As I write this in mid-September, the six finalists for the Kirkus Prize for Fiction have been chosen by the judges, but we haven’t announced them to the world yet—and I can’t wait. It’s been an exciting year for fiction, and the list could easily have been twice as long, but the six finalists are books I’ll be recommending to friends and colleagues for years to come.
Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown) is the intimate, complex story of a family haunted by mental illness. The book is narrated in turns by Margaret and John and their children, Michael, Celia, and Alec, and as our review says, “Haslett shapes these characters with such sympathy, detail, and skill that reading about them is akin to living among them.”
Joe McGinniss Jr.’s Carousel Court(Simon & Schuster) is an up-to-the-minute tale of underwater mortgages and marital crisis in a California cul-de-sac. As Nick and Phoebe Maguire’s plan to flip their house goes south and their marriage crumbles, McGinniss “injects [the story] with an urgency, a sense of constant, inescapable threat,” according to our review.
C.E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) tells the story of the aristocratic Forge family of Paris, Kentucky, and the land Henry Forge turns into a horse farm. Our review calls its “vaultingly ambitious, thrillingly well-written, charged with moral fervor and rueful compassion.”
Annie Proulx’s Barkskins (Scribner) is a multigenerational epic set in Canada’s North Woods, tracing the descendants of two 17th-century “barkskins” or woodcutters. Our review says “Proulx’s story builds in depth and complication…and is always told with the most beautiful language.”
Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow(Viking) follows the remarkably full life of Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel for writing a subversive poem. Our review calls it “a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight.”
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (Doubleday) imagines an actual underground railroad, complete with tracks and a steam locomotive, and follows a woman named Cora as she escapes the hell of slavery only to find…not what she expected. Our review calls it “startlingly original” and says, “Whitehead continues the African-American artists' inquiry into race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity.”
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.