Some extraordinary novels were published this year. I have had a tough time narrowing down my favorites. Four of my choices are debut novels. Here’s the list of fiction titles that bowled me over:
“Fourth of July Creek” by Smith Henderson (Ecco, 470 pages, $26.99)
This novel’s main character is Pete Snow, a social worker who helps families living on the fringes of society in Montana. One day a young boy appears. The lad is semi-feral, he’s been living out in the wilderness with his survivalist father. Pete becomes involved and soon encounters the mysterious fugitive Benjamin Pearl, the boy’s father. Pete has problems of his own — he’s able to feel great empathy with his clients because he’s experienced some damage himself. This book has much to offer readers, from gritty reality to lyrical beauty.
“The Enchanted” by Rene Denfeld (Harper, 237 pages, $25.99)
Rene Denfeld is a death penalty investigator in Oregon. One day she was leaving a prison when she began to hear a voice speaking in her imagination. That voice became the main character in her compelling debut novel “The Enchanted.” This nameless prisoner is isolated. We understand he has done something unspeakable. We know not what. He reels us into his secret world. His perceptions are startling. We cannot hate this man.
“Love Me Back” by Merritt Tierce (Doubleday, 217 pages, $23.95)
This is the story of a waitress named Marie. The oblivion she seeks cannot save her. The drugs don’t make her feel better. Neither does the meaningless sex. She doesn’t really feel much at all. She keeps trying to hurt herself because she really would like to feel something, anything. The potent expression of her agony slices through these pages. Merritt Tierce is fierce.
“Young God” by Katherine Faw Morris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 193 pages, $24).
Here’s another crackling first novel. The protagonist is a 13-year-old girl named Nikki. This saga explodes in the hill country of North Carolina. Nikki has grown up far too fast. Her father is a criminal who she much admires. They have a weird relationship. He tries to victimize her but she’ll have no part of that. This book isn’t for everybody. You’ll either love it or hate it.
“Neverhome” by Laird Hunt (Little, Brown, 248 pages, $26).
A farmer who calls himself Ash Thompson crosses the border from Indiana to Ohio to enlist in the Union Army. The Civil War is raging — Ash is a superb sharpshooter ready to fight for the Union cause. There’s something about Ash that doesn’t seem right. What could that be? Well, for one thing, Ash is a woman disguised as a man. Imagine what that was like. Laird Hunt has done exactly that in this impressive and captivating story.
“A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James (Riverhead Books, 688 pages, $28.95)
In 1976 a group of armed men and boys attempted to assassinate the Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley. He survived. This dramatic event inspired Marlon James to write a novel about it. The book has numerous narrators. The Marley character is referred to as “the Singer.” He hovers over the proceedings like a sacred ghost as his would be killers meet their fates one by one. James spools out these tales with cinematic precision.
Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at email@example.com.