The Best Books to Read in 2021

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We're only halfway through 2021, but our editors and contributors have been busy. Here: Your curated guide to the best new books published so far this year.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (January)

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

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If I had the ability to momentarily wipe my memory, I'd use it to reread Detransition, Baby for the first time. In Torrey Peters' searing novelistic debut, a recently detransitioned man impregnates his cis female boss and asks his ex-girlfriend, a trans woman longing for motherhood, to help raise the baby; the plot's uniqueness is matched by Peters's distinctive and kinetic voice, and the two intermingle to form an unforgettable portrait of gender, humanity, and family.—Emma Specter

White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck (January)

White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck

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White Feminism is a stinging rebuke to the familiar feminism that has long featured a white face. Koa Beck, formerly Vogue.com’s executive editor, casts a gimlet eye over the history of organized gendered rights, from Seneca Falls to the National Organization of Women to the recently canceled The Wing, offering a sharp historical analysis of how mainstream feminism was designed by and for the privileged. And it’s not a benign neglect—it’s actually insidious, actively excluding from the movement women of color and issues important to them since the days of the suffragettes, and posing a threat to those women with a commodified and often racist system that can seem as oppressive as patriarchy itself. Even if it appears that feminist gains have been made in recent years, it’s a topic that remains devastatingly relevant—let’s not forget that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But Beck’s book is a call to action that looks onward to how we can, and we must, course correct, dismantling this feminism that wasn’t made for us and building a new, more inclusive movement. —Lisa Wong Macabasco

Nora by Nuala O’Connor (January)

Nora by Nuala O'Connor

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In her fiction, Nuala O’Connor has often explored the private lives of historical figures; she did it in 2015’s Miss Emily, about Emily Dickinson, and in 2018’s Becoming Belle, about singer and dancer Belle Bilton. She takes the same approach in Nora, a long but lively portrait of James Joyce’s wife and muse, Nora Barnacle Joyce. His companion for 37 years (and the mother of both his children), Nora has long sat at the center of Joycian lore; she was the model for Ulysses’s Molly Bloom and, in her youthful trysts, inspired two characters in “The Dead.” With Nora, O’Connor leans into that context—as she does into Joyce’s famously filthy letters to his “wildflower of the hedges”—depicting a relationship as lousy with passion as it was with chaos. Joyce’s drinking and uselessness with money form a throughline, as do their constant moves between Italy, France, and Switzerland. (A poet as well as a novelist, O’Connor has a musical ear for language; Joyce and Nora never seem to lose their lilt.) Yes, literati like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, and Sylvia Beach make requisite appearances, but Nora is principally the story of a Galway girl and her “Jim,” eking out some semblance of an existence far from home. —Marley Marius

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

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Nadia Owusu’s debut memoir, Aftershocks, has those residual tremors that follow an earthquake as its central metaphor, and the author had plenty of life-shaking events around which to orient her narrative. The daughter of an erudite Ghanaian U.N. official and an emotionally distant Armenian mother, Owusu grew up straddling cultures and following her impressive father. But the uneasiness in her life derived not from her fluid, third-culture upbringing but from the death of her father when Owusu was still a child; the abandonment of her mother; and a strained relationship with the stepmother who carried out the difficult process of raising her. There is something fairy tale–like about Owusu’s story, an orphan-like existence of struggle and survival, but there is no fairy godmother who rescues this heroine—just a growing sense of self-awareness to orient her in a troubling world. —Chloe Schama

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (January)

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion

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Even Didion’s B-sides are hits. This slim volume of uncollected nonfiction—mostly short essays she wrote for The Saturday Evening Post in the late ’60s as well as a few longer pieces for The New York Times and The New Yorker—is full of small pleasures: Didion’s trademark anti-sentimentality, for one; her rhythmic prose; her ruthlessness (see her assessments of gambling addicts, hippies, Nancy Reagan); her wit. In the charming “Telling Stories” (written for New West in 1978) we also get self-effacement: a piece about why she never made the grade as a young short story writer...complete with rejection notices compiled by her agent. “Cosmopolitan: ‘too depressing.’ LOL. —Taylor Antrim

