We are pleased to announce the Long List for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize is awarded to the best debut novel of the year.
The 2019 Short List was announced on Thursday, September 26. Shortlisted titles are marked below and listed here. The winner will be announced in December at The Center for Fiction’s Annual Benefit and Awards Dinner.
Books are arranged alphabetically by title. Summaries and images from publishers.
The Affairs of the Falcóns
By Melissa Rivero
Published by Ecco
A stunning debut novel about a young undocumented Peruvian woman fighting to keep her family afloat in New York City
Ana Falcón, along with her husband Lucho and their two young children, has fled the economic and political strife of Peru for a chance at a new life in New York City in the 1990s. Being undocumented, however, has significantly curtailed the family’s opportunities: Ana is indebted to a loan shark who calls herself Mama, and is stretched thin by unceasing shifts at her factory job. To make matters worse, Ana must also battle both criticism from Lucho’s cousin—who has made it obvious the family is not welcome to stay in her spare room for much longer—and escalating and unwanted attention from Mama’s husband.
As the pressure builds, Ana becomes increasingly desperate. While Lucho dreams of returning to Peru, Ana is deeply haunted by the demons she left behind and determined to persevere in this new country. But how many sacrifices is she willing to make before admitting defeat and returning to Peru? And what lines is she willing to cross in order to protect her family?
The Affairs of the Falcóns is a beautiful, deeply urgent novel about the lengths one woman is willing to go to build a new life, and a vivid rendering of the American immigrant experience.
By Lauren Wilkinson
Published by Random House
What if your sense of duty required you to betray the man you love?
It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. Her career has stalled out, she’s overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Sankara is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she’s being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent.
In the year that follows, Marie will observe Sankara, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American.
Inspired by true events—Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”—American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you’ve never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice.2 .
Bangkok Wakes to Rain
By Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Published by Riverhead Books
A missionary doctor pines for his native New England even as he succumbs to the vibrant chaos of nineteenth-century Siam. A post-World War II society woman marries, mothers, and holds court, little suspecting her solitary fate. A jazz pianist in the age of rock, haunted by his own ghosts, is summoned to appease the house’s resident spirits. In the present, a young woman tries to outpace the long shadow of her political past. And in a New Krungthep yet to come, savvy teenagers row tourists past landmarks of the drowned old city they themselves do not remember. Time collapses as these lives collide and converge, linked by the forces voraciously making and remaking the amphibious, ever-morphing capital itself. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is an elegy for what time erases and a love song to all that persists, yearning, into the unknowable future.
By Katherine Forbes Riley
Published by Arcade
Haunting and lyrical, The Bobcat is Katherine Forbes Riley’s magical debut novel in which Laurelie, a young art student who suffers in the aftermath of a sexual assault, has grown progressively more isolated and fearful. She transfers from her busy city university to a small college in rural Vermont, where she retreats into her vivid imagination, experiencing the world through her art. Most comfortable in the company of the child for whom she babysits, and most at ease in the woods, Laurelie has shunned any connection with her peers.
One day, while exploring the woods, she and her young charge encounter an injured pregnant bobcat – and the hiker who has been following it for hundreds of miles. In the hiker and his feline companion Laurelie recognizes someone as reclusive and wary as herself. The hiker, too, finds human companionship painful to endure, yet he is drawn to wounded Laurelie the way he is drawn to the bobcat. As Laurelie moves toward recovery and reconnection she also finds her voice as an artist, and a sense of purpose, maybe even a future, comes into sight. Then the child goes missing in the woods, threatening the bobcat, the hiker, and the fragile peace Laurelie has constructed.
With the hypnotic intensity of Emily Fridlund’s The History of Wolves and Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, Riley has created a mesmerizing love story, in lush, gorgeous prose, that examines art, science, and the magic of human chemistry.4 .
The Dearly Beloved
By Cara Wall
Published by Simon & Schuster
Charles and Lily, James and Nan. They meet in Greenwich Village in 1963 when Charles and James are jointly hired to steward the historic Third Presbyterian Church through turbulent times. Their personal differences however, threaten to tear them apart.
