Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Books of 2009: Fiction

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein (Algonquin Books) 304 pages
Not long ago, I reviewed this book in these pages with unbridled enthusiasm, and I'm mentioning it again to drive home the fact that this is truly among the best books of the year. A searing portrait of two families in crisis, Lauren Grodstein’s novel is filled with characters as real as you are and conflicts that both define and undermine them. Her writing is crisp, insightful, and heartbreaking, particularly as we watch Pete Dizinoff, her protagonist, go over the edge of sanity to project his son and his family. What might seem like an easy, quiet, even unassuming book is anything but. You won’t soon forget A Friend of the Family. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Doubleday) 470 pages
The fact that The Angel’s Game didn’t quite deliver on expectation -- due either to this author’s previous novel, the sensational The Shadow of the Wind, or to the excitement generated by the book’s flawless first half -- it was still impossibly wonderful, unforgettable and, in a way, unknowable. After it was done, I found that I adored The Angel’s Game, warts and all. In 1920s Barcelona, young hack novelist David Martin receives a compelling offer: the opportunity to write a book above and beyond anything that has come before. He is promised a fortune but that doesn’t even touch the possibilities: it is a book for which “people will live and die.” Though he initially refuses, he is ultimately worn down and sets to work on the book of a lifetime. More: the book of all lifetimes. The Angel’s Game is, in a way, more than the sum of its parts and even Barcelona is a mysterious and magical character. Zafon is the second most read Spanish author of all time (Cervantes gets the title) and it’s not difficult to see why. The Angel’s Game is intricate and intelligent, complicated yet human, magical yet somewhat grounded in reality. Another masterwork. I expected no less. -- Linda L. Richards

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin Books) 291 pages
I reviewed A Reliable Wife for January Magazine last March, and its magic remains with me even now. For me, that alone makes it one of the year’s best. In a world where we read constantly, bombarded by books, to have one stand out is really something. Goolrick’s fiction debut begins on a freezing Wisconsin train platform in 1907. A man receives the wife he’s advertised for, but he gets a whole lot more than he bargained for. He gets a woman with a past and a mission, neither of which he wants. Goolrick builds the suspense until your fingers almost bleed, aching to turn the pages ever faster, until the climax is released with a power that's nearly unbearable. In A Reliable Wife, the author has provided a truly reliable read, and it will leave you wondering why no one’s thought up this simple, tantalizing story before. More, please. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Book of Fathers by Miklos Vamos (Other Press) 474 pages
Hungarian literary superstar Miklos Vamos here delivers an almost mind-bendingly complex tale. The Book of Fathers is an epic family story that spans 12 generations and almost 300 years. The whole is structured as a family saga -- and each generation’s first-born son bears the weight of the narrative. Vamos touches on almost all of the big ideas: religion and spirituality, politics, music and time. A printer, Cornelius Csillag, is murdered in 1706 and his grandson takes up the family record -- The Book of Fathers -- that Cornelius began. They are, in many ways, an unremarkable family in the way that most families are unremarkable. No royalty or wealthy industrialists among them. As the family works its way through the generations, the history of Hungary -- seldom unremarkable -- spins out around them. In a skillful way, the background becomes a more vibrant character than the humans who walk through it. The Book of Fathers was published in Hungary in 2000 where it has sold 200,000 copies and has since been translated in 13 languages. -- Aaron Blanton

The City & the City by China Miéville (Del Rey) 336 pages
When I reviewed the City & the City mid-way through the year, I honestly felt as though I hadn’t liked it as well as I should have. After all, I have nothing but admiration for author China Miéville (Perdido Street Station, Un Lun Dun) and, even when I reviewed that book I said that I was “disappointed in myself to have been disappointed by The City & the City, a book that I know is better than I think it is.” And it is. Since then, my mind has gone back to Miéville’s disturbing world again and again. In The City & the City, he pushes at the boundaries of both speculative fiction and classic 20th-century noir. Set in a somewhat recognizable world with a starkly Eastern European feel, the two cities referred to in the title are Beszel and Ul Qoma, two places that happen to be in the same place at one time. Citizens of both cities are forbidden to see each other or acknowledge each other’s presence, even though there are circumstances where denizens of both places can be seen. At those times, it is both law and etiquette to unsee the other party and never say you’ve seen anything at all. Now clearly, a murder investigation under such circumstances is going to be a challenge. For one thing, there’s a whole city of potential suspects right over there and you may not ask them where they were or what they’ve seen. Miéville writes beautifully. Few can come close to his way with both meter and metaphor. He seems to hit the dark and gritty noir tone effortlessly and -- aside from the weird circumstances of the city -- his characters are believable and even pleasantly flawed. I remain in awe of this writer. His books are consistently riveting, and he seldom lets you walk away from his work unscathed. -- Lincoln Cho