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (February)

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

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Off the success of her 2018 debut novel, The Pisces, author and Twitter sensation Melissa Broder has crafted a dizzily compelling story of love, lust, addiction, faith, maternal longing, and...frozen yogurt. In Milk Fed, a young Los Angeles agent’s assistant battles her obsession with weight loss while simultaneously trying to bury her attraction to the zaftig Orthodox Jewish woman who works at the local fro-yo shop. The stealthy passion between the two women is given room to shine on the page; Broder’s sex writing is, as always, first-rate, but perhaps even more striking is her ability to lay bare the frantic interior calculus of disordered eating alongside the hypnotic pull of spirituality. This isn’t a book to pick up casually, particularly if you’ve struggled with food issues, but it will linger with you long after you’ve finished the final page. —Emma Specter

My Year Abroad by Chang Rae Lee (February)

My Year Abroad by Chang Rae Lee

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My Year Abroad is an extraordinary book, acrobatic on the level of the sentence, symphonic across its many movements—and this is a book that moves: from the quaint, manicured town of Dunbar (hard not to read as a Princeton stand-in, where the author taught at the university for many years); to buzzing Shenzhen; to a Chinese bazillionaire’s compound, governed by a particularly barbaric modern feudalism; back to a landlocked American exurban town deemed Stagno, where the protagonist (the appropriately named, rudderless Tiller) has shacked up with a 30-something woman and her savant kid, both of whom are hunkering down because they’re quite probably part of the witness protection program. For all the self-proclaimed ordinariness of its protagonist, My Year Abroad is a wild ride—a caper, a romance, a bildungsroman, and something of a satire of how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. This isn’t a book that skates through its many disparate-seeming scenes, but rather unites them in the heartfelt adventure of its protagonist, who begins his year “abroad” as a foreign land to himself and arrives at something like belonging by the end of his story. —Chloe Schama

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida (February)

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida

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Eighth grader Eulabee’s best friend is the striking and confident Maria Fabiola. Until one day she isn’t—they have a falling-out as preteen girls tend to do. Eulabee is both ostracized by Maria and the group of middle schoolers she ringleads. For months they don’t speak. Then the police knock on Eulabee’s door—Maria, they say, is missing. Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, and part cultural reflection on San Francisco during the 1980s (telltale time references include mayor Dianne Feinstein and The Breakfast Club), We Run the Tides captures the pain that comes with the slow erosion of childhood friendships and the innocence they entail. And perhaps more significantly: Often, we never really know someone even if we think we do. —Elise Taylor

Gay Bar by Jeremy Atherton Lin (February)

Gay Bar by Jeremy Atherton Lin

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There’s a particular pain to reading Gay Bar—a complex work in which author Jeremy Atherton Lin sets out to chronicle the gay clubs and bars of his youth in order to tell the story of LGBTQ+ spaces more broadly—during a pandemic, when queer nightspots are shuttering with no hope of government assistance. For that reason, though, Gay Bar is an essential read in 2021, especially for those who might be unfamiliar with the cultural and historical significance of the “gay bar.” Hopefully, appropriately mourning the queer spaces we’ve lost to gentrification, police violence, the AIDS crisis, and the simple passage of time can serve as a ritual to honor the significance of those spots. —Emma Specter

Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee (February)

Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee

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When Tom Stoppard’s latest play, Leopoldstadt, opened in the West End of London in February, just weeks before the pandemic shuttered theaters, Stoppard told an interviewer that the show—his 23rd full-length work over a six-decade-plus career—was likely his last. If Leopoldstadt, a deeply personal piece that was hailed as a revelation by the critics who saw it during its truncated run, is indeed Stoppard’s last play, we now have Tom Stoppard: A Life, Hermione Lee’s magisterial biography, to remind us what we will have lost—and what a legacy Stoppard will leave behind. The 83-year-old author of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Travesties, The Real Thing, and Arcadia (and an Oscar winner for Shakespeare in Love), to name just a few of his groundbreaking works, is almost without argument the greatest English-language playwright of the past 50 years, perhaps only rivaled for both quantity and quality by his fellow Brit, David Hare.

