Thursday, January 4, 2018

My Favorite Reads of 2017: Fiction

I aim to read a lot of fiction by authors whose previous work I've enjoyed, by authors who are new-to-me, and by authors who are new. When I looked at this list, my ten favorite fiction reads in 2017, I'm happy to see that it reflects that aim. [Covers take you to Amazon]


10. Forever, Interrupted and After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid
2017 is the year I discovered Taylor Jenkins Reid. After reading her latest novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (see below), I wanted to go back and read her backlist in order. Forever, Interrupted is her first novel. I picked it up only knowing she had written it, and I so appreciated that particular reading experience, I'm hesitant to say more (so if you're spoiler-averse to events that occur within the first ten pages, skip ahead.) Nine days into the marriage of Elsie and Ben, Ben is hit by a truck while riding his bike and dies. This premise sounds overly dramatic, but it's not. The rest of the novel unfolds over two timelines: after Ben's death and beginning the night they met. This structure works perfectly for both storytelling and the emotional needs of the reader to not fully live in Elsie's initial post-Ben world. This novel could have been overwrought and depressing. Instead, it's beautiful and tragic. It wrecked me, but I loved it so much. After I Do, Reid's second novel, unfolds quickly, telling the love and life story of Lauren and Ben, who meet at college and get married. The novel opens with vignettes that feel so familiar, and very quickly, we see how happiness can turn to unhappiness. Lauren and Ben take an interesting approach to find their way back to each other: they take one year apart, where they're not allowed to contact one another. I loved this novel and its fully realized, richly-drawn characters navigating the realities of life. I'm so glad I still have two more novels on Reid's backlist to enjoy.

9. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
The Mothers is a novel that grew on me immensely. I enjoyed it while I read it, but also read with suspicion, as I'm wary of the politics of abortion novels. (To be clear: I'm not at all wary of the politics of abortion; I fear anti-choice fictional propaganda.) This wariness comes from so many years of seeing fictional women in books, in movies, and on tv, suddenly decide not to have an abortion--all for good, understandable fictional reasons individually, collectively have left me craving more actual abortion narratives. These things made me skeptical of The Mothers as I read because there are anti-choice characters (as there are in life). As I read, I also tried to make sense of the novel aside from its abortion storyline. I wanted to know what I was reading, and I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. The last third, however, made me stop caring and just enjoy this novel and its ambitions. By the end, I marveled at how accomplished this novel is. If Bennett can write a novel this good as her first, what will she do next? I cannot wait to find out.


8. The Mare by Mary Gaitskill
When this book came out, I had no desire to read it. There's a horse on the cover, and it's called The Mare. Then it was longlisted for the Women's Prize, and I read its actual description: Velveteen, an eleven-year-old girl from Brooklyn, participates in the Fresh Air Fund and spends a summer with Ginger and Paul in upstate New York. I opted for the audiobook, which features multiple narrators, and I'm so glad I did. While, yes, there are a lot of horses in this novel, it is much more a story of race, class, privilege, power, and charity. It's gritty and complicated, and both admired Gaitskill's ability to write from so many perspectives and found myself so caught up in the novel I forgot I was reading a world someone created. Gaitskill is an author I've been meaning to read for years, and this novel made me check out her backlist from the library.


7. All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
I loved The Middlesteins and was a little disappointed in Saint Mazie, but Jami Attenberg is one of the writers I love enough to always read her new novel, and the premise of All Grown Up would have drawn me in even if I hadn't read her earlier novels: "a wickedly funny novel about a thirty-nine-year-old single, childfree woman who defies convention as she seeks connection.​" All Grown Up is a wonderful character-driven novel. I'm drawn to the narratives of flawed, real women, and Andrea is a fascinating one. The novel is non-linear, which adds a richness to Andrea and helps propel the narrative. It's a novel I wanted to read in a single sitting (it's a slim 208 pages) because I was so enchanted with Andrea, her world, and her insights. Yet I also wanted it to keep going because while I loved the time I spent in her world, I also want to know more about her past and future. All Grown Up is my favorite Attenberg novel.

