Best Indie Fiction, 2013: From Kevin Barry to Larry Watson
Barry, Kevin. Dark Lies the Island. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555976514. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781555970826
With dark humor, apt characterization, and beautifully condensed emotion, International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner Barry delivers a resounding second story collection, deftly capturing the subject of each piece, whether it’s an individual or an entire community.
Bell, Matt. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods. Soho. ISBN 9781616952532. $25.ebk. ISBN 9781616952532.
Set in a mysterious backwoods where a newly married couple has settled, first novelist Bell’s lyrical, nearly mythic tale reads like a fable and cuts like a diamond-sharp knife as it examines fatherhood, familial relationships, and our unsteady relationship with nature.
Boswell, Robert. Tumbledown. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555976491. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781555970765.
A therapist working with troubled young adults watches his own life start to tumble in this clear-eyed, compassionate tale of modern life, rich with empathetic characters and the sharp consideration of moral issues.
Erens, Pamela. The Virgins. Tin House. ISBN 9781935639626. pap. $15.95.
Outsiders at a prestigious East Coast boarding school in 1979, Aviva Rossner and Seung Jung find and then tragically lose each other. Rarely has the anguish of young love, self-discovery, and sexual jealousy—heightened by the sting of class division—been rendered so tellingly.
Freeman, Ru. On Sal Mal Lane. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555976422. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781555970727.
In this luminous, heartbreaking work, the families living on Sal Mal Lane in early 1980s Colombo, Sri Lanka, are distinctively portrayed even if their various ethnic, religious, and political affiliations will soon loom large in a nation on the brink of bloodshed.
Forbes, Michèle. Ghost Moth. Bellevue Literary. ISBN 9781934137604. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781934137611.
Rendered with jewellike perfection, this novel offers both heat and heart as it portrays the marriage of Katherine and George Bedford, unsteadied by the sectarian violence of 1969 Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Katherine’s recall of a lost, passionate love.
Gonzalez Peña, Veronica. The Sad Passions. Semiotext(e). ISBN 9781584351207. pap. $17.95.
In arrestingly cool, sharply delivered prose that nicely discloses the haunting pain beneath the surface, Gonzalez Peña tells the story of a middle-class family splintered by a mother’s undiagnosed mental illness.
Hacker, Christopher. The Morels. Soho. ISBN 9781616953652. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781616952440.
Portraying self-absorbed, self-sabotaging violinist-turned-novelist Arthur Morel, whose latest work baldly reveals the details of his family life, this audaciously, darkly witty book portrays the limits of both human understanding and the demands of art
Kasischke, Laura. If a Stranger Approaches You. Sarabande. ISBN 9781936747498. pap. $15.95.
Sometimes edgily humorous, sometimes darkly surreal, the stories in this first collection from distinguished poet Kasischke, winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award, show us how human relationships crumble.
Ledgard, J.M. Submergence. Coffee House. ISBN 9781566893190. pap. $15.95.
Marched by jihadists through an unforgiving Somali landscape, English agent James More recalls his affair with a coolly independent woman mathematician in an intensive, coruscatingly beautiful book that plumbs the will to survive.
Macleod, Muriel Mharie. What The River Washed Away. Oneworld. ISBN 9781780742342. pap. $14.95. ebk. ISBN 9781780742359.
Macleod sets her tough-minded, wrenchingly lyrical debut in early 1900s Louisiana, where Arletta lives in a backwoods shack with a voodoo priestess and endures incessant violation by two white pedophiles. What doesn’t break her makes her stronger.
Newman, Charles. In Partial Disgrace. Dalkey Archive. ISBN 9781564788160. pap. $18.
More than 20 years in the making, this final, posthumous work of legendary TriQuarterly editor Newman is at once sharply satirical and breathtakingly epic in its account of an imaginary Central European country both before and after World War II, when the United States intrudes.
Ridgway Keith. Hawthorn & Child. New Directions. ISBN 9780811221665. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780811221672.
