My Favorite Novels of the Year: Staff Picks
How has another year gone by already? How have four years not gone by since November 8? I suppose some things are inexplicable, but here we are. One thing 2016 did well was fiction. My To-Read list has many leftovers, but these are my favorite novels that came out this year.
Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett, is a Kafkaesque tale set in the Nigerian city of Lagos. Barrett begins his story with an echo of The Metamorphosis:
Furo Warikboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep.
Furo’s body has transformed from black- to white-skinned, except for his ass, a perfect tone-setting detail for the book’s combination of satire and magical realism. Furo goes on a hero’s journey in search of his racial, sexual, and socioeconomic identity. The city of Lagos and he are unforgettable characters.
The Story of a Brief Marriage, by Anuk Arudpragasam, is a heartbreaking story about a young man trapped in the brutal Sri Lankan civil war. The book’s use of scope is remarkable. Just under 200 pages, it spans the course of a day and a night and zooms in on the life of Dinesh and other evacuees who are trying to survive in a camp that is constantly being bombed and under imminent threat of complete destruction. By using this small microscope, the unspoken macro issues have an even larger impact than they would if directly addressed. Even in the middle of the conflict, Dinesh himself is interested in thinking small, appreciating the sublime, and trying to understand interpersonal connections.
Thoughts, feelings, and conjectures, stories, jokes, and slander were nothing but thinly spun threads that tied the insides of people together long after speaking had ended, so that communities were nothing more than humans held together in this way, in large, intricate, imperceptible webs whose function was not so much to restrict movement as to connect each individual to every other.
The result is an intense poetic introspection on suffering and the personal devastation of war.
I looked forward to and enjoyed reading Emma Cline’s The Girls. I was born a month after the Manson Family murders and have always been interested in the psychological impact the crimes had on a counter-cultural era known for peace and love. The book’s conflict is driven by how much the innocent teenager Evie Boyd will commit to a cult led by a man not named Manson who the reader obviously knows is Manson. It’s very believable that a child this age could be drawn into a spontaneous decision that has unexpected lifelong impacts. As the father of a daughter who has somewhat recently cleared the teen era, I related to the stakes. But I think I got an even better appreciation concerning the narrative and its impact, assumptions, and limitations by reading an eye-opening essay by Morgan Jerkins that looked at the story from a different view. I re-read this essay often and am trying to push my defaults on experience and how I go about reading or writing about it:
Nineteen sixty-nine was a year of historic proportions. There were the Stonewall Riots, President Nixon's inauguration…hazlitt.net
For me, Morgan has started a larger conversation and is asking novel-worthy questions of her own.
The last book on my list is Eric Shonkwiler’s 8th Street Power & Light, which I recently reviewed for The Coil. I don’t think there is much I can add to this one other than given the events of November 8, possibly it’s time to invest in a larger supply of whiskey and re-read this novel as well as its predecessor, Above All Men.