In a time-honored Powell's tradition, we'll be releasing the 2017 edition of our Staff Top Fives on January 1. To tide you over until then, here's a sneak peek at some of our favorite new fiction titles.
This prophetic debut novel from Omar El Akkad has haunted me since I read it in April. American War paints a bleak future in which the North and South are warring for a second time in US history, this time over fossil fuel use in the year 2074. In this sharply written book, El Akkad explores asymmetric warfare, climate change, rebellion, extrajudicial torture, refugees, and the ethics of unmanned drones raining death and destruction on innocent civilians. I cannot recommend it highly enough. A must-read vision of warfare and ethics in the coming century.
– Mary S.
What I love most about this magnificent novel is the realistic way Fridlund places her young protagonist Linda's loneliness at the center of the story. Even though the plot contains very dramatic elements, the story's merit and complexity stem from its unswerving focus on Linda's interpretation of events, which is shaped by her limited adolescent viewpoint and troubled childhood. The result is a starkly beautiful novel that rings true, and is all the more marvelous and troubling for doing so.
– Rhianna W.
Denfeld has the ability to tap the ocean of emotion inside her, and uses her spare, delicate prose with grace and surgical precision to deliver this stunning story. Addressing themes of home, child abuse, memory, survival, fear of intimacy, and the necessity of stories, The Child Finder is absolutely glorious.
– Dianah H.
Swallowing Mercury is an unsettling, sublime coming-of-age novel. It will transport you into its world; while I was reading it, I could almost feel the smoke and mist in the air and see the beauty and squalor of 1970s communist Poland. This is one of the loveliest books I've ever read.
– Bitty E.
I still cannot believe that this is a debut title. It's that good. Every person should read this — they may not get it, but it is worth trying. This book encompasses a lovely, wrenching mix of phenomenal prose, intriguing science fiction premises, and a basis in reality that gets to your core.
– Shayna O.
Ottessa Moshfegh is incomparable! Homesick for Another World is a collection of stories that are so weird, so darkly hilarious, and so poignant, I found myself veering wildly between the characters' vivid emotions. They are all damaged people who cling to the things that destroy them, wallow in the ugliness around them, and view their lives with a sort of detached amusement. Moshfegh's genius lies in her ability to write about such grubby, base subjects in a way that's beautiful — poetic even. Her stories are the gutter and the stars.
– Lauren P.
I gobbled this novel. George's long-form debut is a frolicking, emotional romp unlike anything I've ever read. I don't even know why I'm attempting to blurb it — ya just gotta read it. So fun, so heartfelt, so original. So George.
– Jake A.
This is one of the most spellbinding books I've ever read. The writing is so perfectly beautiful that despite wanting to race to the end, I forced myself to slow down so I wouldn't trip and miss a single word. Like A Little Life and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, My Absolute Darling is one of those books that makes you hungry for more, even as it rips your guts out.
– Emily F.
I was taken aback by this near-perfect story collection. The opening piece, “Black-Eyed Women,” features a narrator haunted by the spirit of her dead brother who was killed as they escaped to America, and that sets the tone for the rest of the book — these are ghostly tales with characters who perceive the past more vividly than the present. And yet their stories, their journeys through time and place, deserve to be told. The Refugees is a quiet yet assured collection that gives dignity to a displaced population.
– Renee P.
This novel will hook you in and pull you along through a spellbinding, heartbreaking journey into modern-day, impoverished Mississippi. The story follows Jojo, a young multiracial boy growing up primarily with his grandparents due to his mother's addiction problems and his father's jail sentence. It explores the bonds of family, the weight of history, and includes a touch of magical realism that will hang heavy on your heart after finishing.
– Tehya R.
Surprisingly as comforting as it is haunting, the mystery of the story builds in layers, defying your expectations without quite toying with them. Definitely my main gift book of the year.
– Max K.
You’ll never read a book about sex, drugs, conflict, and out-of-control youth that is so utterly delightful. Bunkie Spills spans just two days in the life of 17-year-old Bunkie and his wayward friends, and through the boozing, the heroin, the stealing of Big Pete’s van, Bunkie stumbles and tumbles toward his very particular coming of age. Writer Bradley K. Rosen is an expert storyteller, a poetic and often hilarious wordsmith, and his narrator Bunkie is a clown philosopher, a bumbling wise man, and a soul you can’t help but fall in love with.
– Gigi L.
This book came out early in 2017, but even after everything else I read this year, it remains my favorite. Autumn is my favorite season — it brings a change to the world as we see it, and this novel does the same. It is warm, reflective, and hopeful despite circumstance. It is a beautifully rendered representation of a season in words. It is a masterpiece.
– Carrie K.
Samantha Hunt's collection is full of transformations: women becoming mothers, people becoming ghosts, and women becoming deer. Like the title suggests, the stories are dark and give off a feeling like the corners of your room are closing in. While definitely unsettling, the collection is wholly consuming, witchy, and transformative. As I was reading about the changes these women go through, I felt myself becoming something not necessarily darker, but new. Read this with the overhead light turned off and your salt lamp turned on.
– Emily L.
Debut author Lesley Nneka Arimah shares 12 amazing short stories set in the US and Nigeria. Her fresh, wonderful, creative writing is packed with layers of complicated emotions and themes that will make you think.
– Kim S.
From the 16 epigraphs that open Rodrigo Fresán’s astonishingly ambitious novel through its 550 pages of how-the-hell-could-a-mere-mortal-possibly-compose-something-this-magnificent, The Invented Part spans the scope of our hypertechnical age, sending up and taking down so much of our contemporary world. Fresán masterfully weaves so many pop culture threads (most notably F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pink Floyd, and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) into his metafictional foray that it quite nearly exposes the thin line between reality and fiction to be an engulfing chasm. With its acerbic humor, acrimonious critique, vivacious storytelling, and ridiculously imaginative plot, The Invented Part is a roaring good time.
– Jeremy G.
This is the Great American Novel that nobody is reading, an oversight I blame on some combination of the clunky title, the abstract cover art, and the 800-page count. The book centers on two white brothers growing up in 1940s Alabama, and two black brothers growing up in Maryland at the same time, all of whose paths will cross. I was amazed at Corthron’s character-building, wit, and insight. Like all great literature, The Castle Cross inspires you, while also making you want to curl up in a warm hole and never leave to face the world’s ugliness.
– Candice B.
Sometimes the sexual predator in your midst isn't the obviously entitled alpha male but the “sensitive” beta who acts like he's on your side because he actually believes it himself. The only problem is when you fail to recognize as much, you must be blamed and punished. Nails the toxic masculinity of 2017.
– Jason C.
To me, Helprin doesn't so much write as seduce. His exquisite prose creates worlds and characters that are immediate and overwhelmingly romantic. I loved this story of a profoundly good man struggling with the wounds of his past to create, against all odds, a future for his family. And Paris! Ah Paris! Never has the city been so perfectly rendered.
– Kathi K.
Brilliantly creative and evocative, this original story about family, immigration, love, and deeply internalized emotions could easily be from any period of time, but feels particularly meaningful today.
– Lonnan R.
This book really touched me. It was so timely and relevant. The tools Mohsin uses to describe the plight of refugees around the world are, well, magical. I was mesmerized.
– Nan S.