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A Guardian Angel Recalls | Willem Frederik Hermans
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Recommended by Jonathan Franzen
 
“Archipelago Books recently sent me a novel with an inauspicious title by a Dutch writer I hadn’t heard of. I decided to politely read five pages. Next thing I knew, I was a hundred pages in. The novel, translated by David Colmer, is set in the first days of Hitler’s invasion of Holland. The main character, speeding in his car to help a Jewish refugee flee the country, hits and kills a little girl and hides her body. The ensuing story is part thriller, part family novel, part metaphysical investigation, and also, unexpectedly, part comedy. I’ve since learned that Hermans is considered one of the great Dutch writers of the 20th century. A Guardian Angel Recalls will give you an idea why.
 
About the Book
 
Alberegt, a frenzied and lovelorn public prosecutor, speeds through Hook of Holland in his black Renault on May 9, 1940—the eve of the German invasion of the Netherlands. Guiding his every move is a guardian angel. With unflappable patience, the angel flits from the hood of the Renault to the rim of his windswept hat, determined to quell his every anxiety and doubt. The angel’s momentary distraction, however, sets off a chain of events that spins a nightmarish web.
 

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.

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.

Life’s Work | David Milch
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Recommended by Dayna Tortorici
 
“Before David Milch wrote television shows like Deadwood and NYPD Blue that blasted open the scope of that medium forever, he was a student of the New Critics at Yale, a teacher who got so loaded he had to crawl through the window to get to his office (lost his keys), a law school dropout, a guy who lived in Mexico making acid, and a kid who ran bets for his dad at the racetrack as soon as he was five years old. This is quite a life. Written in the midst of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis with the help of his wife and kids, Life’s Work is less a showbiz biography than the complex self-reckoning of a complicated mind. The book is more attentive to its subject’s faults than most memoirs of its kind, and the result is as soaring and eloquent and crazy and hypocritical and marvelous and vulgar as the shows Milch wrote. I loved it, especially the audiobook version.
 
About the Book
 
Like Milch’s best screenwriting, Life’s Work explores how chance encounters, self-deception, and luck shape the people we become, and wrestles with what it means to have felt and caused pain, even and especially with those we love, and how you keep living. It is both a master class on Milch’s unique creative process, and a distinctive, revelatory memoir from one of the great American writers, in what may be his final dispatch to us all.


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.
 

Encounters with the Archdruid | John McPhee
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Recommended by Lisa Borst
 
“This book is peak McPhee: his primary subject—a dogmatic environmentalist—seems to clearly be the world’s most interesting environmentalist, but then every villainous developer McPhee sets his sights on is also the world’s most interesting villainous developer, every migratory bird is the world’s most interesting migratory bird, every dam is the world’s most interesting dam. Each of these subjects, you eventually realize, has simply had the great fortune of being described by one of the world’s most interesting writers. Plus, you learn a new geological term every few pages.
 
About the Book
 
The narratives in this book are of journeys made in three wildernesses—on a coastal island, in a Western mountain range, and on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The four men portrayed here have different relationships to their environment, and they encounter each other on mountain trails, in forests and rapids, sometimes with reserve, sometimes with friendliness, sometimes fighting hard across a philosophical divide.
 
 

The Kindly Ones | Jonathan Littell
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Recommended by Vladimir Sorokin
 
“Sixty years after the Second World War, Littell creates a lively, hypnotically attractive portrait of total evil, which takes control of a hero of that time like a virus, forcing the reader to make torturous choices, to suffer, to feel indignation, to be enchanted, and, finally, to resist.
 
About the Book
 
A former Nazi officer, Dr. Maximilien Aue has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in France. An intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music, he is also a cold-blooded assassin and the consummate bureaucrat. Through the eyes of this cultivated yet monstrous man we experience in disturbingly precise detail the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi genocide of the Jews. Eichmann, Himmler, Göring, Speer, Heydrich, Höss—even Hitler himself—play a role in Max’s story. An intense and hallucinatory historical epic, The Kindly Ones is also a morally challenging read. It holds a mirror up to humanity—and the reader cannot look away.
 
 

The Unclassed | George Gissing
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Recommended by Charlotte Shane
 
“I have the impression that The Unclassed doesn’t command a lot of respect in comparison to George Gissing’s later novels, but I found it more memorable and moving than New Grub Street, which is admittedly more polished. I can’t believe this sensitive, feminist, prostitute-loving man died from such a stupid thing (catching a chill on a winter walk).
 
About the Book
 
Struggling to make it as a lower-class Londoner, Osmond Waymark finds himself unable to give up his literary ambitions. Desperate and lonely, he strikes up a friendship with Julian Casti, a similarly down-and-out young writer who suffers from both poverty and xenophobia as the son of Italian immigrants. When Julian agrees to an ill-advised marriage to Harriet Smales, a rude young woman, he inadvertently exposes Osmond to her manipulative and vindictive ways. As Osmond falls for Ida Starr, a prostitute’s daughter driven to rise above her circumstances, he unwittingly angers Harriet, whose friend Maud is secretly in love with him. In a shocking turn of events, Harriet conspires to get Ida arrested for theft, then maneuvers to get Osmond into the arms of Maud. The two become engaged, leaving Ida—the novel’s heroine—to rely on her wits and survival instinct to not only prove her innocence, but win back the man she loves.

True Grit | Charles Portis
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Recommended by Lisa Borst
 
After the collected works of novelist Charles Portis were reissued recently, I spent a few months blasting through his ruthlessly funny fiction: the picaresque-ish Gringos, the deadpan road novel Dog of the South, the even deadpan-er road novel Norwood. But it was True Grit, his riveting tween-narrated western, that really cemented my status as a Portishead. The narrative voice of its plucky and hugely charming protagonist, Mattie—both goofy and biblically vengeful, and constantly placing things in arch quotation marks—grounds the novel in comedy, but it’s her avuncular hired-gun-turned-friend, a grouchy US marshal named Rooster (every Portis character has a name like Rooster), who ultimately steals the show. Portisheads unite!
 
About the Book
 
True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen when the coward Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 cash. Filled with an unwavering urge to avenge her father’s blood, Mattie finds and, after some tenacious finagling, enlists one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, as her partner in pursuit, and they head off into Indian Territory after the killer.

Voices in the Evening | Natalia Ginzburg
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Recommended by Sarah Resnick
 
“Natalia Ginzburg, in addition to writing twelve books and two plays, struggled against anti-Semitic laws, mourned a husband killed by the fascists, and, in her sixties, took up a career in Italian politics. What a life! Her novel Voices in the Evening, set in the aftermath of WWII, is a story of tragedy, comedy, gossip, romance, and life at the small-town scale of a Fellini film. ‘No, she is not a spy. She is merely a stupid woman.’ ‘He related what Purillo was like, how he washed and ate and made love with the servant, and how he did his exercises in the morning in shorts of black webbing.’ ‘In these months, I have driven a great many of my thoughts underground. I have dug out a little grave for them.’ ‘Isn’t your granny fed up with reading all those novels?’
 
About the Book
 
After WWII, a small Italian town struggles to emerge from under the thumb of Fascism. With wit, tenderness, and irony, Elsa, the novel's narrator, weaves a rich tapestry of provincial Italian life: two generations of neighbors and relatives, their gossip and shattered dreams, their heartbreaks and struggles to find happiness. Elsa wants to imagine a future for herself, free from the expectations and burdens of her town's history, but the weight of the past will always prove unbearable, insistently posing the question: "Why has everything been ruined?"
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