THE GREEN ROAD
By Anne Enright. (Norton, 310 pages, $26.95.)
The premise is a familiar literary trope: a mother summoning her adult offspring back home for Christmas. But Anne Enright delivers far more than family feuds and sibling rivalry. Lengthy chapters chart the different journeys each of the four Madigan children has made since their upbringing on Ireland’s Atlantic coast — so much so that the novel can be read as a series of stand-alone stories. Enright’s perfectly drawn characters breathe and bleed and, ultimately, matter to us.
FATES AND FURIES
By Lauren Groff. (Riverhead Books, 390 pages, $27.95.)
This finalist for the National Book Award is a portrait of a 24-year marriage seen from the perspective of both husband and wife. Lotto is a successful playwright; Mathilde edits his work and cheers him on. But in the middle of the novel Groff drops an almighty bombshell, after which her characters are never the same again. Contradictory viewpoints, dark histories, lurid revelations and shimmering prose make for a thrilling and moving reading experience.
A LITTLE LIFE
By Hanya Yanagihara. (Doubleday, 720 pages, $30.)
One of the most talked about books of the year, Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel starts out by shadowing the lives of four friends in New York before homing in on one of them. On the surface, it remains a study of friendship; however, its dark core is a harrowing depiction of Jude’s childhood abuse, followed by his equally tragic efforts to live with the trauma. Overlong, attritional and in places gratuitously bleak, there is no doubting its hypnotic power or its ambitious attempt to tackle the largest of questions: “What is life for?”
By Rupert Thomson. (Other Press, 293 pages, $16.95.)
Shattered by her mother’s death and struggling with her father’s absences, Rupert Thomson’s 19-year-old heroine embarks on a journey of self-discovery — “to prove that I exist.” From Rome to Berlin to the frozen wastes of northern Russia, Katherine meets kind and cruel strangers, relies on her wits and overcomes considerable odds. This hauntingly beautiful and deeply immersive novel has the reader rooting for its main character every step of the way.
THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING
By Colum McCann. (Random House, 242 pages, $26.)
The title novella in this bravura collection of short fiction constitutes a last day in the life of a retired judge. McCann’s other shorter works feature characters being wrenched from one emotional state to another: a writer wrestling with a story, a mother frantically searching for her missing child, a nun reminded of a past ordeal. All four tales stand as powerful explorations of empathy.
THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD
By Elena Ferrante. (Europa Editions, 473 pages, $18.)
All good things must come to an end. The final volume in the acclaimed Neapolitan quartet sees Ferrante’s two feisty and fiercely independent women, Elena and Lila, rekindling their friendship and contemplating the future together in the last decades of the 20th century. Once again, the Italian south comes vividly alive, but this time around Ferrante’s drama is more psychological, her gaze less forgiving, and her novel is all the more compelling for it.
ETTA AND OTTO AND RUSSELL AND JAMES
By Emma Hooper. (Simon & Schuster, 305 pages, $26.)
Hooper’s warm and playful debut novel is the story of 83-year-old Etta, who one day decides to walk 2,000 miles from her home in rural Canada to the sea. What could have been a fluffy, saccharine-sweet and overly whimsical romp is instead a gritty fairy tale full of recessed tricks and openly displayed compassion — a thoroughly original road trip that is also an ode to Saskatchewan and a rallying cry to seize the day.
A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN
By Lucia Berlin. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 403 pages, $26.)
Lydia Davis sums up Lucia Berlin’s stories best by calling them “electric.” Practically every tale in this magnificent collection crackles and fizzes. Berlin’s exceptional talent was her ability to make something miraculous, glamorous, witty and exciting out of drab daily reality. Keen-eyed observations, succinct sentences and a direct and personable style keep the reader engaged and emotionally invested. Berlin never got the recognition she deserved during her lifetime, but this book will ensure she is now here to stay.
A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD
By Anne Tyler. (Knopf, 358 pages, $25.95’)
Like Jane Austen before her, Anne Tyler takes her readers deep inside families and marriages and spins an absorbing yarn without sentimentalizing or sensationalizing people or events. While her 20th novel shows no daring departure from that winning formula — we are again in Baltimore traversing several generations of one clan — Tyler dazzles with an array of surprise turns and home truths. A master class in narrative clarity and comic effect.
By Chigozie Obioma. (Little, Brown, 297 pages, $26.)
In a small Nigerian town in the 1990s, four young brothers encounter a local madman who prophesies that the oldest brother will be killed by another — a “fisherman.” This passionate and ingenious debut about fear, distrust and unraveling family bonds reads like a dark fable and is rich with gut-twisting suspense and vivid imagery. The novel was a Man Booker Prize contender, and its author is a vital new voice in world literature.
THERE’S SOMETHING I WANT YOU TO DO
By Charles Baxter. (Pantheon, 221 pages, $24.)
Ten tales, five of them thematically organized as virtues, the other five as vices, feature Minneapolitans of different hues who wander in and out of stories and other characters’ lives, at some point uttering a subtle variation of the book’s title. As ever, Charles Baxter impresses with sure-footed prose, moral ambiguity and probing insight into the good, the bad and the deluded.
By William Boyd. (Bloomsbury, 464 pages, $28.)
After several thrillers and a 007 adventure, William Boyd serves up another expert blend of fiction, history and reportage along the lines of his 2002 masterpiece, “Any Human Heart.” That novel’s protagonist was male; here his creation is a female photographer whose camera records 20th-century societal upheaval in London, Berlin and New York, and war in France and Vietnam. Her “many lives” resemble the book’s scattered photos: candid, illuminating and exquisitely shot.
Malcolm Forbes is a book critic in Edinburgh, Scotland.