In her authorized biography, Lee, who has previously written about Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and Penelope Fitzgerald, shows a keen understanding of Stoppard’s work, making long-ago productions come to vivid life on the page, and writes empathetically, but with unsentimental clarity, about Stoppard’s sometimes complicated personal life. His marriage to author Miriam Stoppard, whom he had started seeing when he was still married to his first wife, was ended by his affair with actress Felicity Kendal, which was followed by a 10-year relationship with actress Sinead Cusack, which began during a rocky point in her marriage to Jeremy Irons. (In 2014, Stoppard married Sabrina Guinness, of the famed Guinness family and onetime girlfriend of the young Prince Charles, and today they live together in bucolic Dorset.) One notable feat: Stoppard seems to have stayed on good terms with all of his previous romantic partners, The saga of Tomás Straüssler, born in 1937, in Zlín, Czechoslovakia, a wartime refugee who later went on to be the celebrated playwright Tom Stoppard, is a story of almost novelistic proportions. In Tom Stoppard: A Life, we have an author up to the task of telling it. —Stuart Emmrich

But You’re Still So Young: How Thirtysomethings Are Redefining Adulthood by Kayleen Schaefer (March)

But You’re Still So Young: How Thirtysomethings Are Redefining Adulthood by Kayleen Schaefer

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“What you haven’t done by 30 you’re not likely to do,” John Updike had the nerve to write in his 1971 novel, Rabbit Redux, making a mockery of the idea of moving out of one’s 20s and into the decade when everything is supposed to magically fall into place. Half a century later, up against a gig economy and mounds of student debt, 30-somethings are finding the brass rings of adulthood harder to grasp than flying sticks of butter. Add to the mix a pandemic that, at best, freezes people in place and has done so much worse to millions upon millions. Upward mobility has been a pipe dream for years and years, as Kayleen Schaefer reminds us in her work of milestone myth busting, But You’re So Young. In 2014, for example, living with one’s parents became the most common living arrangement for Americans ages 18 to 34. As she did in her 2018 look at female friendship, Text Me When You Get Home, Schaefer mixes social science, psychology, original reporting, and personal anecdotes into a work of nonfiction that is as compact and refreshing as a soft-serve ice cream cone. She interviewed her subjects before and during the coronavirus outbreak, and as time passes, the similarities in their stories emerge. Crippling uncertainty weighs on all of the 30-somethings she followed, from the stay-at-home dad and the pair of Los Angeles stand-up comedians to the workaholic founder of a New York–based startup. Clearheaded and full of heart, You’re Still So Young offers a gentle indictment of a broken system and also a soothing message: Nobody’s got it all figured out. —Lauren Mechling

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (March)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

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While the announcement of a new book by Kazuo Ishiguro would be greeted with feverish anticipation under normal circumstances, his latest novel comes with an added weight of expectation, as it is his first since being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. The beauty of Klara and the Sun is how neatly it dovetails with his 2005 dystopian masterpiece, Never Let Me Go, exploring similar questions of love and sacrifice through the lens of sci-fi. Set in the near future, the titular Klara is a solar-powered Artificial Friend, purchased from a department store by a lonely teenager named Josie; her reliance on the sun becomes an allegory for their relationship, with a subtle environmental subtext woven in as well. To explain too much of the plot would be to deny the strange, eerie pleasure of watching it unfold, but it’s a world that feels richly imagined and meticulously constructed, even while its mysteries continue to reveal themselves. Klara and the Sun once again marks Ishiguro as a master of the ache of missed opportunities and lost connections, as he unpicks the tangled web of how we forge relationships with others and how we deny them too. —Liam Hess

The Fourth Child by Jessica Winter (March)