One of the best literary noirs you will ever read, this London fog–shrouded novel features mid-level detectives Hawthorn and Child, who track a series of surreal cases disclosed in pointedly off-kilter prose.
Sackville, Amy. Orkney. Counterpoint. ISBN 9781619021198. $25; pap. ISBN 9781619023161. $15.95.
Using hushed, radiant language that carries a hint of danger to capture how love shapes us, this tale of unsettling obsession portrays a literature professor’s marriage to a gifted but mysterious student 40 years his junior.
Shepard, Karen. The Celestials. Tin House. ISBN 9781935639558. pap. $15.95.
Heartfelt fiction grounded in carefully researched history, this novel tells the story 75 Chinese laborers who travel from San Francisco to North Adams, MA, in 1870 to work at a shoe factory, where they are unwittingly breaking a strike.
Van Essen, Thomas. The Center of the World. Other. ISBN 9781590515495. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590515501.
When he discovers a long-lost portrait of Helen of Troy by J.M.W. Turner that’s unexpectedly sensuous for this artist, a middle-aged man in contemporary New York gets “a glimpse into the heart of things,” elegantly delivered here by first novelist Van Essen.
Watson, Larry. Let Him Go. Milkweed. ISBN 9781571311023. $24.
A determined woman seeks to wrestle her grandson from her newly widowed, newly remarried daughter-in-law in a tough, reverberant work that considers the importance of family as it sketches a portrait of the rugged, uncompromising early 1950s American West.
Best Fiction in Translation, 2013: From César Aira to A.B. Yehoshua
Aira, César. The Hare. New Directions. tr. from Spanish by Nick Caistor. ISBN 9780811220903. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780811221207.
In language like beaten silver—and indeed the shimmery, slippery nature of language matters tremendously here—celebrated Argentine novelist Aira tells the story of 19th-century British naturalist Clarke, who’s roaming the pampas in search of the famed Legibrerian hare when a group of natives ask him to find their missing chief.
Binebine, Mahi. Horses of God. Tin House. tr. from French by Lulu Norman. ISBN 9781935639534. pap. $14.95.
A Moroccan painter, novelist, and former math teacher, Binebine offers a keen-eyed and unsentimental look at life in a Casablanca slum, presenting a group of boys who start out playing soccer and end up as suicide bombers.
Grunberg, Arnon. Tirza. Open Letter. tr. from Dutch by Sam Garrett. ISBN 9781934824696. pap. $16.95.
With his wife gone, his older daughter in France, his savings lost after 9/11, and his job yanked away, Jörgen Hofmeester has nothing but younger daughter Tirza—and now she’s planning a trip to Africa with her boyfriend. An affecting, propulsively told tale of middle-aged loss.
Knausgaard, Karl Ove. A Man in Love. (My Struggle: Book 2). Archipelago. tr. from Norwegian by Don Bartlett ISBN 9781935744825. $26.
Second in a six-volume magnum opus that Archipelago has bravely committed to bring us, this magisterial work gives us a character named Karl Ove Knausgaard who abandons his wife, moves to Stockholm, and discovers new love—and the travails of starting a new family.
Krasznahorkai, László. Seiobo There Below. New Directions. tr. from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. ISBN 9780811219679. pap. $17.95;
In this follow-up to Krasznahorkai’s Santantango, written in mesmerizing prose of near-hallucinatory beauty and with the stateliness of a Japanese Noh drama, the goddess Seiobo returns to the world of mere mortals.
Koch, Herman. The Dinner. Hogarth: Crown. tr. from Dutch by Sam Garrett. ISBN 9780770437855. $24; pap. ISBN 9780385346856. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780385346849.
As two couples meet at a posh restaurant in Amsterdam to discuss a crisis involving their teenage sons that has wide-ranging repercussions, the mood changes from glazedly polite to absolutely shocking.
Lindstrøm, Merethe. Days in the History of Silence. Other. tr. from Norwegian by Anne Bruce. ISBN 9781590515952. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590515976.
