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The Sellout | Paul Beatty
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Recommended by Mark Krotov
 
The Sellout won the Booker Prize and thus doesn’t need my help. Is ‘no one is talking about this’ an inherently solipsistic thing to say? Surely lots of people are still talking about The Sellout! Still, the funniest novel of the 21st century deserves to be talked about ad nauseam, pontificated to death, cited to the point of cliché, like Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy. Instead it seems to exist apart from its contemporaries, like many of the novels Beatty draws from in Hark, his essential anthology of African-American humor writing. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but no serious discussion of recent American fiction can or should avoid this wild and liberated novel.
 
About the Book
 
Born in the agrarian ghetto of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake. Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.
 

No One Left to Come Looking for You | Sam Lipsyte
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Recommended by Lisa Borst
 
“Sam Lipsyte's forthcoming novel is a whodunnit about punk musicians (an extremely promising genre that I hope will take off), and it operates like a good punk song: short, a little chaotic, angry in all the right directions. As in all of his fiction, Lipsyte finds an endless well of humor in his characters' slightly loserish qualities: at one point his narrator, a musician named Jack Shit, reflects on his own songwriting style: ‘Protest songs are not my strong suit. I may not have a strong suit.’
 
About the Book
 
Manhattan's East Village, 1993. Dive bars, DIY music venues, shady weirdos, and hard drugs are plentiful. Crime is high but rent is low, luring hopeful, creative kids from sleepy suburbs around the country.

One of these is Jack S., a young New Jersey rock musician. Just a few days before his band's biggest gig, their lead singer goes missing with Jack's prized bass, presumably to hock it to feed his junk habit. Jack's search for his buddy uncovers a sinister entanglement of crimes tied to local real estate barons looking to remake New York City—and who might also be connected to the recent death of Jack's punk rock mentor. Along the way, Jack encounters a cast of colorful characters, including a bewitching, quick-witted scenester who favors dressing in a nurse's outfit, a monstrous hired killer with a devotion to both figure skating and edged weapons, a deranged if prophetic postwar novelist, and a tough-talking cop who fancies himself a retro-cool icon of the homicide squad but is harboring a surprising secret.
 

Ice | Anna Kavan
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Recommended by Tess Edmonson
 
“Reading this book feels like dreaming: what’s real keeps changing. It's a climate apocalypse novel, sometimes (incorrectly, in my opinion) read as an analogy for Kavan’s decades-long heroin addiction. As a culture we don’t often let heroin users write books, especially if they’re women, which is a mistake.
 
About the Book
 
In a land devastated by war, a nameless narrator pursues an elusive white-haired woman in the clutches of a government official known only as “The Warden.” Neither will giver her up, but a freak ecological apocalypse is indifferent to their rival claims. As a terrifying wall of ice continues its incursion, freezing everything in its path, it seems that only the white-haired woman is truly resigned to the fate of the world. Ice is hailed as classic of science fiction and a definitive work of the slipstream genre.
 

Woman Running in the Mountains | Yuko Tsushima
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Recommended by Jia Tolentino
 
“The ambience in Yuko Tsushima’s work—the tangible mundanity, the cruelty of the social, the unexpected intimacies, the shattering beauty of the natural world and its light—is so distinct, alternately kind of opaque and transcendent; I find myself going to her when I’m sick of reading things that feel too legible, like they’ve been through workshop too many times. This novel, a first-year-of-single-motherhood chronicle, captures something wild in its second half, a sudden awakening of real, harrowing freedom and desire.
 
About the Book
 
Alone at dawn, in the heat of midsummer, a young woman named Takiko Odaka departs on foot for the hospital to give birth to a baby boy. Her pregnancy, the result of a brief affair with a married man, is a source of sorrow and shame to her abusive parents. For Takiko, however, it is a cause for reverie. Her baby, she imagines, will be hers and hers alone, a challenge that she also hopes will free her. Takiko’s first year as a mother is filled with the intense bodily pleasures and pains that come from caring for a newborn. At first she seeks refuge in the company of other women—in the hospital, in her son’s nursery—but as the baby grows, her life becomes less circumscribed as she explores Tokyo, then ventures beyond the city into the countryside, toward a mountain that captures her imagination and desire for a wilder freedom.

Novel with Cocaine | M. Ageyev
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Recommended by Lisa Borst
 
Novel With Cocaine was written under a penname and, though it was once falsely attributed to Nabokov, its authorship remains unknown. You can kind of see why its author might not want to show their face: this book is fucking bleak! It sticks close to its truly loathsome narrator, who’s so consumed by drugs and sex that he neglects his friends, his heartbreakingly forgiving mother, and, finally, the entire force of history (the book is set in Moscow in 1917 but only glancingly hints at the revolution). What's compelling about the novel is that it has all the trappings of a morality tale but is ultimately so ludicrously brutal that it transcends the genre entirely, a feat.
 
