End-of-the-year Book Post, Part 1


I’m ambivalent about year-end and best-of book lists—my own novel wasn’t on any lists—and yet I feel compelled to share my favorite reads from 2022. I loved a lot of the same big novels everyone else did, though a few major literary novels weren’t for me. That’s the thing about fiction: it’s subjective! So here are some of my favorites, in two parts. Part 1 is for the slightly less hyped novels, Part 2, for the more hyped ones, coming tomorrow.

Free Love, Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley is an automatic buy for me, for her character work, her omniscient narration, and her evocation of the past, especially the 1960s. This isn’t my very favorite of hers, but it’s the story of a suburban wife who leaves her life on a whim and plunges into a new life in grungy, swinging ‘60s London.

The Shore, Katie Runde

Runde’s debut novel is set at the Jersey Shore, covering the summer when Morgot Dunne and her daughters Eve and Liz come to terms with the fact that husband and dad Brian is dying of a fast-moving brain tumor. Wonderful evocation of the beach-town setting, and of teenage-hood. It’s both a family story and a coming-of-age story.

My Monticello, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

My Monticello is Johnson’s debut, and the only short-story collection on my list this year. The title story is actually a dystopian novella: a group of people, including a black descendant of Jefferson, hide out from white supremacists in Jefferson’s Monticello. The other five stories, beautifully observed, feel timely and timeless, heartbreaking with a dash of hope. You can find the story “Control Negro” at Guernica. It’s a strange and sober story, a little in the vein of Remains of the Day, and it may make you cry.

Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan

A gem of a novella from Irish novelist Keegan, Small Things gives us a moment near Christmas in 1985, in the life of Bill Furlong. He’s a coal delivery man who witnesses something shocking in his small Irish, tradition-bound Irish town. Keegan writes in the vein of William Trevor, but with more warmth. 

The Swimmers, Julie Otsuka 

A very short novel that defies categorization—it doesn’t act like a novel. Honestly, it breaks all the writing rules, but it makes great use of lists and accumulations of odd details. Part one is a first-person plural telling of what a group of swimmers goes through as their beloved pool develops a crack and has to close. One voice, Alice, pops up from time to time with a response that’s slightly different from the others. Part two focuses in on Alice, an older woman with dementia, through the perspective of her middle-aged daughter. Beautiful, tender, strange, and sad. And maybe a little autobiographical—Otsuka’s parents were interned in Japanese internment camps during World War II, as main character Alice was, as a child.

Part 2 of my end-of-the-year post, tomorrow!

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