Charles is destined to succeed his father as an esteemed professor of history at Harvard, until an unorthodox lecture about faith leads him to ministry. How then, can he fall in love with Lily—fiercely intellectual, elegantly stern—after she tells him with certainty that she will never believe in God? And yet, how can he not?
James, the youngest son in a hardscrabble Chicago family, spent much of his youth angry at his alcoholic father and avoiding his anxious mother. Nan grew up in Mississippi, the devout and beloved daughter of a minister and a debutante. James’s escape from his desperate circumstances leads him to Nan and, despite his skepticism of hope in all its forms, her gentle, constant faith changes the course of his life.
In The Dearly Beloved, we follow these two couples through decades of love and friendship, jealousy and understanding, forgiveness and commitment. Against the backdrop of turbulent changes facing the city and the church’s congregation, these four forge improbable paths through their evolving relationships, each struggling with uncertainty, heartbreak, and joy. A poignant meditation on faith and reason, marriage and children, and the ways we find meaning in our lives, Cara Wall’s The Dearly Beloved is a gorgeous, wise, and provocative novel that is destined to become a classic.
By Julia Phillips
Published by Knopf
Taking us through a year in Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth enters with astonishing emotional acuity the worlds of a cast of richly drawn characters, all connected by the crime: a witness, a neighbor, a detective, a mother. We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty–densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes, and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska–and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused.
In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer’s virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel brings us to a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before.
Spellbinding, moving–evoking a fascinating region on the other side of the world–this suspenseful and haunting story announces the debut of a profoundly gifted writer.6 .
By Dana Czapnik
Published by Atria Books
In this “frank, bittersweet coming-of-age story that crackles with raw adolescent energy, fresh-cut prose, and a kinetic sense of place” (Entertainment Weekly), a teenaged tomboy explores love, growing up, and New York City in the early 1990s.
New York, 1993. Street-smart seventeen-year-old Lucy Adler is often the only girl on the public basketball courts. Lucy’s inner life is a contradiction. She’s by turns quixotic and cynical, insecure and self-possessed, and, despite herself, is in unrequited love with her best friend and pickup teammate, Percy, the rebellious son of a prominent New York family.
As Lucy begins to question accepted notions of success, bristling against her own hunger for male approval, she is drawn into the world of a pair of provocative feminist artists living in what remains of New York’s bohemia.
Told with wit and pathos, The Falconer is at once a novel of ideas, a portrait of a time and place, and an ode to the obsessions of youth. In her critically acclaimed debut, Dana Czapnik captures the voice of an unforgettable modern literary heroine, a young woman in the first flush of freedom.
Fall Back Down When I Die
By Joe Wilkins
Published by Little, Brown & Company
For readers of My Absolute Darling and Fourth of July Creek, a “riveting and timely” (Jess Walter) Montana story about the unbreakable bond between a young man and the abandoned boy put in his care, as old grievances of land and blood are visited upon them.
Wendell Newman, a young ranch hand in Montana, has recently lost his mother, leaving him an orphan. His bank account holds less than a hundred dollars, and he owes back taxes on what remains of the land his parents owned, as well as money for the surgeries that failed to save his mother’s life.
An unexpected deliverance arrives in the form of seven-year-old Rowdy Burns, the mute and traumatized son of Wendell’s incarcerated cousin. When Rowdy is put under his care, what begins as an ordeal for Wendell turns into a powerful bond, as he comes to love the boy more than he ever thought possible. That bond will be stretched to the breaking point during the first legal wolf hunt in Montana in more than thirty years, when a murder ignites a desperate chase. Caught on the wrong side of a disaffected fringe group, Wendell is determined both to protect Rowdy and to avoid the same violent fate that claimed his own father.
A gripping story set in a fractured and misunderstood community, Fall Back Down When I Die is a haunting and unforgettable tale of sacrificial love.8 .
By Joanne Ramos
Published by Random House
Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.
Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.
By Miciah Bay Gault
Published by Park Row
Lydia and Lucas Moore are in their late twenties when a stranger enters their small world on Wolf Island. Lydia, the responsible sister, has cared for her pathologically shy brother, Lucas, ever since their mom’s death a decade before. They live together, comfortable yet confined, in their family house by the sea, shadowed by events from their childhood.
