- Gabriela Aleman
LISTS Best Fiction of 2018 Powells Books
Without further ado, our favorite fiction from 2018.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Sometimes I read a book that wrings me out so thoroughly I barely know who I am anymore. It's disturbing and disorienting, and although I'm glad it doesn't happen often, it is one of my very favorite things about reading. I had no idea that The Pisces was going to be one of those books. I was expecting a fluffy summer beach read about a hot merdude, and instead I got this book which absolutely destroyed me. I can't stop thinking about The Pisces; I already want to read it again. — Ashleigh B.
The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg
Laura van den Berg's new novel, The Third Hotel, is an exquisite exploration of grief, travel, and intimacy. It's also got an extremely compelling story: Clare, an elevator sales rep, goes alone to a horror movie festival in Havana after her husband, a film scholar, dies in a car accident. A few days later, to her shock, she sees him standing in front of a museum. Thus begins a surreal, intuitive, unsettling journey through Clare's past and psyche that is my favorite book of 2018. — Jill O.
Smoke City by Keith Rosson
Rosson tackles the big life questions in this book, picking apart themes of purpose, redemption, suffering, forgiveness, addiction, passion, talent, guilt, the unknowable nature of life and death, the ways in which we help each other and the ways in which we hinder, the joy of living and the anticipation of death, and the absolute necessity of an examined life. His talent is staggering, his craft is meticulous, and his story is one of the quirkiest but most heartfelt I have ever read. He will clench your heart and drag you through his landscape of horror and bliss. You'll be so utterly grateful for it. — Dianah H.
Poso Wells by Gabriela Alemán
A town built on mud and garbage; a nefarious partnership between corrupt politicians, thugs, and business men; and a reporter investigating the disappearance of hundreds of women. Poso Wells is part satire and part detective story. It's unlike any book I've read in a long time, and I'll be recommending it to everyone I know. — Amy W.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
I don't remember the last time I've been so suddenly and convincingly landed in a book. A young slave with a talent for scientific illustration escapes bondage only to find that the wider world is both perilous and full of wonder. Written in a style evocative of Victorian adventure tales, this novel is like a smarter, more grown-up Treasure Island. — Eva F.
There There by Tommy Orange
Tommy Orange’s stunning debut weaves a polyphonic narrative of Native experience, with each character grappling with the hope and heartbreak that comes from hundreds of years of trauma. These voices reach a crescendo at the Big Oakland Powwow in a finale that is both apt and horrifying — much like the untold history of Native Americans. Orange writes surely and resolutely of the Native experience, and he commands the reader’s acknowledgment of our history. — Kate L.
The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
I was smitten with this book from the first couple pages. Joukhadar weaves two storylines together, one from 800 years ago and one set in the present day, to relate the plight of a Syrian refugee family. She tells this story with a tenderness that is heartbreakingly beautiful, exploring themes of diaspora, humanity, and hope. It's such an important rendering of the hardships faced by those forced out of their homes, and should be required reading for the times we live in. This is a stunning debut novel! Please read this book, and keep this explosive young writer on your radar! — Carrie K.
Set during the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s, The Great Believers is a book about the personal and the political, about love and loss, grief and guilt, memory and art. It’s an unsparing book that doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the epidemic or the holes it left in the lives of those who lived through it, but it’s also a joyful book about the power of friendship, family, and art to sustain us, even in the face of devastation. — Tim B.
This razor-sharp collection of satirical stories made me gasp, laugh, scoff, groan, and otherwise draw attention to myself while reading in public. You won’t regret picking up a copy. — Hayley H.
Intimate and earnest, like a late-night conversation with a friend, Whitehead's novel captures the challenges of leaving home and being an outsider no matter where one goes. Weaving together Jonny’s memories of reservation life with his present one as an online sex worker in Winnipeg, the titular character ruminates on the grit it takes to get by. — Robin A.
Barker’s powerfully haunting and gut-wrenching retelling of The Iliad gives a voice to those made powerless by war. The Silence of the Girls will stand the test of time and custom and is a very grim reminder about what war and slavery entail. And it is more pertinent than ever! — Sheila N.
Killing Commendatore is a Gatsby-esque novel that meditates on art, death, the spirit world, fate, and free will. I loved the experience of slowly losing myself to the surreal, magical world of Murakami’s imagination. This novel may have finally pushed me into the camp of devoted Harukists. — Mary S.
You've never read a voice like Jessilyn Harney’s. Think Cold Mountain meets All the Pretty Horses, but told from a 17-year-old woman's perspective. Larison crafts a beautiful, adventurous, emotional tale of family and survival, complete with sharp-shooting outlaws and stunning descriptions of the landscape of the 19th-century American West. — Kathleen B.
Jesse Ball's latest book is like nothing you’ve ever read before. Set in an unnamed country composed of towns arranged from A to Z, the novel traces the path of its terminally ill narrator who, for his final act, is traveling as a census taker with his mentally disabled son. As he visits home after home, measuring lives while reexamining his own, it becomes impossible to ignore where this fateful journey is taking him. Both immersive and wondrous, Census is a meditative book about the modest roles we play in a sprawling world and the strength of human connections in the face of such enormity. — Renee P.
Little Fish is a story centered around Wendy — a trans woman who, after a family death, begins to suspect her late Mennonite grandparent may have been trans too. While tackling the complexities of sex work, suicide, relationships, and harassment, author Casey Plett doesn't shy away from the fact that people and identity are messy, or that to be trans is to exist in conflicting modalities with the worlds we inhabit and the time that builds up to a life. Her writing is devastatingly good. With more books like this one, we can start to believe that, despite any evidence to the contrary, we might be okay. — Cosima C.
The Line That Held Us is a gorgeous and brutal story of love, violence, and loyalty so fierce it has the power to destroy everything in its path. David Joy has a gift for writing Southern noir, and he can hold his own with Cormac McCarthy, Donald Ray Pollock, Daniel Woodrell, and other gods of grit lit. — Emily F.
In a small town in northern Minnesota, Virgil Wander is living his life on autopilot until his car careens off a snowy cliff road and into Lake Superior. Afterward, he struggles with memory and vocabulary issues, while still trying to maintain his fledgling single-screen movie theater and job in City Hall. A likable cast of characters rounds out the story, including a kite-flying older Norwegian trying to find out more about his long-missing son, of whose existence he only recently learned. This is a feel-good read, and sometimes that’s exactly what is needed in these trying times. — Candice B.
There is no one writing like Ben Marcus and this book of devastating stories is so darkly weird, so sentence-drivenly spectacular, and so otherworldly while still being recognizably in our world. Notes From the Fog is funny, perverse, and maybe Marcus's best book in an influential writing career. — Kevin S.