and My Father’s Tears and Other Stories by John Updike (Knopf)
The Grand Master of Suburban Lit saved the best for last. When John Updike succumbed to lung cancer early in 2009, the world lost one of its best chroniclers of marriage and infidelity. He left behind two parting gifts for his devoted readers, however: the poetry of Endpoint and the short stories of My Father’s Tears. Both are remarkable for their flawless language and portraits of men and women nervously stumbling through life. Either book would have reaped deserved praise if Updike had lived to see their publication, but coming like a literary eulogy, they are all the more resonant. In the poem “Requiem,” he writes: For life’s a shabby subterfuge/And death is real, and dark, and huge/The shock of it will register/Nowhere but where it will occur.
He was wrong, of course. We all felt the shock of his obituary. Updike’s passing, just one pebble tossed in the pond of mortality, will continue to send out its rings to the shore for centuries to come. -- David Abrams

Fugue State: Stories by Brian Evenson, art by Zak Sally (Coffee House Press) 205 pages
As I read the 19 stories that make up Fugue State I kept thinking that this is what the future of dark fiction looks like. Now. In his sixth collection (there have also been five novels) Evenson ones again probes deeply and brilliantly into the things that scare us most: madness, amnesia, paranoia. As with Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand, don’t read Fugue State’s title story if you have a cold or anything you suspect might be contagious. You won’t sleep, you won’t rest. You might not get better. Fugue State is dark fiction at its very finest and no one tells a story quite like Brian Evenson. You might not want to turn off the light. -- Lincoln Cho

Generation A by Douglas Coupland (Random House Canada) 297 pages
This is one of two important books with international implications and a strong presence of bees written by Canadian authors and published in the second half of 2009. The other is Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. Interestingly enough, neither book received the attention it deserved at home: something I find inexplicable and, in a way, inexcusable. Both books have a lot to say and their authors manage to say it very, very well. Generation A brings the story Coupland began in 1991 with Generation X full circle. Where Generation X was completely concerned with a group of self-indulgent slackers, the five young protagonists in Generation A find themselves forced to be not only aware of the world and its problems, they must also be part of the solution. But this is Coupland, so the young people here do not sit smarmily by while hugging and singing Kumba-ya. They are sharp, acerbic and sometimes slightly homicidal: another group of magnificently drawn Coupland youths. This particular group have only one thing in common: in the not-so-distant future, in a world that is much less wonderful due to the complete absence of honey bees, each of the young people we meet have been stung by a bee. The stings are cause for consternation and study and the youths are whisked to secret facilities to be tested and evaluated. Then they are released and trouble ensues. Coupland is, once again, at his very best here. These are big ideas boiled down very tightly. He distills each thing to its very essence until we are left with a book that, on the surface of things, seems very simple: it’s easy to read, the language is uncomplicated, the chapters short, the concepts seemingly within our grasp. But Coupland is dealing -- once again and in his own distinctive and inimitable way -- with the important questions of our time. -- Linda L. Richards

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow (Random House) 224 pages
Like many people interested in the history of New York City, I’d heard about the Collyer brothers -- Homer and Langley -- long before E.L. Doctorow decided to fictionalize the peculiar but (in his hands, anyway) poignant story of their lives. They were born to a Manhattan physician and his wife, who had deep roots in American history. Well educated (Homer trained in admiralty law, his younger brother studied engineering), the two sons moved with their family into a Harlem brownstone in 1909, back when Harlem was still an upper-class neighborhood. After their parents died, the brothers remained in that Fifth Avenue residence, becoming hoarders and paranoid recluses, with Homer slowly going blind. They eventually died in the brownstone, both of them in March 1947, but their passing took some time to confirm. And a bit of excavation. So filled was the house with newspapers and broken bicycles, specimen jars and old beds, skeletal Christmas trees and rotting food and surplus pianos, that police had to break in through a second-story window, just to see if anyone was still alive inside. (The site is now occupied by a public park.) Over the bare bones of the Collyers’ bizarre tale, Doctorow has stitched a quilt of details -- partially true, partly fictional -- that lend the brothers personalities beyond the fact of their manifest eccentricities. What’s most moving here is the love the two brothers show one another, despite their escalating mental infirmities. At one point, for instance, Langley installs a broken-down Model T under the crystal chandelier in their dining room, upsetting their cook. Homer -- who narrates this yarn, despite his blindness -- quickly rises to his sibling’s defense. “My brother is a brilliant man,” he insists. “There is some intelligent purpose behind this, I can assure you.” But then Homer addresses the reader: “At that moment of course I hadn’t the remotest idea of what it might be.” Extending the lives of his main characters well past their actual obituary dates, Doctorow takes the opportunity to revisit high and low points of the 20th century through their eyes--the rise of speakeasies and gangsters, the emergence of “hippies” (with one of whom Homer finds something approaching affection), the Vietnam War, President Richard M. Nixon’s Watergate scandal and more. Homer & Langley is an enviable achievement of fictionalized history, presented with such human warmth, humor and compassion that you’ll feel compelled to start re-reading it soon after you’ve turned its final page. -- J. Kingston Pierce

