reading about teenage girls, you might too.
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
If you’re looking for a well-written but not-too-depressing summer read, this is a good one. It’s about a privileged family in New York squabbling over money, so be warned that the characters are rather unlikeable, but the book is smart, funny, very readable, and hugely enjoyable. The author, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, is a debut novelist who decided at age 50 she wanted to be a writer and landed herself a million dollar advance for her troubles. Highly recommended for anyone dealing with family drama over the holidays and looking to escape by reading about someone else’s family problems.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
There are arguably much better books than this one written this year – in fact, all three of my honurable mentions are better written and more ambitious books – but as a die-hard fan, there’s something about Curtis Sittenfeld that I can’t go past. This is the least Curtis Sittenfeld-y book that Curtis Sittenfeld has ever written (her novels do not typically end up with everyone happily coupled up, for a start) but it’s a modern reworking of Pride and Prejudice, so one must give her some leeway on such things.
Now that I’ve gotten all the negativity out of the way, I shall commence with the good things: it’s a perfect summer read, it’s delightful, it’s humourous, it’s infuriating (in a good way), it’s messy and silly (in a good way), it’s romantic, it’s a very good retelling of a classic, and it’s the kind of book you can sink into and spend a happy afternoon with, ignoring the world.
- Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple – Semple writes with a strong, distinctive style and skewers everyone in her path.
- You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott – Abbott is as brilliant as ever here.
- Before The Fall by Noah Hawley – Hawley is the writer and creator of TV show Fargo, and he brings his considerable talents to this thoughtful thriller.
Notable American fiction I haven’t read yet but plan to:
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – The buzz around this book is enormous and I can’t wait to read it.
Nina Kenwood is the marketing manager for Readings.