December 14, 2009
All links go to the authors' contributions to the Book Notes series, and I have reposted my original review below each book.
What was your favorite novel of 2009?
C.E. Morgan's All the Living is a stunningly lyrical debut novel that blends themes of spirituality, identity, and our place in the world effortlessly. Easily one of the most remarkable novels I have read lately, this is a book I cannot recommend enough.
Geological and geographical metaphors abound in Cristina Henriquez's debut novel, The World in Half, as young geology student Miraflores searches for her father in Panama and ends up finding herself. In piecing together Mira's family history, Henriquez's gifts for lyrical prose, complex characters and sharp dialogue shine in one of the year's most moving and memorable novels.
From Henry Chang's Year of the Dog to Kris Saknussemm's Private Midnight to John Wray's Lowboy (which I just finished last night), books that feature detectives as protagonists have dominated my reading list over the past several months. I enjoyed all these books, but Jedediah Berry's debut novel, The Manual of Detection, impressed me most. Part noir detective novel, part speculative fiction, The Manual of Detection captivates with its clever writing, even the ancillary characters are well-wrought, as well as its surreal atmosphere.
His third novel, Lowboy, is easily the standout novel of 2009 for me so far, literary fiction that defies categorization. Part coming of age novel, part thriller, the book examines schizophrenia in a truly shocking (and amazing) fashion.
Jonathan Tropper's novel This Is Where I Leave You is a comic masterpiece. A dysfunctional family comes together to sit Shiva for their patriarch, and Tropper's insightful pen draws them with an impressive degree of humanity and pathos. This masterful blend of comedy and tragedy is one of my favorite novels of the year, a book I cannot stop myself from constantly recommending.
Beat the Reaper lives up to its considerable hype. Fast-moving, violent and surprisingly thoughtful, Bazell's debut novel is even charming at times, especially the protagonist, a hitman turned intern. Peter Brown has done many bad things, but his introspective nature shares his surprising moral compass clearly and often endears compassion from the reader. The book's humor combined with its quick pace made Beat the Reaper one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time.
Josh Weil's The New Valley heralds the introduction of a master storyteller to literature. The depth of sadness his intricately drawn characters experience in this trio of linked novellas is only equaled by the exquisitely described settings.
Libba Bray's novel Going Bovine, a modern day Don Quixote tale, hurtles through time and space with self-effacing humor. Mad cow disease, string theory, punk fairies, and animated lawn gnomes, combine with Bray's storytelling genius to produce one of the year's funniest and most surprisingly moving books.
Ron Currie, Jr.'s novel Everything Matters! has received many kudos, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, with surely many more to come. The novel impresses with its unconventional narrative and often implausible situations that Currie pulls off somehow like a literary magician, but its true charm lay in the well-wrought characters. Their life stories evolve and intertwine as each gets a chance to narrate in this apocalyptic tale.
Robert Goolrick's well-reviewed debut novel, A Reliable Wife, deserves the accolades. Intense, raw, and lyrical, the book has earned critical comparisons to both Wuthering Heights and Ron Rash's Serena.
In reviews of Big Machine, Victor LaValle has been compared to Thomas Pynchon, Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Junot Diaz, Ralph Ellison, and others, but his voice is unique with its snappy dialogue and dark humor set in often surrealistic environments.
The novel is as imaginative and clever a book I have read all year. While reading the book, I was reminded of the first time I read several of my favorite authors (Murakami, Vonnegut, Carver, etc.). When finished, I had one more name to add to that list, Victor LaValle.
also at Largehearted Boy:
previous lists at Largehearted Boy
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)