John Dies at the End by David Wong (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne) 384 pages
At a time when many writers are pushing at the edges of the novel, trying to redefine what the word means and what it is, David Wong sort of does. This comes in part from the publication history of his first novel, John Dies at the End, one of those weird Internet success stories you hear about. In fact, this might be one of the best yet. John Dies at the End started out as a Web serial in 2004. The story appeared in book form for the first time in 2007, as a paperback from “Horror and Apocalyptic Book Publisher” Permuted Press, an independent publisher whose area of specialization you can pretty well guess at. John Dies at the End would have fit right in with their line. The action in John Dies at the End all centers around soy sauce, a mysterious and fairly unstable drug that alters not only the mind, it seems to have an effect on time and eventually opens a portal to a pretty hell-like place. After you take it, Wong tells us, “You might be able to read minds, make time stop, cook pasta that’s exactly right every time. And you can see the shadowy things that share this world, the ones who are always present and always hidden.” The story is a first person narrative from the viewpoint of the author who actually isn’t David Wong, but says he is throughout the novel. In real life (and it’s not even a secret) he is National Lampoon contributor and editor-in chief Jason Pargin. That CV might make you think that John Dies at the End is hilariously funny. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s deeply disturbing and even horrifying. And then it’s funny again. In between there are some starkly -- and even surprisingly -- human moments. And all of that sounds like too much for one little debut novel to hold up under, but wait: this is a book that reportedly had over 70,000 downloads when it was free on the Internet. Since it was free, you might think “big deal,” but think again: try to give away 70,000 of anything on the Internet. I promise: it won’t be as easy as it sounds. And so, is John Dies at the End high art? Not exactly. Or maybe, not even. But it’s interesting, compelling, engaging, arresting and -- yes -- sometimes even horrifying. And when it’s not being any of those things, it’s funny. Very, very funny. Next stop for David Wong (or maybe he’ll be back to being Jason Pargin by then), who knows? But, whatever it is, I feel very confident that a lot of people are already waiting to see what he dreams up next. -- Lincoln Cho

The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh (Shaye Areheart) 294 pages
One of the really delicious things about Therese Walsh’s debut novel is that it pushes through to new ground. And even while you are swept away in Walsh’s carefully crafted and constructed story of magic and acceptance and loss, you are aware that you’ve never traveled this way before. I hadn’t realized how rare that feeling could be in fiction until I read The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Are there conventions in fiction? A path you must take in order for people to say: this is this sort of book, shelve it over here. If so, Walsh has forged ahead with no regard for these whatsoever. The result is an intelligent, thoughtful, moving -- and again -- magical, book. Moira was the less bold of a set of twins. Less daring, less spirited, less of the world. When she died in their 16th year, Moira’s twin, Maeve, must come to terms both with the part she played in her sister’s death and with her own path through the world, alone. In adulthood, now a professor of languages, Maeve comes across an antique dagger that reminds her of her childhood. The dagger will open a new chapter in Maeve’s life and lead her to a place of acceptance and understanding. None of that brief description does justice to Walsh’s wonderful creation. It is difficult -- impossible -- to capture that magic in these few words. Nor is it possible to compare it to anything else: Walsh has found her way here alone. The Last Will of Moira Leahy is a wonderful book. Well crafted, beautifully told. A star is born. -- Linda L. Richards

