Welcome to Day Five of My Best of 2015 Reading Round up! As always, my Best of the Year lists cover what I read in 2015, which includes books published in any year. Today, I'm sharing my favorite nonfiction. Yesterday, I shared my favorite nonfiction. Wednesday I shared my favorite mysteries. Tuesday I shared my favorite comics. Monday I shared Hawthorne's favorite board books. (Want to look at past year's lists. They're all linked here.)
13. Outline by Rachel Cusk (my review)
Outline is billed as a novel of ten conversations. It begins with Faye, a recently divorced writer with two sons, on a flight from London to Athens, Greece, where she will teach writing. Outline is a beautiful, thoughtful, engaging novel. I love the idea of it, and I loved the time I spent with it.
12. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (my review)
Anna Benz is a bored American housewife who has been living in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland with her Swiss husband for ten years. They have three children, but Anna is lonely and has not learned the languages of Zurich. As she begins taking a German class, she also begins an affair with a Scottish man in her class. Perhaps my favorite part of Hausfrau was how Essbaum used German grammar as parallels for Anna's mental state. Through her German classes and her visits with her psychoanalyst, Anna narrates connections she finds between herself and the structure of language. It's clear in these moments that Essbaum is a poet. Her grasp of language, syntax, and construction is paralleled beautifully by her nuanced grasp of Anna, emotionally and psychologically.
11. The Hopeful by Tracy O'Neill (my review)
On the surface, there's a lot going on: ice skating, adoption, Native American identity, addiction, family, eating disorder, painkillers, mental hospitals. And even though O'Neill introduces all of these themes relatively early, the novel never feels cluttered. Each thread of the story is essential to the whole. O'Neill opts for a somewhat complicated construction. Each chapter begins with part of Ali's conversation with her therapist in a mental institution. From there, it jumps back in time to how she got to the present. Even though the reader knows big moments are coming, they still have shock value. O'Neill is simultaneously bold and restrained, which displays a remarkable maturity in her storytelling. The Hopeful is bold, accomplished, beautifully dark and utterly unexpected. It's an incredibly smart novel. It's hauntingly written, and its construction demonstrates beautiful command.
10. Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (my review)
Set in Sebastopol, part of California' Sonoma County wine country, Eight Hundred Grapes is the story of the Ford family, told from the perspective of their daughter, Georgia, who is a powerful Los Angeles attorney about to marry a British architect and move to London. Set against the grape harvest and the week before her wedding, each of the Fords, Georgia, her two brothers, and her parents, face challenges in their romantic and professional lives. Eight Hundred Grapes is an engrossing family saga filled with drama, romance, wisdom and action. Dave packs a lot of events and revelations into this slim novel. When I finished, I was already excited to read it again. If literary romance exists as a sub-genre, Laura Dave is it's leader.
9. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (my review)
An Untamed State is a beautiful, confident, and haunting novel. It has a thrilling plot that reads like a mystery. It has beautifully formed, flawed, characters. It offers nuanced insight into Haiti. By telling a story about one person and one family, Gay sheds light on many larger themes that resonated deeply with me.
8. Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy (my review)
Liars and Saints is an extraordinary novel about family, faith, and secrets. Perhaps my favorite part of this novel was how Meloy wrote about faith. The Santerres are Catholic, and through different characters, Meloy was able to show the Catholic church and modern Catholicism from a variety of angles. Meloy made me both understand why and how people are devout Catholics and question the church in complicated ways. This duality is hard to pull off, and I admire Meloy's ability to embrace complicated ideas in a way that invites the reader to wrestle with them.
7. Women by Chloe Caldwell (my review)
Women is a bold, honest, raw novella. It's ostensibly the story of one young woman and her experiences, but there's a universality to Caldwell's prose I could not shake. Women changed me. It connected me to this fictional character in a beautiful way.
6. The Offering by Grace McCleen (my review)
Madeline is 34. She has been in an insane asylum for twenty years and cannot recall the events that put her there, but a new psychiatrist thinks he can help her recover the traumatic memories. The story unfolds both in the present: Madeline's life in the asylum and her therapy sessions, and in the years and months before she was committed. There's a layer of ambiguity to The Offering and its ending that I relished. Seeing the world through Madeline's eyes allows the reader to share her experiences, but witnessing her conversations with others, both inside the asylum and before make the reader understand things Madeline cannot. This duality, and its inherent ambiguities, wowed me.
5. The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato (my review)
Told in a nonfiction style, complete with frequent footnotes, The Ghost Network begins with the disappearance of Molly Metropolis, a famous pop singer. Through interviews with Metropolis's inner circle and journals, The Ghost Network reads like a mystery, a biography, a history of an anarchist fringe group or mapmaking or the city of Chicago, a work on city planning, and a work of philosophy. It is all of those things, and it is none of those things. Disabato masterfully blends the high-brow and the low-brow. It blends fiction and non-fiction. It's part mash-up, yet it's refreshingly original. It's compulsively readable. It's smart and funny.
4. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (my review)
Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage and two lives. The first half is told from the point of view of the husband, Lotto. The second half is from his wife Mathilde's point of view. Through these two characters, Groff offers a fascinating glimpse into marriage. Mathilde's story is one for the age, even as I acknowledge there are allusions to Greek mythology in this novel I did fully appreciate. Groff shows masterful control of voice, character, and storytelling in Fates and Furies.
3. Girl at War by Sara Novic (my review)
In 1991, Ana is living a typical ten-year-old's life in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, when the Yugoslavian war breaks out. Girl at War is indeed a haunting, lyrical novel. It's also smart and beautiful. It's a window into a place and a time I was embarrassingly ignorant about, but it's also a deft depiction of a fascinating character who is both heroine and anti-heroine, extraordinary and ordinary. This novel is one of the best I've read this year, and I hope it becomes a modern classic. It's a novel that reminds me why I so love fiction--it can educate, connect, and remind me of the vastness of our shared humanity.
2. After Birth by Elisa Albert (my review)
Ari, mom to 1-year-old Walker with her older, professorial husband, is still coming to terms with her traumatic c-section. She's unhappily living in fictional Utrecht, New York, a town near Albany. After Birth is a tour de force. It's an ambitious, smart, confident, provocative, mesmerizing, intimate, brash novel. It is a novel about childbirth and the early days of motherhood, but it shouldn't be pigeonholed as any one thing. Albert's voice, and thus Ari's, is fierce, powerful, and brilliant.
1. The Shore by Sara Taylor (my review)
Stretching from 1876 to 2143, this non-linear novel is the story of generations of a poor family, principally its women, who live on the titular shore of small, isolated, Virginia islands.I loved the stories and the fascinating characters, but what elevates this novel is Taylor's command of theme. The Shore is an entertaining read, but when the novel shifts into the future, it becomes transcendent. I read with my jaw hanging open as I realized Taylor had led me on a path I didn't even realize I was on. This novel has a strong feminist point-of-view, and Taylor infuses it organically and beautifully.Sara Taylor is 24-years-old, and I hope she keeps writing for a very long time. This novel is epic and wonderful, and it takes my breath away.