Claire FallonClaire Fallon is a books and culture writer for The Huffington Post. She was previously a blog editor at HuffPost. She studied English literature at Princeton University. She can be found on Twitter @ClaireEFallon
Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate Mock and Fear…and WhySady Doyle
PositiveThe Huffington Post...women in public aren’t yet equal. And if you were suffering under that delusion, Trainwreck is particularly illuminating, a reminder that the moment when a problem, in its most obvious form, has become taboo might actually be the most dangerous moment.
The FortunesPeter Ho Davies
PositiveThe Huffington PostPart of the joy and value of The Fortunes lies in its vivid survey of the history of Chinese people in America, and many readers, especially non-Asian-American readers, might find their eyes opened to a new understanding of the Chinese-American historical identity ... In a thought-provoking, sharply written, four-part novelistic chronicle of Chinese-American life, The Fortunes proves uneven at times but the powerful prose and themes shine through.
Chronicle of a Last SummerYasmine El Rashidi
PositiveThe Huffington PostChronicle of a Last Summer reads as an impressionistic memoir (though of course it’s fiction), a philosophical meditation on the nature of change and stasis, the story of a family fractured by political circumstance ... this digressive, philosophizing book takes advantage of her strengths in observation, psychological and otherwise, and in analyzing the dynamics beneath Egypt’s recent instability ... A thought-provoking story of a young writer growing up in Egypt through three summers of unrest.
PositiveThe Huffington PostSharma paints Maya’s spiraling life in raw, sharp-edged, almost confrontational language ... Maya’s addiction cycle, and her attempts at breaking it, structure the novel. It’s the plot, such as it is, and it can be both hypnotically compelling and somewhat listless, as one might expect ... A psychologically astute portrait of a woman’s cycle of addiction, the ebb and flow of her life around it, and her own hilarious, bittersweet and brilliant inner monologue through it all.
Losing ItEmma Rathbone
MixedThe Huffington PostLosing It approaches this story with an honesty and nuance that can often be lacking in depictions of female sexuality ... Rathbone has a crisply compelling prose style and an honesty about female sexuality, but Losing It nonetheless doesn’t read as a raw, unfettered take on a 20-something coming of age. The plot often relies on simple contrivances and awkward scenarios that would seem equally at home in a sitcom script ... When it comes to a beach read, Losing It is excellent, but it won’t throw too many curveballs.
A Little LifeHanya Yanagihara
PositiveThe Huffington PostEmotionally harrowing yet full of rather implausible sources of comfort, A Little Life somehow throws readers between the most unlikely extremes of horror and joy that life holds, making for a compulsively readable if artistically flawed sophomore effort ... A Little Life is ambitious, and its flaws are commensurately major: the indistinctness of many secondary characters, the lapses and odd elisions in the narrative. The story’s themes tend toward the trite ... But the triumph of A Little Life’s many pages is significant: It wraps us so thoroughly in a character’s life that his trauma, his struggles, his griefs come to seem as familiar and inescapable as our own.
MixedThe Huffington Post...in Moshfegh’s usual adept style, Eileen, the titular protagonist of Eileen, can both manage to be heartachingly relatable, with her unrequited crushes and her physical insecurity, and so repugnant and perverse that I squirmed at times against the urge to turn away ... [the] final twist belongs in a soap opera, so pat and unlikely is it — a shame after Moshfegh’s masterful construction of an atmosphere of unease, which flickers out with an 'um, really?' This can’t help but undermine the haunting resonance of Eileen’s dark themes, though she does take on deeply unsettling realities.
In the CountryMia Alvar
RaveThe Huffington PostEach of the nine stories arises from Filipino experiences, both in the country and of the diaspora, and Alvar interweaves them into a cobwebby ecosystem ... Though slightly uneven, Alvar’s In the Country frankly and evocatively limns the torment of internal conflict, as her characters seek a seemingly impossible compromise between themselves and the world they live in.
The Association of Small BombsKaran Mahajan
PositiveThe Huffington PostBy winding us closely into the lives, families, and social networks of the main cast of characters before, in some cases, showing them resorting to horrific crimes or being (if unjustly) charged with terrorism, Mahajan makes the humanity, the psychological unraveling or misplaced idealism or confusion, of each person in his novel more tangible than any news item ever could.