6. The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
I'm fascinated by history, including ancient history. I love to think about how the world got from the time of neanderthals to the present and what a future as distant will look like. After loving The Bear, I was excited to see how Cameron told the story of Girl. The Last Neanderthal is the story of Girl, but it's also the story of archaeologist Rosamund, who is working (while pregnant) to uncover the bones of Girl. I would loved this novel with only one of these stories, but by pairing them together, Cameron lets the reader form powerful connections between these stories, which are separated by so much time. As I read, I reckoned with what makes us human and women. I don't know if this book would have been as powerful for me before I gave birth, but reading it as a mother definitely impacted by thinking about its connections and questions. It's also one of my favorite book covers of the year, partially because I failed to recognize the face profiles for so long, and it adds a beautiful image to this beautiful novel.

5. Black Wave by Michelle Tea
When Black Wave made the 2017 Tournament of Books, I found myself asking, "how did I not hear about this post-apocalyptic novel by Michelle Tea published by Feminist Press?" So I picked up immediately and read it compulsively while I was in Thailand. Black Wave is a strange novel, and I mean that in the best way. I spent much of it thinking "I have no idea what I'm reading, but this is awesome." It mostly defies genre and definitely defies convention. It doesn't begin as post-apocalyptic. It's a novel that shifts genres as it goes. The constants throughout this dynamic novel are Tea's writing, which is gorgeous and filled with biting commentary, and Michelle, a character as memorable and complicated and fascinating as any. Black Wave is a novel I wish had gained more of an audience. It's not for everyone, but for people fascinated by what fiction can be and do, Black Wave must be part of that conversation.


4. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Lillians Boxfish Takes a Walk was my favorite audiobook of 2017. Based on a real woman (my favorite microgenre), this novel unfolds over the course of a single night, New Year's Eve 1984. Lillian Boxfish, 85 years old, walks all around Manhattan reflecting on her life. In the 1930s, she was the highest paid advertising woman in the country (for R.H. Macy's). Her walk is a reflection on both her life and on Manhattan. Both have changed mightily. Xe Sands, one of my favorite narrators, delivers a superb performance of one of all-time favorite fictional characters. This is a book I have recommended to so many people, and it's one I will turn to, both in print and on audio, again and again. I initially rated it only 4.5 stars because I found the ending somewhat disappointing, but it's a book I keep thinking about fondly and it's one I can't wait to read again.

3. Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
Liars and Saints  is one of my favorite books I discovered reading old Orange Prize longlisted books. It's one of those books that made me ask everyone, "have you read Maile Meloy? She's amazing! How had I never heard of her?" Do Not Become Alarmed is Meloy's first adult novel in more than ten years. It's part thriller, part literary fiction, and part political and social commentary, which means it's all parts things I love. Two families go on a cruise, but while on an off-ship excursion, the children go missing. The reader sees what's happening to the both the parents and children, and all the narratives are terrifying and exhilarating. I devoured this book in twenty-four hours, and I love it so much. Much of it could be an accessible, escapist thriller. What makes this book exceptional is when the story stops. The ending isn't the end of the adventure, it's the aftermath. Please don't make me wait another ten years for a new novel, Maile. If you do, I won't be mad if it's this good.


2. Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
When I finished this novel, I said, "It's only May, but this is my favorite novel of the year, and I won't be surprised if it still is by the end of December." Part of me still can't believe I read a novel better than this one. J. Courtney Sullivan is an author I'm incredibly drawn to, from her first novel, Commencement, which I loved, to her family saga, Maine, which improved upon it. Sullivan is an author I love to see grow as a writer and storyteller. I knew she had a novel like this one coming one day, but I'm astonished she could tell a story this compelling this early in her career. It's an Irish-American family saga that spans many years. It isn't told linearly, and that is part of what makes it exceptional rather than just great. This family cast of characters is so well-conceived, and my perceptions of them changed over time because of how Sullivan tells their story.

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Dear Steph Opitz and Book of the Month,
Thank you for picking The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I probably wouldn't have picked it up without Steph's essay in support of it, and it was my favorite book of the year. I've recommended it to so many people this year, both my bookish friends who read a lot, and my non-bookish friends who may only read a few books a year. They all love it. On the surface, it's an old-Hollywood tell-all. Evelyn Hugo, a famous movie star, also famous for her seven marriages, decides to tell her life story. It's fascinating to compare Evelyn's reality to the assumptions people have based on how the tabloids have covered her life. Evelyn Hugo is one of fiction's great characters, and this book made me a fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid from its dedication page. This book is a gift, and it was my favorite of 2017.
Fondly yours, Nomadreader

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1 comment:

  1. Do Not Become Alarmed was a fun read.

    After reading your post I just remembered that I own a copy of Black Wave! I must read it. Fun list here. Very eclectic.

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