The Best Fiction Books of the Year

By | January 1, 2020

Embarrassing note on number 10: I would’ve loved to have included Pierce Brown’s “Dark Age” and Erin Morgenstern’s “The Starless Sea” in this countdown, but I wasn’t able to finish them in time. However, since I’m fairly confident at least one would’ve been included, it didn’t feel right to exclude them completely.

9. [tie] “My Lovely Wife” by Samantha Downing and “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides were my favorite thrillers of the year. You may be more familiar with “Patient,” but “Lovely” has an equal ability to keep the pages flying.

8. “The Water Cure” by Sophie Mackintosh this might technically count as a 2018 novel, but I didn’t have the pleasure of discovering it until this year.

7. “The Border” by Don Winslow isn’t quite as good as “The Cartel,” but Winslow’s final book in the “Power of the Dog” trilogy is still a worthy conclusion that informatively tracks real-life events. Winslow’s real talent is down-and-dirty, page-turning storytelling ability which makes even a 736-page epic feel like essential, breathless reading.

6. “A Cosmology of Monsters” by Shaun Hamill makes a Texas-set horror novel feel like the most intimate of New England-set character studies. [I’m not a huge fan of the accuracy of author blurbs on book jackets, but Stephen King’s description of this as “if John Irving wrote a horror novel” feels exactly right.] Equal parts scary, funny (like a trip to a Christian haunted house), and making you care deeply about its endangered characters…rather than just waiting for the next one to get it.

5. “After the Flood” by Kassandra Montag is equal parts post-apocalyptic environmental disaster book, oceanic adventure story, and a drama about a mother searching for a child she isn’t sure is still alive.

4. “The Gifted School” by Bruce Holsinger is about the tension a new school for the “gifted” causes between a once-tight knit group of parents (some of whose kids have drifted apart). The book is really about the subtle competitiveness that develops between even the most open-minded of parents, and the nightmare “school choice” arm’s race that now makes students feel like they’re auditioning for the chance to have a future.

3. “Daisy Jones and the 6” by Taylor Jenkins Reid can be read in a single sitting. I’m not boomer nostalgist, and am not even especially interested in the music of the 60’s/70’s (“Echo in the Canyon” is almost snooze-inducing), but this dialogue driven book is just that well-written and in-the-moment natural. It’s so unforced that it wouldn’t surprise me if Reid wrote each page almost as quickly as we devour them.

2. “Women Talking” by Miriam Toews another book that you’ll probably read in no time. Toews novel–about the real-life group of Mennonite women raped in South America by a group of men in their community–is narrated by a man (perhaps an unreliable narrator?) adding an extra layer of mystery to this deceptively “simple” story.

My favorite work of fiction this year is “Deaf Republic” by Ilya Kaminsky which is the first time I’ve ever chosen a poetry collection. It’s about the murder of a deaf boy by invading troops of a peaceful unnamed country (it seems a lot like the occupation of Crimea by Russia), and the decision by remaining citizens to rebel in subtle ways–like pretending to be deaf to the orders of the brutal soldiers. In a year that saw some of the most critically acclaimed books trip themselves up by being written in joylessly difficult prose, this is a perfect example of how the best, most affecting books are the simplest. [Also, “The 29th Year” by Hala Alyan is another great 2019 poetry collection.]

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