Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Best Fiction So Far in 2016

I've read 150 books so far this year. In an earlier post, I compiled my top 10 audiobooks, so this list is just for non-audio, narrowing things down even further by only including adult fiction. Here's a baker's dozen of favourites.

Overall Hands-Down Favourite:

At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison [2015] - A cross between lyric nature writing and fiction. Storytelling that circles back to the opening scene via multiple points of view; broad cast of characters whose lives connect tangentially; references to myth within a realistic setting; close attention to the natural world; changes to a landscape through human activity over time. Beautiful prose.

Best Canadian Fiction Combining Elements of Music, Historical Fiction and Contemporary Realism (tie). I'd like to read more in this category, please:

Under the Visible Life by Kim Echlin [2015] - Alternating storylines. Women's lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Canada and USA. Mixed ethnicity. Female friendship. Opportunities taken/not taken. Jazz. "I was not lonely with Coltrane and Tyner inside me. I thought, 'This music is what marriage could be, playing solos at the same time and ending up together.'" 

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thein [2016] - "Don't ever try to be only a single thing, an unbroken human being." Three generations of individuals in China's tumultuous 20th century. Eloquent. Classical music. Tragedy. Survival.

Best Lesbian Novel (tie):

One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks [2015] - Brief chapters chart inner and outer weather over the period of a messy lesbian break-up. Atmospheric. Made me glad I don't live in Vancouver.

Yabo by Alexis De Veaux [2015] - Layered. Poetic. Mythic. Interwoven lives of two people existing across centuries, from the Middle Passage to colonial times to contemporary USA and Jamaica. Black women, lesbians, shapeshifters, and one fascinating intersex character named Jules.

Best Historical Fiction (3-way tie). All three of these expanded my view of women's lives in other places and times:

Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea [2015] - Real historical figures: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Colourful first-person voice of Lizzie Burns, an illiterate Irish woman who grew up working in the nineteenth century mills of Manchester and became the common-law wife of Engels. Complex lives and a rich historical setting.

The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman [2016] - It's a retelling of Honore de Balzac's Cousin Bette, set in 1950s New York City. I tried Cousin Bette and bailed  at the midway point, but that didn't stop me from diving into Schulman's latest novel. I love everything she writes. "Bette liked a novel whose insights into the human mind were not predictable and yet, upon revelation, were stunningly and obviously true." I like that kind of book too. A masterful novel just like this one.

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart [2015] - A small dispute with an unsavoury businessman escalates into a campaign of terror against a trio of unconventional sisters in 1914 rural New Jersey. Based on historical fact. Danger. Mystery. Comedy.

Best Contemporary Fiction (tie):

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill [2015] - A novel about people, not horses. Brief chapters, quick pace. Narrative alternates between Ginger, an Anglo alcoholic in upstate New York, and Velveteen, 11-year-old Brooklynite with a Dominican single mother. Everyone is negotiating emotional minefields.

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie [2016] - Adorable! Lessons about being true to yourself. Warmth, wackiness and squirrels.

Best Speculative Fiction (tie). Both are blends of fantasy and near-future science fiction, with elements of environmental catastrophe. Both also happen to be steeped in queer sensibilities:

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders [2016] - A couple of misfits take different paths as they grow up - will it take magic or technology to save the world? Ethics and responsibility. Exuberant. Whimsical. Hopeful. Refreshing.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan [2015] - Folkloric. Evocative. Quietly enchanting. A drowned world with most living on water and few on islands. A travelling circus. A self-imposed solitary existence. Forgiveness.

Best Short Story Collection:

American Housewife by Helen Ellis [2016] - Hilarious! Short stories interspersed with other short pieces; reminded me a bit of Rebecca Makkai but Ellis has her own sly style. The things her housewives get up to, you would not believe!


Jenny Colvin said...

Oh I love a mid-year wrap up and I may borrow your idea. I have added "One hundred days of rain" to my reading list! I hadn't heard of it and it sounds good. Also, On Hawthorne Time has moved up my list because it is the first time someone has described it in a way that sounded appealing. Thanks for sharing!

Lindy said...

Jenny, I'd love to hear what you think after you read Hawthorn Time. I passed it to my next-door neighbour after I read it and she liked it so much that she ordered another book by Melissa Harrison from an overseas source.