The end of year book lists are starting to come in, please bear with me as I try to uncover the better ones. This one from publishers weekly is a solid start.
Building Stories — Chris Ware
Unabashedly rooted in the pre-digital age, Ware’s new work is really 14 individually bound books, ranging from gorgeous hardbacks to thin pamphlets, housed in an oversized box. Read in any order, all the tales within follow the tenants of the same apartment building, including an elderly landlady, a spiteful married couple, and a lonely female amputee. With his trademark obsessive precision, Ware presents the grind and folly of everyday life in the most exhilarating fashion.
Bring Up the Bodies — Hilary Mantel
Though the novel that recently won Mantel her second Man Booker prize is a sequel to the novel that won Mantel her first Man Booker prize, it’s a startlingly different book. Where Wolf Hall was lush and expansive, this is focused and verbose, with Mantel eschewing descriptive prose for dialogue. Thomas Cromwell is older now, with more titles and power, but he nonetheless finds himself again having to wrestle the king out of another heirless marriage, this time to Anne Boleyn.
The Round House — Louise Erdrich
This dark and entertaining National Book Award nominee sets a Native American boy’s coming of age against the brutal backdrop of racism and violence in North Dakota. When 13-year-old Joe becomes frustrated with the investigation into the attack that left his mother too traumatized to speak, he looks into the crime himself.
Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain — Lucia Perillo
The 14 stories of this Pulitzer Prize in poetry finalist’s (for Inseminating the Elephant) debut collection, set in the Pacific Northwest, display the poet’s emotional economy alongside raw honesty, haunting understatement, and a sharp wit. Women, damaged and vulnerable, make bad choices again and again, pursue fruitless obsessions, and somehow often come out on top.
The Devil in Silver — Victor LaValle
LaValle’s third novel is poised on the intersection of psychological suspense and supernatural horror, leavened with dashes of wry humor. A menacing figure stalks the airless halls of a psychiatric ward; corrupt cops, bored staff, and drugged and deranged patients all think they know what’s going on, but no one truly has a handle on reality. LaValle (whose Big Machine was a PW Best Books pick in 2009) balances the tension with moving and surprisingly intimate portraits of people caught in the gears of a malfunctioning mental health system.
Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis — Mark Binelli
Rolling Stone reporter and native son Binelli’s nonfiction debut vividly captures Detroit’s dramatic reversals of fortune. With empathy for his subjects, endless curiosity about his hometown, and a rare sense of humor, Binelli effectively punctures myths about this supposed urban wasteland and grapples with the city’s ever-present socioeconomic and racial struggles.
All We Know: Three Lives — Lisa Cohen
Erudite and exquisitely written, Wesleyan professor Cohen’s first book, a triptych biography of three early-20th-century women—Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland—successfully renders both these memorable and surprising personalities and the era in which they struggled with questions and expectations regarding career, marriage, and sexuality. Suitably dishy and remarkably humane, the book leaves readers wondering who these women would have become in a more progressive society.
The People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo — Richard Lloyd Parry
This chilling and multilayered account of the murder of Lucie Blackman in Tokyo sheds light on the tragedy of a family, a sexual predator, and Japanese society.
The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600–1675 — Bernard Bailyn
The culmination of a distinguished career, this is an original study of America’s colonial era and the link between the universal need for stability and the resulting violence that ravaged both settlers and natives.
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 — Anne Applebaum
A searing narrative and analysis of a historical watershed—the USSR’s brutal takeover of Eastern Europe during and after WWII.