Since 2010, Editors and Contributors to Memorious have been compiling anticipated books of the New Year, and we love to brag “I told you so” when those books take off. Last year’s lists included some contributors’ books that are making the news: Rick Barot’s Chord, now longlisted for the Pen Open Book Award, and Jennifer Tseng’s Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness, longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Our lists also anticipated National Book Award finalist Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light, and several books that have made best-of lists, like Boy With Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis and Patty Park’s Re: Jane.
In other words, why wait for those endless “best of” lists when you can get a peek at what to read in 2016? One of our fiction editors, Brian Trapp, kicks off this year’s round with his list.
Chris Bachelder, The Throwback Special (W.W. Norton)
Whether he’s writing heady political satire (2001’s Bear v. Shark or 2006’s U.S.!) or comic yet tender-hearted realism about fatherhood (2011’s Abbot Awaits), Chris Bachelder is emotionally precise, whip-smart, and, for my money, one of the best and funniest writers we’ve got. His next novel, The Throwback Special, is out this spring from Norton, and is currently being serialized in the Paris Review. Bachelder returns to his more conceit-driven novels, as he tells the story of twenty-two men who gather every fall to reenact what ESPN calls “the most shocking play in NFL history”: the 1985 play in which Lawrence Taylor shatters Joe Theisman’s leg on national television. Written in an interior and tonally nimble style, the novel is a dark yet big-hearted meditation on manhood, middle age, and mortality, exploring how we try to protect the things we love most.
Deb Olin Unferth, Wait Till You See Me Dance (Graywolf Press)
Deb Olin Unferth’s 2007 novel, Vacation, is a personal favorite of mine. She is the lost love-child of Samuel Beckett and Renata Adler, writing in a desperately comic mode that explores the depths of our strange psyches. And she has a poet’s ear: no one can turn a line quite like her. Also the author of a memoir, Revolution, and a collection of short-shorts, Minor Robberies, Unferth’s new collection contains stories that have appeared in Harper’s, Paris Review, McSweeney’s, and NOON. I’m excited to read a full-length collection from this immensely talented writer.
Greg Jackson, Prodigals (FSG and Granta Books)
I read Jackson’s short story “Wagner in the Desert” in a 2014 summer issue of the New Yorker, which was his first published story (bastard). Lucky for him, he deserves it. “Wagner in the Desert” follows a group of privileged thirty-somethings who meet up in Palm Springs for one last drug-fueled lost week before settling into their adult lives. Jackson has the cutting self-consciousness and verbal brilliance of David Foster Wallace with an emotional acuity that makes him his own man.
Anne Valente, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down (William Morrow/HarperCollins):
Anne Valente has been on fire for quite some time now. Her first story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, won the 2014 Dzanc Books Short Story Prize, and she’s had work published in the Believer, One Story, and the Southern Review, among lots of other places. However, we like to trace the beginning of her success to Memorious 18, where she published “Mollusk, Membrane, Human Heart.” You’ve never read an octopus story quite like that one. Valente often mixes realism and fabulism to write about loss with lyrical precision and beauty. Next November, Valente will publish her debut novel, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down. Set in St. Louis, the novel follows four yearbook staff members in the wake of a mass high school shooting, as they try to piece together a record of what happened, and as a series of mysterious house fires begins to erupt in the community. Not to be missed.
And a brief list of other intriguing titles: Movie Stars by Jack Pendarvis (Dzanc), Triangle Ray by John Holman (Dzanc), The Making of the American Essay by John D’Agata (Graywolf), and You Should Pity Us Instead by Amy Gustine (Sarabande).
Brian Trapp is one of Memorious’s two current fiction editors. His short stories and essays have appeared in Narrative, Ninth Letter, Black Warrior Review, New Ohio Review, and Meridian, among other places. He is currently a faculty fellow at the University of Oregon.
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