When Lydia sees the stranger step off the ferry, she feels an immediate connection to him. Lucas is convinced the man, Cole Anthony, is the reincarnation of their baby brother, who died when they were young. Cole knows their mannerisms, their home, the topography of the island—what else could that mean? Though Lydia is doubtful, she can’t deny she is drawn to his magnetism, his energy, and his warmth.
To discover the truth about Cole, Lydia must finally face her anxiety about leaving the island and summon the strength to challenge Cole’s grip on her family’s past and her brother. A deliciously alluring read, Goodnight Stranger is a story of choices and regrets, courage and loneliness, and the ways we hold on to those we love.10 .
The History of Living Forever
By Jake Wolff
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
The morning after the death of his first love, Conrad Aybinder receives a bequest. Sammy Tampari was Conrad’s lover. He was his teacher. And, it turns out, he was not just a chemist, but an alchemist, searching for a mythic elixir of life. Sammy’s death was sudden, yet he somehow managed to leave twenty years’ worth of his notebooks and a storage locker full of expensive, sometimes baffling equipment in the hands of his star student. The notebooks contain cryptic “recipes,” but no instructions; they tell his life story, but only hint at what might have caused his death. And Sammy’s research is littered with his favorite teaching question: What’s missing?
As Conrad pieces together the solution, he finds he is not the only one to suspect that Sammy succeeded in his quest. And if he wants to save his father from a mysterious illness, Conrad will have to make some very difficult choices.
A globe-trotting, century-spanning adventure story, Jake Wolff’s The History of Living Forever takes us from Maine to Romania to Easter Island and introduces a cast of unforgettable characters—drug kingpins, Big Pharma flunkies, centenarians, boy geniuses, and even a group of immortalists masquerading as coin collectors. It takes us deep into the mysteries of life—from first love to first heartbreak, from the long pall of grief to the irreconcilable loneliness of depression to the possibility of medical miracles, from coming of age to coming out. Hilarious, haunting, heart-busting, life-affirming, it asks each of us one of life’s essential questions: How far would you go for someone you love?
In West Mills
By De’Shawn Charles Winslow
Published by Bloomsbury
Azalea “Knot” Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors’ gossip won’t keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Alone in her one-room shack, ostracized from her relatives and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.
Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule. After his failed attempt as a teenager to help his older sister, Otis Lee discovers a possible path to redemption in the chaos Knot brings to his doorstep. But while he’s busy trying to fix Knot’s life, Otis Lee finds himself powerless to repair the many troubles within his own family, as the long-buried secrets of his troubled past begin to come to light.
Set in an African American community in rural North Carolina from 1941 to 1987, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love.12 .
The Gone Dead
By Chanelle Benz
Published by Ecco
An electrifying first novel from “a riveting new voice in American fiction” (George Saunders): A young woman returns to her childhood home in the American South and uncovers secrets about her father’s life and death
Billie James’ inheritance isn’t much: a little money and a shack in the Mississippi Delta. The house once belonged to her father, a renowned black poet who died unexpectedly when Billie was four years old. Though Billie was there when the accident happened, she has no memory of that day—and she hasn’t been back to the South since.
Thirty years later, Billie returns but her father’s home is unnervingly secluded: her only neighbors are the McGees, the family whose history has been entangled with hers since the days of slavery. As Billie encounters the locals, she hears a strange rumor: that she herself went missing on the day her father died. As the mystery intensifies, she finds out that this forgotten piece of her past could put her in danger.
Inventive, gritty, and openhearted, The Gone Dead is an astonishing debut novel about race, justice, and memory that lays bare the long-concealed wounds of a family and a country.
The Most Fun We Ever Had
By Claire Lombardo
Published by Doubleday
When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that’s to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants by a man she’s not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents’.
As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt–given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before–we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons’ past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.
Spanning nearly half a century, and set against the quintessential American backdrop of Chicago and its prospering suburbs, Lombardo’s debut explores the triumphs and burdens of love, the fraught tethers of parenthood and sisterhood, and the baffling mixture of affection, abhorrence, resistance, and submission we feel for those closest to us. In painting this luminous portrait of a family’s becoming, Lombardo joins the ranks of writers such as Celeste Ng, Elizabeth Strout, and Jonathan Franzen as visionary chroniclers of our modern lives.14 .