The Fourth Child by Jessica Winter

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Jessica Winter’s The Fourth Child begins with an epitaph from Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, a work of domestic horror in which a supernaturally unlovable fifth child disturbs the happy equilibrium of a complacent family. The difficulties of the fourth child that are introduced in The Fourth Child are neither supernatural nor entirely unlovable, but this child does disrupt the balance of the family into which she’s adopted, causing the mother, Jane, who has removed her new daughter from a bleak and somewhat murky existence in a Eastern European orphanage, to question the dimensions of her supposedly altruistic act. (Her family is faster to query Jane’s motivations.) Jane is a do-gooder, a devout Catholic and accidental anti-abortion activist raising her three biological children and one unruly orphan adoptee in upstate New York in the early ’90s. As those specific markers imply, this is a work of precise social realism, in which the intricate tableau of detail offers a backdrop for larger questions about morality, family, and obligation. —Chloe Schama

Love Like That By Emma Duffy Comparone (March)

Love Like That By Emma Duffy Comparone

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At the top of the list of books that have sucked me in without me really knowing why is Emma Duffy Comparone’s debut collection of sharp short stories. The stories in this reminded me of early Mary Karr, with subtly female obligations—of caregiving, career, the ever-present need to cater to the male ego—woven through each tale as sometimes sinister forces, and then picked apart with Comparone’s edgy wit. Her protagonists are jagged, hard-edged women and girls, but they are also, in their unique and quirky way, quite lovable. —Chloe Shama

Mona: A Novel by Pola Oloixarac (March)

Mona by Pola Oloixarac

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Mona, the titular character of Pola Oloixarac’s novel, is celebrated and dissolute, accomplished and directionless, a young writer finding a certain kind of escape at an awkward awards ceremony for “the most important literary award in Europe.” (“Come thirsty, and bring an appetite for Nordic delicatessen!” reads the notable first line of the book.) Mona rebuffs and yet can’t help but find herself corralled by the literary labels and categories used to this world: “Nothing worse than falling in with a bunch of declassé monolinguals,” she muses, an outsider even among the band of verbally skilled misfits. Dense with clever analysis of the modes and mannerisms of literary society—readings that resemble postmodern performance art, dalliances that swing from Hay to Cartagena—Mona is the kind of novel you read with a sense that you’re in on some very juicy gossip —Chloe Schama

Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York by Alexander Nemerov (March )

Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York by Alexander Nemerov

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Neither conventional biography nor arm’s-length critical appraisal, Alexander Nemerov’s Fierce Poise shines a light on Helen Frankenthaler’s early artistic breakthrough by blending both forms. Eleven specific and crucial days—from May 19, 1950, to January 26, 1960—are given an almost novelistic treatment to imbue revealing moments in the painter’s life and work with color, shading, feeling, mood, and historical and social settings. If the book occasionally wanders into a kind of assumed verisimilitude, with an omniscient narrator rendering scenes with a level of detail that seemingly belies available historical and biographical facts—well, think of it as the price of admission to a thrillingly alive account of a woman unapologetically pursuing her own vision in an era and a milieu largely defined by men. —Corey Seymour

The Beauty of Living Twice by Sharon Stone (March)

The Beauty of Living Twice by Sharon Stone

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Sharon Stone’s memoir opens with her waking up at the hospital after experiencing a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed her in 2001. Having emerged as the quintessential sex symbol of ’90s Hollywood thanks to roles in hits like Casino and Basic Instinct, the actor’s flourishing career was stopped dead in its tracks by the health scare. Stone has spoken in broad strokes about the “nine-day brain bleed” and its aftereffects on her career, but never with as much candor as she does in The Beauty of Living Twice. Trim and elegantly written with her wicked sense of humor on full display, the memoir is catnip for fans who have never managed to crack the exterior of the elusive star. The behind-the-scenes anecdotes from her four-decade career are predictably fabulous, as are her general musings on relationships, sex, love, and religion. But it’s the personal revelations detailing the actor’s journey to rebuild her life after waking up in that hospital bed that will leave readers with a renewed appreciation for Stone and her tenacity. —Keaton Bell