The VegetarianHan Kang
PositiveThe Huffington PostThe treatment of her harmful behavior as idealistic can be somewhat troubling, even as it slowly becomes clear there’s far more behind her slow gravitation toward vegetal life; the nuance is literary, but slightly romanticized. And yet, by the end of the book, it’s clear that we’re wrong to romanticize, as The Vegetarian paints a confounding portrait of not one woman, but two damaged sisters seeking desperately to deal with the violence of living in their world.
My Name is Lucy BartonElizabeth Strout
PositiveThe Huffington PostA brief, meditative novel contemplating the bonds of family and community over the years, and the quietly tragic ways they stretch and break, My Name Is Lucy Barton may not be entirely captivating, but it is a poignant and skillfully drawn read.
PositiveThe Huffington PostAs he wends his way through the landmarks and their histories, Dickey thoroughly and convincingly explores the many underpinnings of ghost stories and hauntings ... Dickey neatly dissects not just the historical, but the visual and atmospheric elements that evoke a haunting.
Bridget Jones's Baby: The DiariesHelen Fielding
PanThe Huffington Post...a dull retread of not just the first book and movie, but the first two books and movies ... Thus we get Mark and Daniel scuffling after prenatal classes: What a hoot! (Remember when they did that in the first book? and the second?) Even Bridget seems too bored by the replay to get worked up ... By the third time, Bridget seems, instead, like yet another friend who keeps getting back together with her noncommittal ex despite the bunting of red flags fluttering around him. Instead of being happy for her, you start to greet the news with dread.
You Too Can Have a Body Like MineAlexandra Kleeman
RaveThe Huffington PostTouching on body image, mass media, consumerist religiosity, and the tortured relationships between ourselves, our bodies, our food, and each other, Kleeman’s haunting, dazzlingly-written novel pulls you inexorably into another world, where the rules are different yet painfully familiar.
Swing TimeZadie Smith
PositiveThe Huffington PostIn a first-person twist on her buoyant, bustling London narratives, Smith examines the trouble of combining the personal and political, and captures the thrills of girlhood, dance, and first friendship.
Human ActsHan Kang
RaveThe Huffington Post[Han] refracts the Gwangju Uprising through her own particular lens: her fixation on the body itself, and its connection to the soul; human tolerance for unspeakable acts; and the tearing of social fabric both by violence and by a refusal to accede to it ... Human Acts, like The Vegetarian, isn’t a book about forsaking or repairing violence; it’s about the inescapability and deathlessness of violence in humanity. Every effort to paper over the horrors of what these protesters suffered, at the hands of their own nation’s soldiers, whether through time or literary censorship or personal forgetting, fails. The violence of the past rises up again; it was never really past ... A visceral, searing excavation of emotional and physical trauma that is rooted in just a few days, but spans decades.
The NIxNathan Hill
RaveThe Huffington PostPlenty of doorstop-length novels promise to be what The Nix is: capacious enough to find sympathy for its most comically deplorable characters, specific enough to precisely skewer specific societal ailments, funny and cleverly written enough to sustain a length that could easily pall if readers had to power through many flabby or dull segments. That it’s so entertaining, so full of energy, and packed with social and political observations that adroitly destabilize our comfortable assumptions about modern life is a triumph.
The Lesser BohemiansEimear McBride
RaveThe Huffington PostNot often does a novel so expertly seduce its readers into an alternate state of consciousness that it mimics an actual dream state ... The Lesser Bohemians, in short, doesn’t ease readers in. Instead, it teaches us to understand and bend to its unusual cadences and the unpredictable rules of its tiny universe. It’s not a book you’ll want to repeatedly take up and put down, because the most satisfying moments spent with it come after you’re dozens of pages in, when you realize that instead of struggling against the current you’ve been caught up irresistibly in its powerful pull.
Homesick For Another WorldOttessa Moshfegh
RaveThe Huffington PostThe unpleasant, even grotesque behaviors of her characters seem amplified thanks to Moshfegh’s cool, matter-of-fact prose. In either first-person or close third-person narration, the blunt, unemotional words with which her characters relate their petty cruelties, addictions, and even bodily functions never ceases to be slightly jarring ... There’s something refreshing and funny about her unvarnished portrayal of human squalor, but also something unsettling and difficult to swallow. It’s not a book to reassure readers of the essential goodness of the human race; it’s a queasy jolt to our optimistic selves, a reminder of the lowest, most id-driven proclivities of humanity. This may sound unappealing, yet Moshfegh’s talent is a sheer delight ― and the heedless misbehavior of her characters is a reminder, needed now more than ever, that we’re not such an elevated species as we’d like to think, and that following our base impulses can lead us nowhere fast.
