If you’re a fiction lover, get ready. This week at BEA highlights many of the best books out this year.
Here, we’ve created a list of 10 books that any fiction fan should check out:
Following the direction taken by her last novel, The End of Everything, Edgar winner Abbott again delivers an unsettling look at the inner life of adolescent girls in the guise of a crime story. The setting is an unnamed, frighteningly familiar town that could be found anywhere in contemporary America. Narrator Addy has been lifelong best friend to Beth, now the powerful captain of Sutton Grove High School’s cheerleading squad. The cheerleaders are popular mean girls, and Beth is the meanest and most popular. Then a new coach, young and pretty Colette French, arrives. She immediately asserts her authority, not only taking away the girls’ cell phones, but also announcing there will be no squad captain. A battle of wills ensues between Coach and Beth…Compelling, claustrophobic and slightly creepy in a can’t-put-it-down way.
The deeply satisfying story of a Chicago family coming apart at the seams and weaving together at the same time. Former lawyer Edie Middlestein has always been a large presence, brilliant as a lawyer, loving as a mother, shrewish as a wife. Since early childhood, food has been her private if not secret passion. The novel is organized according to Edie’s fluctuations in weight, and the descriptions of her sensual joy in the gluttony that may be killing her are often mouthwatering. Sixty-ish Edie is obese and ravaged by diabetes. When her pharmacist husband, Richard, leaves her shortly before she’s scheduled for an operation, Edie’s children are outraged. Thirty-one-year-old teacher Robin is a fearful near alcoholic who has avoided intimacy since a disastrous experience in high school. Ironically, her new self-proclaimed hatred of her father opens her to the possibility of a relationship with her geeky neighbor Daniel, a gentle soul with a hidden but strong spine, not unlike Robin’s older brother Benny. Benny is happily married to Rachelle, a woman of fierce protectiveness who initially denies Richard all access to his grandchildren to punish him for his desertion. Is Richard a heartless, selfish man, or is he correct that Edie left him years before he left her? A little of both. All these characters feel more than one emotion at a time, and all are more than they first seem…A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life.
British author Cleave turns to the world of Olympic speed cyclists to explore the shifting sands of ambition, loyalty and love. Tom, who just barely missed his own medal in 1968, is coaching Kate and Zoe to represent Britain at the 2012 Olympics, which the 32-year-old women know will be their last. They are best friends but fierce rivals. Zoe, who already has won four Olympic golds, lives only to race and will do anything, including sacrifice friends, ethics and her own emotional needs, to come in first. Though technically as fast, Kate is a perpetual runner -up, and compared to Zoe, she seems almost soft; her willingness to put family needs first has caused her to pass up two previous Olympic competitions...In weaker hands this would seem a bit contrived, but Cleave knows how to captivate with rich characters and nimble plotting. Read our interview with Cleave online this week.
This is Ford’s first novel since concluding the Frank Bascombe trilogy, which began with The Sportswriter, peaked with the prize-winning Independence Day and concluded with The Lay of the Land. That series was for Ford what the Rabbit novels were for Updike, making this ambitious return to long-form fiction seem like something of a fresh start, but also a thematic culmination. Despite its title, the novel is as essentially all-American as Independence Day. Typically for Ford, the focus is as much on the perspective (and limitations) of its protagonist as it is on the issues that the narrative addresses. The first-person narrator is Dell Parsons, a 15-year-old living in Montana with his twin sister when their parents—perhaps inexplicably, perhaps inevitably—commit an ill-conceived bank robbery. Before becoming wards of the state, the more willful sister runs away with her boyfriend, while Dell is taken across the border to Canada, where he will establish a new life for himself after crossing another border, from innocent bystander to reluctant complicity. The first half of the novel takes place in Montana and the second in Canada, but the entire narrative is Dell’s reflection, 50 years later, on the eve of his retirement as a teacher. As he ruminates on character and destiny, and ponders “how close evil is to the normal goings-on that have nothing to do with evil,” he also mediates between his innocence as an uncommonly naïve teenager and whatever wisdom he has gleaned through decades of experience. Read our interview with Ford online this week.
Friday Night Lights meets In Cold Blood in this powerful tale of distant brothers whose torment over the murder of their sister when they were teens is compounded by the murder of another targeted teenage girl—a killing one of the brothers is determined to avenge even if that means committing murder himself…Koryta, who drew acclaim with his 2011 supernatural thrillers, The Ridge and The Cypress House, returns to crime fiction with a gripping work. This book succeeds on any number of levels. It's a brilliantly paced thriller that keeps its villains at a tantalizing distance, a compelling family portrait, a study in morality that goes beyond the usual black-and-white judgments, and an entertaining spin on classic football fiction. A flawless performance.