Who Is Maud Dixon? By Alexandra Andrews (March)

Who Is Maud Dixon? By Alexandra Andrews

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Twenty-something Florence is floundering, making decisions that result in unequivocal emails from the HR department at the New York publishing company where she works. But when our hapless protagonist takes an assistant job with the renowned author who publishes under the pseudonym Maud Dixon, she finds herself tantalizingly proximate to the life she desires. This literary thriller takes on exotic dimension when Florence travels with her patron to Morocco and, following the disappearance of her employer, assumes her identity. Maud Dixon is that rare book that combines a rapid-fire plot with larger questions of authenticity and authorship, creating a distinct work that is as compelling as the mysterious figure at its center.—Chloe Schama

The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000-2020 by Rachel Kushner (April)

The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000-2020 by Rachel Kushner

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Kushner, the author of three acclaimed novels, including 2018’s dazzling prison-set The Mars Room, turns her fierce intellect to nonfiction in this essay collection. Her interests—vintage cars and motorcycles, the art world, the late Denis Johnson (whose work is clearly an influence here), tough underground scenes of all kinds—won’t surprise readers of her fiction, but there’s a rigorous specificity to the essays that draws you in. The unmissable lead essay, “Girl on a Motorcycle,” is a thrilling road-racing adventure set in Baja California, and “Not With the Band” (originally published in Vogue) offers insight into Kushner’s misspent youth, bartending at San Francisco rock venues. The Hard Crowd is wild, wide-ranging, and unsparingly intelligent throughout. —Taylor Antrim

Are You Enjoying? by Mira Sethi (April)

Are You Enjoying? By Mira Sethi

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The stories that make up Mira Sethi’s debut collection are set in Pakistan, but that is about where the similarities among her protagonists end: A young actress negotiates power dynamics on and off the set; a divorced man strikes up an affair with his diplomat neighbor. A portrait of a diverse and varied country, told through the emotions and exploits of her characters, Are You Enjoying is a powerful book with a light touch, marking the arrival of an assured storyteller. Sethi, a former journalist and an actor, feels as though she’s operating in a rich tradition of South Asian storytelling, but also, with the distinct and vibrant perspective she offers, making it her own. —Chloe Schama

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (April)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

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Indie rock fans may know Michelle Zauner as the face of the solo musical act Japanese Breakfast, but her debut memoir, Crying in H Mart—which chronicles Zauner’s struggle to retain her Korean identity in the wake of her mother’s death—is sure to establish her as a singular literary talent. The book’s descriptions of jjigae, tteokbokki, and other Korean delicacies stand out as tokens of the deep, all-encompassing love between Zauner and her mother, a love that is charted in vivid descriptions of her mother after death; in a time when people around the world are reckoning with untold loss due to COVID-19, Zauner’s frankness around death feels like an unexpected yet deeply necessary gift. —Emma Specter

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton (April)

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton

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If there were a genre for popular postmodern literature, The Final Revival of Opal and Nev would fall squarely within it. Easy to read, and yet layered in both its organization and its impact, Dawnie Walton’s novel tells the story of ’70s musicians Opal and Nev and is alternatingly structured as an oral history and recurring editors’ notes from a journalist assembling the twisty, politically inflected tale. (The journalist just so happens to be the daughter of an erstwhile bandmate who had an affair with Opal.) —Chloe Schama

A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke (April)

A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke

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A Bright Ray of Darkness is Ethan Hawke’s fifth book, yet it reads like a crackling debut: ruminative, raw, and seemingly pretty personal. In it, a film actor named William Harding does his first Broadway show—an ambitious production of Henry IV—while his marriage to a pop star very publicly falls apart. (As photographs of Harding with another woman saturate the tabloids, he can hear the public’s incriminating murmurs wherever he goes.) Divided, like a work of drama, into acts and scenes, the book wrestles with love, lust, fatherhood, and fame, but what it’s mostly about is the occasionally life threatening but ultimately redemptive hard work of making art. If you’ve seen or read Hawke in interviews, you’ll recognize his voice on the page: He’s written characters who speak of craft and ego and character in lengthy, scenery-chewing monologues, even during their off-hours. From another writer, it would be completely exhausting, but from Hawke—who has been a working actor since he was a teenager, and a fine one at that—you can’t help but bend your ear. —Marley Marius