The Old Drift
By Namwali Serpell
Published by Hogarth
1904. On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there is a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. In a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives—their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes—emerge through a panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction.
From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines, this gripping, unforgettable novel is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
By Ocean Vuong
Published by Penguin Press
Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.16 .
By Elvia Wilk
Published by Soft Skull Press
In the near future, Berlin’s real estate is being flipped in the name of “sustainability,” only to make the city even more unaffordable; artists are employed by corporations as consultants, and the weather is acting strange. When Anja and Louis are offered a rent-free home on an artificial mountain—yet another eco-friendly initiative run by a corporation—they seize the opportunity, but it isn’t long before the experimental house begins malfunctioning.
After Louis’s mother dies, Anja is convinced he has changed. At work, Louis has become obsessed with a secret project: a pill called Oval that temporarily rewires the user’s brain to be more generous. While Anja is horrified, Louis believes he has found the solution to Berlin’s income inequality. Oval is a fascinating portrait of the unbalanced relationships that shape our world, as well as a prescient warning of what the future may hold.
The Paper Wasp
By Lauren Acampora
Published by Grove Press
In small-town Michigan, Abby Graven leads a solitary life. Once a bright student on the cusp of a promising art career, she now languishes in her childhood home, trudging to and from her job as a supermarket cashier. Each day she is taunted from the magazine racks by the success of her former best friend Elise, a rising Hollywood starlet whose life in pictures Abby obsessively scrapbooks. At night Abby escapes through the films of her favorite director, Auguste Perren, a cult figure known for his creative institute the Rhizome. Inspired by Perren, Abby draws fantastical storyboards based on her often premonitory dreams, a visionary gift she keeps hidden.
When Abby encounters Elise again at their high school reunion, she is surprised and warmed that Elise still considers her not only a friend but a brilliant storyteller and true artist. Elise’s unexpected faith in Abby reignites in her a dormant hunger, and when Elise offhandedly tells Abby to look her up if she’s ever in LA, Abby soon arrives on her doorstep. There, Abby discovers that although Elise is flourishing professionally, behind her glossy magazine veneer she is lonely and disillusioned. Ever the supportive friend, Abby becomes enmeshed in Elise’s world, even as she guards her own dark secret and burning desire for greatness. As she edges closer to Elise, the Rhizome, and her own artistic ambitions, the dynamic shifts between the two friends—until Abby can see only one way to grasp the future that awaits her.
The Paper Wasp is a thrilling, unexpected journey into the psyche and imagination of a woman determined to fulfill her destiny from one of our most unique and incisive writers.18 .
A Particular Kind of Black Man
By Tope Folarin
Published by Simon & Schuster
A stunning debut novel, from Rhodes Scholar and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, Tope Folarin about a Nigerian family living in Utah and their uncomfortable assimilation to American life.
Living in small-town Utah has always been an uneasy fit for Tunde Akinola’s family, especially for his Nigeria-born parents. Though Tunde speaks English with a Midwestern accent, he can’t escape the children who rub his skin and ask why the black won’t come off. As he struggles to fit in and find his place in the world, he finds little solace from his parents who are grappling with their own issues.
Tunde’s father, ever the optimist, works tirelessly chasing his American dream while his wife, lonely in Utah without family and friends, sinks deeper into schizophrenia. Then one otherwise-ordinary morning, Tunde’s mother wakes him with a hug, bundles him and his baby brother into the car, and takes them away from the only home they’ve ever known.
But running away doesn’t bring her, or her children, any relief from the demons that plague her; once Tunde’s father tracks them down, she flees to Nigeria, and Tunde never feels at home again. He spends the rest of his childhood and young adulthood searching for connection—to the wary stepmother and stepbrothers he gains when his father remarries; to the Utah residents who mock his father’s accent; to evangelical religion; to his Texas middle school’s crowd of African-Americans; to the fraternity brothers of his historically black college. In so doing, he discovers something that sends him on a journey away from everything he has known.