Hilderbrand’s latest Nantucket-based tale details the impact of a tragic accident on three families. Penelope Alistair and her twin brother, Hobson, are the golden juniors of Nantucket High. Penny, gifted with a beautiful voice, is destined for Broadway or the Met, and Hobby is a star athlete. Both are being courted by elite colleges, to the satisfaction and trepidation of their mother, Zoe, a CIA-trained chef who raised them alone. Driving Hobby, Jake and another friend, Demeter, home from a beach party, Penny goes berserk at the wheel of her boyfriend Jake’s Jeep and speeds off a dead-end road. Penny is killed instantly, and Hobby hovers in a coma for days before awakening to injuries that will dash his athletic ambitions. Jake and Demeter are unscathed, at least physically. Alcoholic, overweight Demeter harbors guilt over something she said to Penny that enraged her. What exactly set Penny off becomes the key mystery of the novel…Despite some well-worn plot expedients and an unduly preachy denouement, a sensitive glimpse into the lives of damaged people groping their way toward healing. Read our interview with Hilderbrand on her last book, Silver Girl.
Mosley offers two novellas in one volume, part of a series entitled Crosstown to Oblivion, the common theme being, "a black man destroys the world." In The Gift of Fire, the Titan Prometheus escapes from the bondage and torture imposed on him by the Olympians for bringing mankind the gift of fire and alights in present-day Los Angeles, intent on bringing humans a second gift: that of enlightenment, so they can free themselves from unwitting slavery at the hands of those selfsame Olympians. But so spiritually impoverished is the modern age that Prometheus finds he cannot bestow his gift without killing the recipients or driving them insane…Flip the book, and read again from the front, like the old Ace doubles, to encounter On the Head of a Pin, where Joshua Winterland works as a documenter at a company designing a fiber-optic tapestry, the Sail, intended for advanced animatronics editing techniques. But to everybody's surprise, the Sail turns out to be something quite different: a window into alternate worlds and times…Ingenious and mystical, although readers familiar with fantasy and science fiction will find little new or provocative here. Fans of Mosley's gumshoe noir books (or Blue Light, his earlier foray into the domain) will certainly wish to investigate.
Alix Kates Shulman
A surprisingly tart little literary satire from Shulman…At 36, Mack McKay has made a ton of money with a hugely successful career as a developer. He has an airplane and a growing art collection in his one-of-a-kind mansion in New Jersey. But he senses his marriage to Heather, whom he met when they were students at Yale, has gone stale. He still adores Heather but is spending more and more time in Los Angeles wining and dining a hottie named Maja. Meanwhile Heather has put her literary ambitions on hold to raise their two children in the suburbs, with the help of nannies of course. Mack senses Heather’s resentment, although not her sexual paranoia concerning Mack and Maja—an affair that is never going to happen, especially once Maja commits suicide. At her funeral, Mack meets Maja’s actual lover, dashingly handsome if aging Zoltan Barbu, whose book Mack meant to return to Maja before her untimely demise. Exiled from an unnamed Eastern European nation and championed by the likes of Susan Sontag, Zolton was once a literary cause célèbre but now is broke, suffering from writer’s block and about to be evicted from his apartment. Nevertheless he works his charm on Mack, who invites him back to the manse in New Jersey as a surprise for Heather. The agreement is that Zoltan will get a luxurious writer’s refuge and Heather will be presented with an intellectual companion. Needless to say, Mack’s plan goes awry…For a woman approaching 80, Shulman is delightfully wicked, verging on malevolent. Read Bookslut’s interview with Shulman.
Karen Thompson Walker
In Walker’s stunning debut, a young California girl coming of age in a dystopian near future confronts the inevitability of change on the most personal level as life on earth withers. Sixth-grader Julia, whose mother is a slightly neurotic former actress and whose father is an obstetrician, is living an unremarkable American middle-class childhood. She rides the school bus and takes piano lessons; she has a mild crush on a boy named Seth whose mother has cancer; she enjoys sleepovers with her best friend Hanna, who happens to be a Mormon. Then one October morning there’s a news report that scientists have discovered a slowing of the earth’s rotation, adding minutes to each day and night. After initial panic, the human tendency to adapt sets in even as the extra minutes increase into hours…The changes in the planet are profound, but the daily changes in Julia’s life, which she might be facing even in a normal day, are equally profound…Riveting, heartbreaking, profoundly moving.
A perfect wife’s disappearance plunges her husband into a nightmare as it rips open ugly secrets about his marriage and, just maybe, his culpability in her death. Even after they lost their jobs as magazine writers and he uprooted her from New York and spirited her off to his childhood home in North Carthage, Mo., where his ailing parents suddenly needed him at their side, Nick Dunne still acted as if everything were fine between him and his wife, Amy. His sister Margo, who’d gone partners with him on a local bar, never suspected that the marriage was fraying, and certainly never knew that Nick, who’d buried his mother and largely ducked his responsibilities to his father, stricken with Alzheimer’s, had taken one of his graduate students as a mistress. That’s because Nick and Amy were both so good at playing Mr. and Ms. Right for their audience. But that all changes the morning of their fifth anniversary when Amy vanishes with every indication of foul play…Interspersing the mystery of Amy’s disappearance with flashbacks from her diary, Flynn (Dark Places) shows the marriage lumbering toward collapse—and prepares the first of several foreseeable but highly effective twists.