About the Book
 
A Dostoevskian psychological novel of ideas, Novel with Cocaine explores the interaction between psychology, philosophy, and ideology in its frank portrayal of an adolescent's cocaine addiction. The story relates the formative experiences of Vadim at school and with women before he turns to drug abuse and the philosophical reflections to which it gives rise.
 

An Obedient Father | Akhil Sharma
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Recommended by Nausicaa Renner
 
“This book got a lot of press because it’s a rewrite of Sharma’s first novel with the same title. While the process behind the novel is fascinating, the story itself, written in succinct and haunting prose, is disturbing in a slow, beautiful way.
 
About the Book
 
An Obedient Father introduced one of the most admired voices in contemporary fiction. Set in Delhi in the 1990s, it tells the story of an inept bureaucrat enmired in corruption, and of the daughter who alone knows the true depth of his crimes. Decried in India for its frank treatment of child abuse, the novel was widely praised elsewhere for its compassion, and for a plot that mingled the domestic with the political, tragedy with farce. Yet, as Akhil Sharma writes in his foreword to this new edition, he was haunted by what he considered shortcomings within the book: almost twenty years later, he returned to face them. Here is the result, a leaner, surer version with even greater power.
 
 
 
 
 

The Copenhagen Trilogy | Tove Ditlevsen
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Recommended by Sarah Resnick
 
“I stole away from dinner with friends to continue reading this alone—twice. It’s fucking miserable. It’s fucking exquisite.
 
About the Book
 
Tove Ditlevsen is today celebrated as one of the most important and unique voices in twentieth-century Danish literature, and The Copenhagen Trilogy (1969-71) is her acknowledged masterpiece. Childhood tells the story of a misfit child's single-minded determination to become a poet; Youth describes her early experiences of sex, work, and independence. Dependency picks up the story as the narrator embarks on the first of her four marriages and goes on to describe her horrible descent into drug addiction, enabled by her sinister, gaslighting doctor-husband.
 
 
 
 
 

Bear | Marian Engel
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Recommended by Dayna Tortorici
 
“When people recommended this book as ‘a hidden feminist classic about a woman who has sex with a bear!’ I really imagined something in the vein of, I don't know, The Mermaid and the Minotaur—something magical and mythic. But no, this book is 100% realist fiction, which is what makes it so great. Spoiler alert: if ‘sex’ to you means exclusively penetrative sex, then no, the isolated, depressed, historical-preservationist/librarian protagonist does not manage to have sex with a bear. But she does come close, and how she gets there could be considered proto-femcel canon. Can't say for certain, but I imagine it pairs well with In the Eye of the Wild.
 
About the Book
 
Lou, a shy and secretive young librarian is called to a remote Canadian island to inventory the estate of the recently deceased Colonel Cary. In a cabin on the island, she discovers the colonel had a secret as well. A bear is chained inside. Fascinated, Lou brings the bear into the house and slowly gains the animal's trust. She sinks her fingers into the bear's fur—and soon realizes her darkest desire is for this large, powerful animal to be her lover.

The Prone Gunman | Jean-Patrick Manchette
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Recommended by Rachel Kushner
 
“A professional killer wants out of the business but his underworld bosses won’t cut him loose until he completes one last job. The killer atypically loves Maria Callas, but like most assassins in Manchette novels, he drives a 1968 Citroen DS 21. Manchette knew a lot about cars and even more about guns. His knowledge becomes a wonderful joke in its specificity. And by the time guns start blowing people’s heads off, you really can’t stop laughing. You laugh heartily, but somehow, lose none of your humanity. Well, maybe you lose a little of it, but it was totally worth it.
 
About the Book
 
Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game—so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart. After all, that’s why he took up this profession. But the company won’t let him go: they have other plans. Once again, the gunman must assume the prone firing position. A tour de force, this violent tale shatters as many illusions about life and politics as it does bodies. Jean-Patrick Manchette subjects his characters and the reader alike to a fierce exercise in style.

This tightly plotted, corrosive parody of the success story is widely considered to be Manchette’s masterpiece, and was named a New York Times Notable Book. The Prone Gunman is a classic of modern noir.

Sabrina | Nick Drnaso
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Recommended by Nicole Lipman
 
“Reading Sabrina feels like being enveloped by the darkest parts of the internet: conspiracy, atomization, true crime, American right-wing politics. Nick Drnaso’s extraordinarily beautiful graphic novel swallows you and refuses to let you go—months after reading it, I’m still thinking about the book on a weekly basis.
 
About the Book
 
When Sabrina disappears, an airman in the US Air Force is drawn into a web of suppositions, wild theories, and outright lies. He reports to work every night in a bare, sterile fortress that serves as no protection from a situation that threatens the sanity of Teddy, his childhood friend and the boyfriend of the missing woman. Sabrina’s grieving sister, Sandra, struggles to fill her days as she waits in purgatory. After a videotape surfaces, we see devastation through a cinematic lens, as true tragedy is distorted when fringe thinkers and conspiracy theorists begin to interpret events to fit their own narratives.
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