Love Stories in This Town by Amanda Eyre Ward (Ballantine) 224 pages
Readers familiar with Amanda Eyre Ward’s novels -- Sleep Toward Heaven, How to Be Lost and Forgive Me -- already know she can plot herself out of a paper bag with ease. With a relaxed, witty writing style, she has a way of burrowing right to the heart of her characters -- ordinary folks who find themselves caught in the turbulence of unexpected circumstances. The same holds true for her first collection of short fiction, Love Stories in This Town. These dozen tales are sharp-focused family snapshots, catching husbands, wives, children, parents, lovers and ex-lovers in moments of confusion, hope, paranoia, delight, resentment and all the other ingredients of the human stew. This is easily the most enjoyable short story collection I read all year. -- David Abrams

The Missing by Tim Gautreaux (Knopf) 384 pages
It never ceases to surprise me that, generally-speaking, the American reading public overlooks Tim Gautreaux. There are very few living novelists who can match what he does on the page and it’s a crying shame that more readers’ eyes aren’t traveling over those pages, turning instead to someone like John Grisham. Gautreaux’ newest novel, The Missing, is my pick for the best fiction of the year and is unmatched in its scope and impact. In the author’s previous masterpiece, The Clearing, he told the story of a man trying to rescue his brother from violence and corruption in the Louisiana bayou. In The Missing, the scope is wider and even deeper, ranging from the horrors of a World War I battlefield to the cinder-polluted atmosphere of a steamboat on the Mississippi. Shell-shocked Sam Simoneaux tries to put the war in France behind him as he settles down with his wife in New Orleans and takes a job as a floorwalker in a department store. After he witnesses the kidnapping of a young girl, he goes on a quest to track her down -- a journey that will take him to several dangerous ports of call along the Mississippi. No mere plot summary can do justice to the magic Gautreaux weaves on each page. This is “total immersion fiction” which gathers us in on the first page and never releases its grip until the final scene of redemption. -- David Abrams

Monstrous Affections by David Nickle (Chizine) 296 pages
The first thing that hits you is the cover. A seemingly innocuous portrait of a man with short cropped hair. But look closer and you see the real picture, something twisted, disturbing. The cover of Monstrous Affections was so compelling that I had to read it. And like the cover, the stories inside are not what they seem. But also, like the cover, the stories inside are brilliant. David Nickle has a talent for writing what, on the surface, appear to be normal stories peopled with characters you can identify with. Stories that on the surface have a feel of the everyday, but upon finer scrutiny outline things seen in a skewed miasma of real life gone horribly wrong. Ghosts, Vampires, mythical beasts and circus sideshows. You’d think that you were reading a book full of what you had always expected a horror story to be, but Nickle takes a left turn and blindsides you with tales that are not of the norm, but are all the more horrific because of surprise twists, darkness and raw emotion. -- David Middleton

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Quirk Books)
Though this is meant to be a round up of the books we liked best in 2009, it seems to me that some points can be added for innovation. To be perfectly honest, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies did not sweep me off my feet, but it could certainly be said that -- up until the time it was published in April, there was nothing like this book. How could there be? Honestly, how could anyone even have imagined it? To take a well-loved work of fiction -- a gentle romance, no less, beloved for gentle sighs and add... a zombie component. Early on anyway, part of the appeal had to be the image of poor old Jane spinning in her grave. And then what? Legions of also-rans and wannabes and though there have been a couple of clever contenders, none will ever compare with the weird majesty of that audacious first. -- Linda L. Richards

Raymond Carver: Collected Stories (Library of America) 906 pages
Arguably the most significant publishing event of American fiction in 2009 came with the Library of America’s release of Raymond Carver’s collected stories. Not only does the LoA edition thrust Carver into the pantheon of literary cachet (as if he wasn’t already there), but it provides a fascinating revelation of the writer-editor relationship. As Carver’s long-time editor, Gordon Lish wielded a powerful red pen; just how powerful was not entirely clear until the discovery of Carver’s earlier Lish-less drafts. In its volume, the LoA includes the complete manuscript of “Beginners,” Carver’s version of the 17 stories that were edited by Lish and published in book form as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The comparison between the two is startling: Lish trimmed not only words, but entire scenes, characters and plot dynamics. Sometimes his cuts are for the better, but other times he reduces Carver’s plumper writing to a perplexing skeleton. The spare (some say “minimal”) versions which we’ve held in reverence as American classics are now revealed to be shadows of their intended selves. The scales fall from our eyes and we see stories like “Mr. Coffee and Mr. Fixit,” “Tell the Women We’re Going,” and especially “The Bath” in a new light. I’m still grappling over the question of where Carver ended and Lish began. The LoA also includes correspondence between the two, including an anguished letter from Carver after he saw the drastic cuts to his stories. He swings like a pendulum in the letter, from praising Lish as “a wonder, a genius” to saying “if the book were to be published as it is in its present edited form, I may never write another story, that’s how closely, God Forbid, some of those stories are to my sense of regaining my health and mental well-being.”-- David Abrams

