December 13, 2011
2011 was yet another banner year for fiction. These are the 11 novels I have most recommended to friends, family, and anyone else who has crossed my path this year.
What was your favorite novel of 2011?
Hector Tobar stunningly captures modern Southern California in his novel The Barbarian Nurseries, clearly illustrating the cultural and class divides. Tobar has earned comparisons to T.C. Boyle and Tom Wolfe with this book, and his gift for both social commentary and relatable characters make it one of the year's finest works of fiction.
A handful of publishers consistently amaze me, and one of those is Two Dollar Radio. I have enjoyed almost everything they have published, especially Barbara Browning's novel The Correspondence Artist.
The Correspondence Artist is an incredibly smart book, framing an affair through four e-mail correspondences with imaginary lovers. Browning both flaunts and expands the form of the novel with this book, one of the true literary breakthroughs of our young century.
Kevin Wilson's debut novel is unique, compelling, and bizarre. The Fangs might be the year's quirkiest literary family, and Wilson's writing skills are all on show as he moves the story from their odd lives to darker spaces.
Alina Bronsky's novel The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine delivers the most unforgettable and entertaining fictional character of the year. Rosalinda Achmetowna, the book's unreliable narrator, is fascinatingly manipulative, deceitful, and selfish. Her worldview is captivating, and Bronsky's talent at engulfing the reader in her mind is evident from the first page to the last. At turns laugh out loud funny and horrifying, this book is an instant dark humor classic.
Bonnie Nadzam's stunning novel Lamb is the story of one man's obsession with and psychological manipulation of a young girl.
Critical comparisons to Nabokov's Lolita are both plentiful and well-deserved. As beautifully written as it is disturbing, Lamb is the most unsettling book I have read since Emma Donoghue's Room.
Teju Cole's debut novel Open City is both understated and powerful. Comparisons to W.G. Sebald and J.M. Coetzee have been made, but his intelligent prose and engaging narrative stand on their own in this engrossing story of a Nigerian immigrant in New York City.
Ernest Cline's debut novel Ready Player One is possibly the most fun book I have read all year. Cline skillfully weaves a plethora of 1980s pop culture references into this fast-paced and wonderfully geeky dystopian coming of age story set thirty years in the future.
Innovative in form and startling in its storytelling, Shards is a brilliant debut novel from Ismet Prcic.
Karen Russel's debut novel Swamplandia! is stunningly immersive. Set in the Thousand Islands of the Florida Everglades and filled with an assortment of memorably quirky and unique characters, this story of an alligator-wrestling family is clever, engaging, and simply an unforgettable tale of family and coming of age.
Eleanor Henderson's debut novel Ten Thousand Saints is an edgy, imaginative, and riveting coming of age story set in the New York's hardcore music scene of the late '80s.
Vanessa Veselka's debut novel Zazen is so immersive and lyrical, I found myself piecing the novel out over a couple of weeks so the experience of reading it would last as long as possible. Zazen is a literary gem, a post-9/11 work filled with fear, terrorism, beauty and hope.
also at Largehearted Boy:
previous lists at Largehearted Boy
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks book reviews