RaveTIMEExquisitely gut-churning ... Brundage’s elegant exploration of motive—in all its directions—sets this book apart ... Paranormal activity hangs in the atmosphere [and] Brundage takes us compellingly inside the perverse machinations of a violently narcissistic mind [that] recalls Patricia Highsmith’s talented Mr. Ripley.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat GirlMona Awad
RaveTIMEBefore all the hours of cardio, the dinners of grains, the awful relationships and the dressing-room visits that end in tears, teenage Lizzie makes a promise to herself: 'Later on I’m going to be really f-cking beautiful...I’ll be hungry and angry all my life but I’ll also have a hell of a time.' A hell, indeed. And Awad’s sensitive, unflinching depiction of it is a valuable addition to the canon of American womanhood.
The Queen of the NightAlexander Chee
PositiveTIMELike Georges Bizet’s Carmen or Pamina in The Magic Flute, Lilliet is more persona than personality: her love is passionate but shallow, and her motives don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s the ball gowns and roses, magic tricks and ruses, hubris and punishment that will keep the reader absorbed until the final aria, waiting to see whom fate will curse and whom it will avenge.
Raymie NightingaleKate DiCamillo
PositiveTIMEKate DiCamillo has made a career of inventing young characters whose soulfulness rivals that of the adults in their lives, from her iconic first novel for young readers, Because of Winn-Dixie (2000), to the Newbery-winning Flora & Ulysses (2013). Raymie Nightingale too reminds adults about the profound depth of childhood feelings.
In Other WordsJhumpa Lahiri
PositiveTIMEUnder Lahiri and Goldstein’s joint custody, all this caretaking leads to a quiet coming of age–both a liberation from the constraints of perfectionism and a meditation on new beginnings.
Human ActsHan Kang
PositiveTIMEHer new novel, Human Acts, showcases the same talent for writing about corporeal horrors ... Han deftly outlines the anatomy of violence, as when a character’s cheek is struck so hard that 'the capillaries laced over her right cheekbone burst.' Wounds form scars, and over decades, the survivors bear reminders of their pain–and of the lives cut down beside them.
Days Without EndSebastian Barry
RaveTIME...in spite of those horrors, Days Without End is suffused with joy and good spirit ... Through Barry, the frontiersman has a poet's sense of language. His thoughts on his sergeant's visible aging: 'Like we got 10 faces to wear in our lives and we wear them one by one.' If you underlined every sentence in Days Without End that has a rustic beauty to it, you'd end up with a mighty stripy book.
Six FourHideo Yokoyama
PositiveTIMESix Four makes its U.S. debut four years after it came out in Japan, where it was a literary blockbuster. The book sold more than a million copies and was adapted both for film and for TV. Part of its appeal was the way it illuminated the country's deep tradition of hierarchy and control. This is a story about frustration at work — wanting to do what's right vs. needing to do what's expected. Though it deploys common tropes of crime fiction and its lightly noir style, Six Four's unusual focus on the PR side of police work sets it apart and gives it unexpected heat. Yokoyama avoids simplistic moralizing, and instead offers the reader a compelling interrogation of duty. Some of the twists along the way are less shocking than American readers might expect. But the final one pays off.
Amiable With Big TeethClaude McKay
PositiveTIMEAmiable With Big Teeth, lives up to McKay's reputation. The book satirizes life in Harlem during the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, when 'Aframericans' (the Jamaica-born author's term) rose up in support of Ethiopians. He was taking aim at the white communists who tried to infiltrate pro-Ethiopia groups to win support for their cause, manipulating the 'poor black sheep of Harlem' without caring about their problems. Socialites, intellectuals and hucksters debate the conflict abroad from the parlors and churches of Harlem, while communists picket to 'Make Harlem safe for Soviet Russia.' McKay mocks both sides, but he knows the stakes: 'If a native state can maintain its existence in Africa and hold its head up among the white nations,' one character says, 'it adds to the self-respect of the colored Americans' ... The story could have used tightening, but it's a shame for McKay's contemporaries that it was passed over. For us, it's a lucky treat.
4 3 2 1Paul Auster
PositiveTIMEAuster's long sentences and meandering plots amount to a detailed landscape where readers with a penchant for what-ifs can spend more time with an endearing young man, his spirited crush, his charming mother, and the circle of father figures, teachers and friends who love him. All this lovability is in service of a particular metafictional end point, it turns out — and for readers who like taking the scenic route, getting taken for a ride will be worth it.
