An American Marriage by Tayari Jones**
From the publisher: Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-elusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel.
Boy, did I love this book. Jones drags her characters through the unthinkable, and the reader goes with them. When Roy is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, his wife of only one year, Celestial, has to decide whether or not she can wait for him. There’s no right answer, and the book becomes an exquisitely written exploration of family bonds, love and loyalty. The epistolary section has got to be hands down the best example of its kind that I have ever read. It’s no wonder this book has been such a hit—Tayari Jones is a wonder.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
From the publisher: Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer–madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place–feels her inner world light up. Then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.
I’m really in awe of Wolitzer’s ability to weave the stories of all her characters and their different points of view through this book. This is everything I tend to look for in literary fiction—characters who feel familiar, like people I could know, whose fictional experiences can help me learn something valuable about my own life.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
From the publisher: How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.
By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.
I didn’t know who Alexander Chee was until I joined Twitter (to avoid excessive embarrassment, I am not going to reveal here when that was). I came across him in the sea of writers I follow, and added him to my list. Started looking into his work. His breakout novel, Edinburgh, was just a faint memory for most by this time, but I was just coming to it and devoured it. What a writer. Ruthlessly exploring the darkest side of people with the most beautiful language…what more could a reader want?
This is one of the best collections of essays I’ve read. I love seeing someone who is gifted with fiction put their skills to a different task. Chee is one of those writers who knows how to slip you right under his skin and let you feel what he has felt. Sometimes I was so moved by his words I just had to put the book down and take some time to absorb everything. A fabulous read!
Sadie by Courtney Summers
From the Publisher: Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him. When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late. Poised to be the next book you won’t be able to stop talking about, Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie will keep you riveted until the last page.
I completely agree. This is a rare YA pick for me, and I absolutely love it. Sadie is a fascinating character, and her voice is brilliant without trying too hard to be. A dark, compelling book that kept me turning pages voraciously. I could have read it in one sitting if only I had the luxury.
Other books I read this year and loved, though they were not put out in 2018:
Swamplandia! By Karen Russell
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Essay by Robin Yocum
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
**Special note: I actually did not choose these particular books because the covers all look so awesome displayed together. A serendipitous bookporn event.