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (May)

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

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Was The Last Thing He Told Me engineered to become a prestige drama? Probably not, but reading it you do get the sense that it's the kind of book to get a producer’s gears turning: mysterious disappearance; lively, somewhat lonesome heroine; sulky stepdaughter along for the ride. The book is set mostly in northern California, where the protagonist, a furniture-maker-slash-artist called Hannah, has made a home with her husband, Owen, and his stepdaughter Bailey. The public implosion of Owen’s company leads to his disappearance and ignites Hannah’s quest to try to figure out what’s happened—not just where he’s gone, but why he’s left behind a rather large duffel bag full of cash and, as it turns out, a very light imprint on the world before she met him. The Last Thing He Told me goes down like the limited series it will almost certainly become—Julia Roberts has signed on to a production engineered by Hello Sunshine—light and bright, despite its seemingly seedy undertones. - Chloe Schama

Second Place by Rachel Cusk (May)

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

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A friend once described a Cusk novel—2014’s Outline—as a glass of Sancerre: very dry, very cold, totally perfect. To (perilously) extend this metaphor let’s call Cusk’s new novel Second Place a weird wonderful glass of orange wine, unfiltered, even funky. It takes place on the tidal coastline of England, where a woman (a novelist of “little books”) invites a once prominent painter to come and stay with her and her husband in their guest house (the “second place” of the title). She does this out of an inchoate need to invite disorder and chaos into her life—and perhaps kick off a love affair? No dice. The painter, called L, a wonderfully narcissistic and entitled creation, arrives with a young mistress and proceeds to wreak havoc on everyone’s life (the narrator’s grown daughter and her boyfriend are in residence as well). If the above sounds like a comedy, it’s not: the stakes in Cusk’s slim, erudite novel are too high. Second Place is about how to survive the perils of middle age, how to find both security and freedom in equal measure, and how human longing shades, all too easily, into self-destruction. —Taylor Antrim

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri (May)

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Much of Jhumpa Lahiri’s early work was a very specific study in character and place. In her latest, Whereabouts, she goes in a different direction, presenting a narrator who drifts through her life, unmoored and untethered. I had to squint hard after the first dozen pages or so to figure out where the story was even located—was that “trattoria” a giveaway of an overseas setting or more of a signal of a universal cosmopolitan urbanism? The very language has a slightly cool, distanced feel, which makes a certain degree of sense: Lahiri, whose native language is English but who has famously become fluent in Italian, wrote the story in that language and then translated it back to English. The slim and elegant book is an interior work, light on plot but high on the kind of introspection that can take place anywhere. —Chloe Schama

House of Sticks by Ly Tran (June)

House of Sticks by Ly Tran

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House of Sticks is a book that will assault and warm your heart at the same time—a classic immigrant tale, told from the perspective of a Vietnamese child who settled with her family in New York City in the early ‘90s with little to no knowledge about life in America. But even without the resources that many take for granted, Tran’s family was able to eke out a living, first by setting up a kind of family-run sweatshop in their cramped apartment and eventually by buying a nail salon. As a sort of follow up to the devastating expose on nail salon workers published by the New York Times in 2015, House of Sticks can at times read like a more three-dimensional portrait of the life of one of these aestheticians. (Tran worked alongside her mother and father in the salon.) But it is also much more: a coming of age story, A New York hustle, a battle with a father who not only maintains an ironclad sense of filial duty, but also, fueled by his paranoia, exercises irrational control over things like vision correction. (In another elegant examination of absence, the book recounts what a fundamental challenge it is to move through the world without basic ability to see.)—Chloe Schama