The Stranger by Max Frei (Overlook) 544 pages
The Stranger is epic fantasy on a quirky philosophical level. But if those words bring Terry Pratchett to mind, just clear your head: Frei’s work is nothing like that. In The Stranger, even the author is a fictional character. It has come to light that the actual author of Max Frei’s books is a woman named Svetlana Martynchik. Max Frei, the quasi author, is also at the center of his tales, which begin in The Stranger with Book One of the Labyrinths of Echo. It took my tightly honed North American sensibilities quite a while to pick up the rhythm of Freis’ writing: the alternate universe of dreams, the fact that he is a sort of magical secret agent who must stop a murderer from our world from getting his way in the new one. North American readers will find themselves slogging through at first: this is not your grandmother’s fantasy. But stick with it: all becomes clear after a while, as well as the density of wit we’re unused to reading with English language authors. The Stranger is a fantastic book and the first of many to be published in English. If I don’t miss my guess, reading it now will put you in the vanguard. -- Lincoln Cho

Sunnyside by Glen David Gold (Knopf) 576 pages
One has to wonder what Glen David Gold (Carter Beats the Devil) really intended when he sat down to work on this novel named after a 1919 silent film. Almost certainly, he couldn’t have meant to compose this marvelous, manic carnival of fiction. Sure, he must have had some idea of where his typing fingers would take him. But Sunnyside is too wonderfully organic, too jam-packed with humorous scenes and unexpected cloudbursts of inspiration to have been tightly outlined on a bulletin board or in a succession of neatly arranged index cards. The cast itself seems ungovernable: actor-director Charlie Chaplin, at the height of his film renown but unable to come up with a brilliant next idea; U.S. Treasury Secretary William McAdoo, trying to drum up funds to fight World War I with help from still-clandestine lovers Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks; movie studio honcho Adolph Zukor; and a dog destined to make movie history. Add to those real-life players Gold’s fictional creations: Leland Wheeler (aka Leland Duncan), the son of a spectacularly failed Wild West star, who craves fame but instead finds love on the European battlefields; Detroit heir and railroad engineer Hugo Black, who volunteers for a secret and ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union; a patently devious Girl Scout; a triple threat of Russian princesses; and a redundancy of adoring -- and sometimes delusional -- film enthusiasts. With his cast of thousands, Gold produces interconnected story lines having to do with the wonders of happenstance, the loss of American innocence, emerging new power balances in Hollywood, and the multiple gifts and frustrations women bring to the world of men. Sunnyside is cinematic in its structuring, yet (like many of the movies Chaplin left behind) so revealing of human nature and emotions that it might be worth sociologists studying. It’s an ambitious fictional undertaking that succeeds on nearly every level. Try to wait for the final credits to roll before applauding, but don’t be surprised if you can’t. -- J. Kingston Pierce

The Third Revelation by Ralph McInerny (Jove Books) 336 pages
The Third Revelation is a supremely intelligent novel with Our Lady of Fatima’s revelations as its plot vehicle. This is the first of McInerny’s Rosary Chronicle novels. Beyond the intricacies of plot line, The Third Revelation delivers the reader into the nature of evil, as few people today can imagine it. One of the things that McInerny does so well as a novelist is present the Vatican and the Catholic Church in a light that is not cheapened by the glare of book sales. While other writers and publishers have made it a cottage industry in attacking sheepish Catholics, McInerny takes the time to explain the main tenets of the faith. Ralph McInerny is a historian of the Catholic Church. He was also Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame University from 1955 to 2009. His most memorable books of non-fiction include The Defamation of Pius XII, Miracles: A Catholic View and What Went Wrong with Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained. It is commendable to witness a first-rate novelist entertain and enlighten the reader without having to prostitute himself to the devilish ways of publishers, the temptations of mammon or the call to embrace timely, fashionable theories or ideology. Published later in the year but also terrific, McInerny’s The Relic of Time is a follow-up novel to The Third Revelation, but not a sequel. McInerny’s novels are a fresh substitute to other best-selling, yet highly flawed and clichéd popular novels that deal with fantastic and bogus tales of the Catholic Church. -- Pedro Blas Gonzalez

