As Thanksgiving and Hanukkah ring the bell on the closing weeks of the year, it is a good time to reflect back on some of the year’s firsts—in the form of debut novels. Here are five that deserve attention.
- The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffy (Liveright).
With graceful and precise observations, Duffy traces the journey of Angus MacGrath and his son Simon as they both find their feet in the shifting sands brought on by World War I. Character-rich, deeply immersive, and told with the utmost respect for its unfolding story, this debut spans historical fiction and war writing with a finely balanced hand.
- Snapper by Brian Kimberling (Pantheon).
Filled with a motley crew of characters, quick dialog, and enough offbeat events to keep readers hooked, this novel by playwright Kimberling blends stories that unfold in a violent, witty, and fascinating arc held together by college grad Nathan Lochmueller, who collects the sounds of songbirds for a pittance.
- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Hogarth).
At once lyrical and searing, Marra’s debut mines the landscape and fate of Chechnya, focusing centrally upon the years between 1996 through 2004, spilling backwards and forwards in time among chapters. Multilayered and deeply intertwined, this novel is deftly constructed to weave the fate and relationships of its characters together in astounding fashion.
- The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell (Amy Einhorn: Putnam).
Stylish, engrossing, and quickly paced, Rindell’s first novel explores desire and obsession in 1920s New York City. Rose Baker is a typist for the police, prim but not committed to being proper, she soon falls into the thrall of a new typist, Odalie, a woman involved with all manner of vices.
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (Harper).
This beautifully set and mystical novel of two magical creatures in late 19th-century New York City straddles historical fiction and fantasy, a combination that is both addictive and deeply pleasurable. Wecker’s descriptive prose invites slow reading of Golem and Jinni’s adventures while her inventive plot keep interest high.