This quietly stunning novel, winner of the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, tells the story of a marriage painfully undone by the secrets of both spouses—his Jewish heritage, hidden to protect his children from his wartime trauma, and her surrendering a son she bore at age 17.
Marías, Javier. The Infatuations. Knopf. tr. from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. ISBN 9780307960726. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307960733.
When distinguished film distributor Miguel Desvern is murdered, protagonist Luisa Alday draws close to the widow in a book that International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner Marías makes rich with speculation on life’s ambiguity and the meaning of love and death.
Martinez, Carole. The Threads of the Heart. Europa. tr. from French by Howard Curtis. ISBN 9781609450878. pap. $17.
In this magical tale, a family saga ranging from southern Spain to Algeria, Frasquita Carasco can raise the dead and sew gowns that beautify whoever wears them, while her daughter can stir lust and revolutionary fervor alike. Gorgeously rendered yet tinged with the outsider’s sorrow.
Michon, Pierre. The Eleven. Archipelago. tr. from French by Joy Gladding & Elizabeth Deshays. ISBN 9781935744627. pap. $18.
This limpid, beautifully understated novel, winner of the French Academy’s Grand Prix du Roman, recounts the rise from humble origins of painter François-Élie Corentin, who eventually produces a masterpiece called The Eleven that represents the members of the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror.
Myśliwski, Wiesław. A Treatise on Shelling Beans. tr. from Polish by Bill Johnston. Archipelago. ISBN 9781935744900. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780914671015.
Inspired by a surprise visitor, the elderly caretaker at a summer resort spills the beans on his entire life, from a childhood shattered by war to lost loves to his failed efforts to play the saxophone, told in relentless, pellucid detail that might puzzle thrill seekers but reads like life itself.
Pitigrilli. Cocaine. New Vessel. tr. from Italian by Eric Mosbacher. ISBN 9781939931092. pap. $16.49; ebk. ISBN 9781939931085.
A classic of Italian literature originally published in 1921 and immediately banned by church authorities, this vividly rendered novel follows restless young Tito Arnaudi to Jazz-Age Paris, where in decidedly unredeeming fashion he indulges a lust for power and sex.
Seghers, Anna. Transit. New York Review Books. tr. from German by Margot Bettauer Dembo. ISBN 9781590176252. pap. $15.95.
Having endured arrest by the Gestapo and subsequently fled to Mexico by way of France, distinguished German author Seghers (1900–83) drew on her own life in this account of a nameless German narrator who escapes from a German concentration camp in 1937 and eventually ends up in Marseille. This excellent new translation introduces today’s readers to a masterpiece.
Trouillot, Évelyne. The Infamous Rosalie. Univ. of Nebraska. tr. from French by Marjorie Attignol Salvodon. ISBN 9780803240261. pap. $19.95.
In language both sumptuous and biting, Haitian university professor Trouillot gives us insight into New World slavery by telling the story of a Creole slave in 1750 Saint-Domingue.
Tsypkin, Leonid. The Bridge Over the Neroch & Other Works. New Directions. tr. from Russian by Jamey Gambrell. ISBN 9780811216616. pap. $16.95.
Including the indelible title novella, about four generations of a Russian Jewish family, this collection repeats the magic of Tsypkin’s Summer at Baden-Baden, a classic of the late Soviet era not published until 2001—two decades after Tsypkin’s death.
Vásquez, Juan Gabriel. The Sound of Things Falling. Riverhead. tr. from Spanish by Anne McLean. ISBN 9781594487484. $26.95. ebk. ISBN 9780547501673.
In this beautifully written work, law professor Antonio Yammara recalls the shooting death of friend Ricardo Laverde during the Colombian drug wars of the 1990s, though the book has less to do with those wars than with the power of memory.
Yehoshua, A.B. Retrospective. Houghton Harcourt. tr. from Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman. ISBN 9780547496962. $26.
For a retrospective of his work, Israeli director Yair Moses travels (symbolically) to Santiago de Compostela, where he must confront a break with a former collaborator in a novel that perceptively examines the ethical strengths and responsibilities of art.