Under the Dome by Stephen King (Scribner) 1088 pages
Didn’t Stephen King retire? I know that’s probably old news, but still. Writers who retire seldom write opuses that come in at more than 1000 pages. But that’s just what King has done. Under the Dome is a brilliant conceit about what would happen to small town if a huge invisible bubble were to descend on it, cutting it off from the rest of the world. This particular small tow -- in Maine, natch -- happens to offer us readers a little microcosm of the United States during the Bush 2 administration. The bubble comes down, havoc is wreaked, and the scummy politicians see their chance to get all the booty. It’s great fun, with King in top form. This book has more characters than any book should have, and somehow King finds the perfect detail that makes you care about each one, even the ones you hate. It’s one of the best reads of the year. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (Harper) 400 pages
For this latest Discworld novel, we return to the city of Ankh-Morpork. The characters are a mixture of old favorites and new ones. Each of the novels has had a theme; the theme of this one is football. The wizards of Unseen University discover they have to form a team and play under the terms of a will which supplies the money to pay for most of their meals. It’s either play of be cut back to -- shudder! -- a mere three meals a day! Meanwhile, we meet the new characters, including the head of the University’s Night Kitchen, Glenda, who makes fabulous pies, her friend Juliet, who may just become a dwarf fashion model (well, okay, she’ll have to use a false beard, since she isn’t actually a dwarf, but what-the-heck), Trevor, who could play brilliantly, as long as the football concerned is a tin can and the mysterious Mr. Nutt, who isn’t human, but isn’t sure what he is. I simply couldn’t wait for this one to come out in paperback and got the hardcover. It’s always a joy to see a new Discworld title. -- Sue Bursztynski

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (Tor) 592 pages
If you love SF/F and have not yet encountered Brandon Sanderson, you can forgive yourself: the whole thing has happened pretty quickly. That said, don’t stick your head in the sand on this one. He may be relatively new, but expect him to be around for a while. Sanderson is a writer with talent, vision and chutzpah, a combination that put him into awards line-ups and bestseller lists almost from before the first moment. This because Sanderson was hand-picked to write the conclusion to Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series after Jordan’s death in 2007. Being heir apparent to one of the genre’s most legendary writers did nothing to detract from Sanderson’s reputation, but when you read his work, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have gotten there on his own. He is a writer that not only can write, but does. He’s so good, he makes it look effortless, to the point where Warbreaker was more or less written online. The book itself is wonderful. -- Lincoln Cho

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (McClelland & Stewart/Nan A. Talese) 434 pages

Though The Year of the Flood is a gentler dystopic vision than 2003’s Oryx and Crake, there is a pleasantly disturbing darkness to these proceedings. Atwood’s vision of a not-too-distant future seems, in some ways, a cautionary tale. Move forward as you’ve been going, she seems to say, and this is where you might end up. It seems utterly clear that the world Atwood describes here is our own, if only we don’t take pay close enough attention and take sufficient care. But The Year of the Flood isn’t Atwood as preacher, the passionate storyteller is here, as well. In The Year of the Flood, Atwood’s voice is as vibrant and luminous as it has ever been. “The air smells faintly of burning,” we learn on page one, “a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump after it’s been raining.” This is, once again, the familiar and yet utterly strange world Atwood created for Oryx and Crake, and some of the characters and creatures will be familiar, though seen with a different lens and from another place. It is striking to me that, in the year this masterful author turned 70, she would produce this violently fresh tale. This is as good, and perhaps even better, than anything she has written. No one -- no one -- writes quite like Margaret Atwood. The Year of the Flood is a masterwork: visionary, beautiful, compelling. Perfect. What a gift. -- Linda L. Richards

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

So glad you included "A Reliable Wife." I've been recommending it to our library patrons all year.

Friday, January 1, 2010 at 4:32:00 PM PST  
Anonymous flights to Nigeria blog said...

These are excellent list.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 3:48:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great, well rounded list this year. Thankyou.

Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 9:43:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Last Will of Moira Leahy" is such an awesome book. I have read it several times and each time I discover more details. Therese sweeps me away into this magical book that I just cannot get enough of. Thank you Therese for your beautiful talent and sharing it with us.

Monday, January 11, 2010 at 7:49:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So glad to have found this list. Some great reading here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 1:23:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those people interested in Brian Evenson, there is a small press offering special deals for a repressing of one of his best books CONTAGION...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 11:17:00 PM PDT  

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