Do you like to read fiction that focuses on characters and families, or do you prefer novels that grapple with the big questions of society? Of course, that’s always been a false choice—writers have been combining the personal and political for centuries, from Tolstoy to Elena Ferrante. Some of the best novels I’ve read this year ask us to confront tough issues by immersing ourselves in the lives of people so deep and complex they practically live on the page.
In High Dive, Jonathan Lee approaches the Irish Republican Army’s 1984 bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton—an attempt to assassinate Margaret Thatcher—from the perspectives of Moose, the hotel’s assistant manager; his daughter, Freya, who’s working the front desk while trying to decide what to do with her life; and, audaciously, Dan, an IRA explosives expert. Even if the bomb wasn’t ticking in the background, you’d want to spend time with these characters; Lee draws you into their lives with humor and compassion. But this isn’t only a domestic comedy. What does it mean for a novelist to give equal weight, equal humanity, to a terrorist and the people who may be his victims?
Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun tells the intertwined stories of Margot and Thandi, two sisters in a poor Jamaican town, and their mother, Delores. In addition to being a nuanced portrait of one family, our starred review calls it “an astute social commentary on the intricacies of race, gender, wealth inequality, colorism, and tourism.” The Inseparables by Stuart Nadler and Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett are primarily family dramas, but they touch on mental illness, online harassment, and feminism, among other topics. All these novels would be perfect for book groups—I’ve been recommending them to my friends, hoping to find people to discuss them with. If you want to talk about them, find me on Twitter!Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.