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

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The racism of the publishing industry gets a long-overdue interrogation in this brilliant debut, in which Zakiya Dalila Harris expertly captures the mise-en-scene of a young Black woman's discomfiture at no longer being the "only one" at the lily-white publishing company at which she works. The novel takes some bold stylistic risks that pay off beautifully, leaving the reader longing for more of Harris's words and unique view on the world.—Emma Specter

With Teeth by Kristin Arnett (June)

With Teeth

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Kristen Arnett’s debut Mostly Dead Things established her as an expert in all things related to the macabre—particularly when they’re queer-inflected and set in central Florida—and her latest effort, With Teeth, is a more-than-worthy successor. The novel revolves around Sammie, a dissatisfied suburban mother longing for more while questioning her commitment to her wife and son, and takes the reader on a winding journey through all the grief, love, fear and occasional rage that accompanies family-making. There’s never been a parenting novel quite like this before, though it seems more than likely to spawn a sub-genre. —E.S.

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura (July)

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

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Katie Kitamura established herself as a master of cool disquiet with her 2017 breakout, A Separation, a taut and cosmopolitan near-mystery about a young woman moving across the globe in search of her soon-to-be ex-husband, who has gone missing. Her fourth novel, Intimacies, is wholly set in the rainy municipality of The Hague, but its spirit is no less unmoored. The unnamed narrator is living in a city that does not feel like home, filling a temporary job as a translator in a war-crimes court and staying in the emptied apartment of a lover who may or may not be reconciling with his wife. There’s more than a tinge of danger to the story, with war crimes and street violence playing a small part in the narrative, while messages encoded in Dutch art and libraries curated by interior designers enliven the book’s intense interiority. Kitamura writes with forceful, direct prose that makes for a bracing read and leaves the reader mesmerized. As the narrator understands, “The appearance of simplicity is not the same thing as simplicity itself.” —Lauren Mechling

Wayward by Dana Spiotta (July)

Wayward by Dana Spiotta

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Agile intelligence combines with an almost ruthless lack of sentimentality in the novels of Dana Spiotta, from 2001’s Lightning Field to 2016’s Innocents and Others. These are gloriously cool books, deftly assembled, brimming with mood—and full of outcasts and misfits who can’t quite assimilate to modern culture. For fans of Spiotta, her fifth novel, Wayward, is something new: a strikingly human and affecting story of a woman in her fifties going through what you might call, in a more ordinary book, a midlife crisis. In Wayward, Sam’s flight out of conventional suburban housewifery is turned over with a kind of forensic (and mordantly hilarious) scrutiny. In the opening pages she leaves her husband and buys a very specific tumbledown house in the decrepit heart of downtown Syracuse, New York. She then plunges into various obsessions: quasi-feminist Facebook groups, nightwalking, stand up comedy, weightlifting. Through it all Sam both yearns for her teenage daughter, Ally—who is furious at her mother for leaving the family—and refuses to fit any expectations of what a good mother should be. Wayward is a hymn to iconoclasm, a piercing novel about what we lose and gain by when we step out of life’s deepest worn grooves. — Taylor Antrim

Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette (August)

Agatha of Little Neon

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In Claire Luchette’s remarkable debut, Agatha, a nun, is transplanted, along with her pious sisters, to a halfway house in the “tuckered-out town” of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, where they are entrusted with the wellbeing of a lonesome cast of characters who want little to do with them. What follows is a coming-of-age story of sorts in which Agatha, attracted to the order for its promise of belonging, begins to learn that true comfort lies in greater knowledge of oneself. Written in a bracing, acerbic, and darkly comic tenor, the book is a surprisingly buoyant and fast-paced read, a modern and sly spin on the meaning of devotion. —Chloe Schama

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (August)