MixedThe Huffington PostRuskovich’s prose, which keenly captures the harsh beauty of the Idaho mountains where the novel takes place, can be intoxicating; the sticky sourness of lemonade and the sting of woody smoke in the air hit the reader almost viscerally in the tastebuds and nose. Yet the forceful, crackling life of her scenery isn’t quite matched by the characters that move within it. By giving the narration of the novel mostly to its women, Ruskovich sets Wade, the man at its heart, to the side. Aside from jumbled memories of his early years, his romance with Jenny, we hear little directly from him. The result, perhaps intentional, is that he remains a cipher, from the shape of his mourning to the possible shades of guilt, rage, heartbreak and betrayal that might lie underneath it ... It’s a novel about the psychological ripples of an unthinkable crime, but it ultimately wavers when it comes to laying bare the psyches of its subjects, which remain too opaque to be revelatory ... Lyrical, sharply beautiful prose washes through Idaho, a dark and poignant debut that never quite manages to bring its characters to life yet remains gripping from beginning to end.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?Kathleen Collins
RaveThe Huffington PostCollins’ impressionistic, psychologically observant collection captures moments from a past era that should remind idealistic readers today that our disillusionment is not new ... At every turn, Collins burrows deep into the minds of her characters, mostly black women, and brings to life their daily joys and frustrations as well as their persistent anxieties ... Nearly 30 years after her too-early passing, this author’s powerful debut collection manages to perfectly embody the existential torment of her country.
White TearsHari Kunzru
RaveThe Huffington PostWhite Tears is a supernatural mystery, a horror story, and ultimately a tale of black Americans’ historical exploitation by white profiteers ... The book is moody, threatening, and profoundly dark; Kunzru’s prose has a Delilloesque density, constructing settings and atmospheres so charged and vivid they seem to envelop the reader in a miasma of mise-en-scène. Carter and Seth’s work, and the idealistic gloss they layer over a creeping sense of historical guilt, receives no artistically optimistic reading from Kunzru ... White Tears isn’t exactly a re-centering of black experience, but a collapsing of the white hero mythology that often guides American movies, books and TV shows that nominally address black culture. It zeroes in on an impulse that yearns to be pure, uncompromising and compensatory, finding the nasty worm of entitlement and exploitation that’s burrowed at the heart ... At every turn, Kunzru’s words concoct a dreamlike world where the past isn’t dead, nor even past, and the boundaries of reality flicker at the margins. For a nation seduced by a fantasy of white appropriation, maybe a horror story of white appropriation is exactly what we need.
The Idiot.Elif Batuman
PositiveThe Huffington PostBatuman wittily and wisely captures the tribulations of a shy, cerebral teenager struggling with love, friendship, and whether to take psycholinguistics or philosophy of language. Where many fictional depictions of young women show them exploring their sexuality and navigating romance, Selin is the rare heroine who’s too diffident to act on her sexual feelings toward Ivan ... This meandering approach to a novel can chafe. Memories of my own college days of nerdy unrequited love and intellectual insecurity make Selin’s story engrossing to me, but for those whose life took a different path, the internal monologue of a Harvard student in the ‘90s might seem precious and trivial.
RaveThe Huffington PostHer parents’ habits and catchphrases, her oddly religious yet profane upbringing, and her own mischievous attitude toward her childhood religion are the stuff of pure comedy, and Lockwood doesn’t waste a drop of it ... It’s a testament to Lockwood’s way with words that glimpses of such grotesque wrongdoing, painfully candid reflection on her youth and her family, and countless sidesplitting anecdotes about her boxer-clad father and her safety-obsessed mother can not only coexist in this book, but weave together seamlessly, constructing a memoir that’s propulsively readable and brimming with humor and insight.
RaveThe Huffington PostBeyond the exhilarating and terrifying evolution of the girls’ friendship, Buntin excels at capturing the sensations of girlhood ... At every turn, Buntin’s prose flows with the easy, confident rhythms of an accomplished writer, and though there’s really no mystery in the narrative, it reads nearly as compulsively as a thriller ... Marlena’s vivid portrait of a friendship between two teenage girls in a troubled community ― one who made out, and one who didn’t ― viscerally captures the sensations and heartaches of adolescence.