From Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Gone Girl, contemporary marriage has frequently been subject to scathing literary portrayals. Andria Williams, however, may well be the first to set marital tribulations against the backdrop of a (literal) nuclear meltdown. Given this, ahem, explosive premise, it’s interesting to note that Williams’ debut eschews the extremities favored by the likes of Edward Albee or Gillian Flynn. The Longest Night is a closely observed study with its feet planted firmly in domestic realism.
It is impossible to explain fully the beautiful, haunting emotional power of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton. Magic? Genius? Certainly much of its power arises from the mesmerizing voice of Lucy Barton, teller of this tale. And much of it comes from the details of the story she slowly unfolds.
David Mitchell’s novel Slade House first came to life as a short story delivered in 140-character bursts on Twitter. That story, “The Right Sort,” is now the first entry in a chilling novel in stories that’s an intriguing companion piece to Mitchell’s 2014 novel, The Bone Clocks, an intricate saga of a war between two groups of time travelers.
“The sleep of reason produces monsters.” These words can be found in an etching by Francisco Goya, reproduced at the beginning of Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (or 1,001 nights, that magical number). It’s a nightmarish image of a young man asleep, slumped over a table as a horde of wide-eyed and shadowy creatures bear down upon him.
It takes a writer of immense confidence and talent to fashion beautiful stories that chronicle ordinary people coping with devastating challenges. Adam Johnson demonstrated this talent in his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, which received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He now does the same in Fortune Smiles, a collection of six powerful short stories in which characters are forced to contend with some of life’s biggest tragedies.
In Sarah Nović’s first novel, Girl at War, her protagonist Ana Jurić lives “suspended between the living and the dead” after witnessing the atrocities of the Croatian War of Independence.
“Anna was a good wife, mostly.” So opens Jill Alexander Essbaum’s remarkable debut novel, the mesmerizing story of Anna Benz, an American expatriate who has lived in Zurich for nine years with her husband, Bruno—a Swiss banker—and their three children.
Kelly Link tends to inspire a range of comparisons to other authors—usually, some blend of Angela Carter and Haruki Murakami—but, in fact, nobody writes stories like hers. Link’s fantastical worlds feel utterly real, partly because they’re intensely matter-of-fact. Her characters are sassy, moody and cool, and they never, ever make any big deal out of the fact that there are monsters, aliens, vampires or ghosts hanging around, or that they might stumble into a pocket universe or some alternate dimension. Mostly they’re concerned with cute guys and flirting and drinks, plus occasionally needing to save the world.
O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison’s debut novel is a puzzle with the outside pieces finished. Reading it is like compulsively fitting all those revealing middle pieces together. Annie Black, a happily married 40-something San Francisco businesswoman, delves into her careless youth after her 21-year-old son is injured in a car accident. Spinning a tale of the three drunken months she spent in Europe in 1989, she demonstrates how the past can shape the future.
“There are often two conversations going on in a marriage,” short-story writer Robin Black claims in her debut novel, Life Drawing. “The one that you’re having and the one that you’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know when that second, silent one has begun.” One could suggest that there are two conversations going on in this quiet, yet exquisitely crafted novel: the conversation between Augusta (Gus) and her husband Owen, and the conversation they’re not having, about Gus having cheated on him.