Exit WestMohsin Hamid
PositiveTIMEHamid's prose powerfully evokes the violence and anxiety of lives lived 'under the drone-crossed sky.' But his whimsical framing of the situation offers a hopeful metaphor for the future as the 'natives' come to accept their new neighbors. 'Perhaps they had grasped that the doors could not be closed,' he writes, 'and new doors would continue to open, and they had understood that the denial of coexistence would have required one party to cease to exist, and the extinguishing party too would have been transformed in the process.'
No One Is Coming to Save UsStephanie Powell Watts
PositiveTIMEWatts picks and chooses which elements of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story to keep (car accident, yes; wild parties, no). The looseness frees her to build a narrative that stands on its own terms ... Like Fitzgerald, Watts excels at physical descriptions that give texture to the world of the novel ... Though disjointed in places, the novel conjures the 'Is that all there is?' mood of Gatsby to great effect. To call Watts 'promising' would diminish her significant accomplishments, which include a Whiting Award and a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction. In the best possible way, this is the kind of book that makes a reader yearn for her next one.
Rising Star: The Making of Barack ObamaDavid Garrow
PanTIME...a 1,460-page haute-tabloid tome ... The author relies heavily on interviews with a former girlfriend, Sheila Miyoshi Jager, with whom Obama lived in the 1980s, as if that relationship were the key to understanding his personality ... Observers of the Obamas' 25-year marriage will find the characterization of their romance as merely political plainly out of touch.
Saints for All OccasionsJ. Courtney Sullivan
RaveTIMESullivan lets readers in on these secrets even as most of her characters stay in the dark, elevating the novel above the average family drama. With tenderness and a knack for depicting Irish grandmothers that anybody who has one will appreciate, Sullivan celebrates ordinary people doing their best to live saintly lives.
The Changeling.Victor LaValle
RaveTIMEThe combination of Grimm-ish allusion and social commentary might seem pat in the hands of less capable authors, but LaValle executes the trick with style. 'Fairy tales are not for children,' as one character explains. 'They didn't used to be anyway. They were stories peasants told each other around the fire after a long day, not to their kids.' To that end, LaValle has written a story full of things to terrify not children but the parents who lose sleep worrying about how best to protect them.
Homesick For Another WorldOttessa Moshfegh
PanTIMEHomesick for Another World showcases her mastery with tales of a range of creeps and weirdos in despair, looking for something that will make this world more palatable to them (or vice versa). Moshfegh sympathizes with these people on the margins even as she mocks them, often suturing together comedy and tragedy in one sentence ... This cast of boors may not be the kind of folks readers would seek out to spend time with in real life. But in Moshfegh’s stories, their company is irresistible.
The Ministry of Utmost HappinessArundhati Roy
RaveTIMELike its predecessor, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a complex, nonlinear narrative that blends the personal and political. But unlike The God of Small Things, which focused on a pair of twins whose tragedy was familial, this is a novel of conflict on a grand scale ... There may be terrible bloodshed in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, but it is undeniably good literature. Roy's rich and knowing narration wings across the landscape, traversing caste, religion and gender divides. She acerbically captures the cruel ironies of a city like Delhi, where dead paupers lie in 'air-conditioned splendor' in the morgue, despite never having 'experienced anything of the kind while they were alive.' She has a keen sympathy for women in dangerous spaces, whose bodies are used as shields, sacrifices and good-luck charms ... Arriving as it does at a time of geopolitical uncertainty, Roy's novel will be the unmissable literary read of the summer. With its insights into human nature, its memorable characters and its luscious prose, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is well worth the 20-year wait.
Moving KingsJoshua Cohen
PositiveTIME...though the characters may not be particularly erudite, Cohen's writing is filled with sharp turns of phrase and elegant rhythms ... Cohen's cadence is inflected with Hebrew, a language that David defines as 'the speech of the beleaguered, the last exasperation before a spanking.' And a spanking is coming for David and his family ... The denouement is as vengeful as any Old Testament plot twist.
Magpie MurdersAnthony Horowitz
RaveTIMEMuch like his character Alan, he is both prolific and a bona fide student of the golden age of detective fiction — and his knowledge shines through in this book, which is catnip for classic mystery lovers. As a Christie disciple, he is near equal to his master ... With its elegant yet playful plotting, Magpie Murders is the thinking mystery fan's ideal summer thriller.