Ghosts

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The action in Ghosts, an astonishingly assured debut from the journalist Dolly Alderton, takes place after Nina George Dean turns 32. She’s a food writer with a London flat that she adores (not least because she owns it), a second book mere moments from going to press, two well-meaning parents in the suburbs, and a wide circle of close friends, including an ex with whom she’s stayed unproblematically close. When Nina meets the doting and superhero-handsome Max through a dating app—the culture surrounding which Alderton renders in all its mortifying (and hilarious) inanity—she can’t believe her luck. But her house of cards soon starts to cave in: her dad’s health takes a turn; she feels estranged from her oldest friend; the proposal for her next book isn’t really coming together; her downstairs neighbor is a nightmare; and after several blissful months, she’s getting radio silence from Max. True to its title, Ghosts teems with them—the shades of past loves and old selves, especially—besides interrogating the Internet-era phenomenon of being “ghosted,” and resorting to stalking a man’s LinkedIn profile for signs of life. Deftly observed and deeply funny, Ghosts considers where we find, and how we hold onto love with what might well be described as haunting precision. —Marley Marius

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (August)

Afterparties: Stories

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Following a six-figure bidding war for his debut short story collection last year, the 28-year-old Anthony Veasna So passed away unexpectedly in December. That collection, however, more than lives up to the initial hype. A series of vignettes documenting the lives and loves of Cambodian-American families in California’s Central Valley with warmth, generosity, and irreverent humor, Afterparties showcases So’s dazzling prose, which ricochets between meditations on food and family, an eclectic array of pop culture references, and the weightier implications of the intergenerational trauma passed down by those who fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s. (The afterparties of the title are, with So’s typically dark wit, a coded reference to the bittersweet nature of passing on the traditions of the home country within the Cambodian diaspora.) So’s observations on queer life today are particularly incisive. In one instance, a charming love story blossoms between a righteous tech entrepreneur and a world-weary young teacher obsessed with Moby Dick, with the couple finding a strange poetry in the rhythms and routines of casual sex. These movingly intimate windows into the immigrant experience leave a powerful imprint, even if the experience of reading So’s work is tinged with the sadness of knowing that he clearly had so much left to say. —L.H.

Everything I Have Is Yours: A Marriage by Eleanor Henderson (August)

Everything I Have Is Yours: A Marriage

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Marriage memoirs are like confessions—the more honest the better. And Eleanor Henderson’s mesmerizing chronicle of her two-decade marriage is ruthless. The love story is there: Eleanor falls hard for Aaron in a record shop in Florida in 1997. She is 17. He is a 25-year-old straight-edge dreamboat, “teeth as white as his T-shirt. Around his neck, a string of wooden Krishna beads was wound three times, tight as a choker.” She brings him to Vermont with her for college and then to graduate school in Virginia (marrying him along the way). Eleanor is a novelist, ambitious, upwardly mobile. Aaron is none of those things. He’s moody, wounded, seemingly unemployable, and given to secrets. Henderson’s headlong narrative (she writes as if she’s conducting an exorcism) pulls their dynamic into painful focus. She builds a life—a career, a house, two boys—he tears it all apart with his mood swings, his addictions, mysterious ailments: rashes, sores on his skin, aches that keep him awake all night. A medical mystery develops—does he have Morgellons disease? Schizophrenia? Some other psychiatric condition? Does alcohol help? Does marijuana? Most chillingly: does the specter of hard drugs, glimpsed but never fully seen, hang over the marriage? Leave him, the reader thinks. But life, of course, is not so simple, and rarely has codependency been chronicled with such precision, such poignancy. Everything I Have Is Yours is a kind of tragedy but it’s an astonishingly humane one too. —Taylor Antrim

Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich (August)

Last Summer in the City

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First published in 1973, Gianfranco Calligarich’s Last Summer in the City seems to limn his own life: Like Calligarich, the novel’s protagonist, Leo Gazarra, leaves Milan for Rome and a writing job, and when that job disappears, spends his summer days at the beach and his nights drifting from party to party, woman to woman. If this sounds like a glittering, solipsistic idyll—well, sure, from the outside; but Leo’s perspective and Calligarich’s rendering turns la dolce vita into something more akin to Camus’s L’Etranger in a contemporary-ish urban setting. Out of print for years, this welcome new translation is elegiac and heart-rending. —Corey Seymour

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Originally Appeared on Vogue