Sweeping, stirring, and perspective-shifting, A Particular Kind of Black Man is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the meaning of memory, manhood, home, and identity as seen through the eyes of a first-generation Nigerian-American.
A Prayer for Travelers
By Ruchika Tomar
Published by Riverhead
Cale Lambert, a bookish loner of mysterious parentage, lives in a dusty town near the California-Nevada border, a place where coyotes scavenge for backyard dogs and long-haul truckers scavenge for pills and girls. Cale was raised by her grandfather in a loving, if codependent, household, but as soon as she’s left high school his health begins an agonizing decline. Set adrift for the first time, Cale starts waitressing at the local diner, where she reconnects with Penélope Reyes, a charismatic former classmate running mysterious side-hustles to fund her dreams. Penny exposes Cale to the reality that exists beyond their small town, and the girls become inseparable—-until one terrifying act of violence shatters their world. When Penny vanishes without a trace, Cale must set off on a dangerous quest across the desert to find her friend, and discover herself.
An audacious debut, told in deftly interwoven chapters, A Prayer for Travelers explores the complicated legacy of the American West and the trauma of female experience.20 .
A People’s History of Heaven
By Mathangi Subramanian
Published by Algonquin
In the tight-knit community known as Heaven, a ramshackle slum hidden between luxury high-rises in Bangalore, India, five girls on the cusp of womanhood forge an unbreakable bond. Muslim, Christian, and Hindu; queer and straight; they are full of life, and they love and accept one another unconditionally. Whatever they have, they share. Marginalized women, they are determined to transcend their surroundings.
When the local government threatens to demolish their tin shacks in order to build a shopping mall, the girls and their mothers refuse to be erased. Together they wage war on the bulldozers sent to bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that wishes that families like them would remain hidden forever.
Elegant, poetic, and vibrant, A People’s History of Heaven takes a clear-eyed look at adversity and geography–and dazzles in its depiction of these women’s fierceness and determination not just to survive, but to triumph.
Riots I Have Known
By Ryan Chapman
Published by Simon & Schuster
An unnamed Sri Lankan inmate has barricaded himself inside a prison computer lab in Dutchess County, New York. A riot rages outside, incited by a poem published in The Holding Pen, the house literary journal. This, our narrator’s final Editor’s Letter, is his confession. An official accounting of events, as they happened.
As he awaits imminent and violent interruption, he takes us on a roller coaster ride of plot and language, determined to share his life story, and maybe answer a few questions. How did he end up here? Should he have remained a quiet Park Avenue doorman? Or continued his rise in the black markets of postwar Sri Lanka? What will become of The Holding Pen, a “masterpiece of post-penal literature” favored by Brooklynites everywhere? And why does everyone think the riots are his fault? Can’t they see he’s really a good guy, doing it for the right reasons?
Smart, wry, and laugh-out-loud funny, Ryan Chapman’s Riots I Have Known is an utter gem—an approachable send-up that packs a punch. Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, says, “Ryan Chapman has written a rocket-powered ode to literary creation and mass incarceration. Weaving satire and seriousness into a singularly rambunctious monologue, Riots I Have Known is a breath of fresh air.”22 .
Tears of the Trufflepig
By Fernando A. Flores
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
A parallel universe. South Texas. A third border wall might be erected between the United States and Mexico, narcotics are legal and there’s a new contraband on the market: filtered animals—species of animals brought back from extinction to amuse the very wealthy.
Esteban Bellacosa has lived in the border town of MacArthur long enough to know to keep quiet and avoid the dangerous syndicates who make their money through trafficking. But his simple life gets complicated after a swashbuckling journalist invites him to an underground dinner at which filtered animals are served. Bellacosa soon finds himself in the middle of an increasingly perilous and surreal journey, in the course of which he encounters legends of the long-disappeared Aranaña Indian tribe and their object of worship: the mysterious Trufflepig, said to possess strange powers.
Written with infectious verve, bold imagination, and oddball humor, Fernando A. Flores’s Tears of the Trufflepig is an absurdist take on life along the border, an ode to the myths of Mexican culture, and an introduction to a staggeringly smart new voice in American fiction.
By Rachel Eve Moulton
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
The Shining meets About a Boy in this electrifying debut about a troubled young woman and a lonely boy facing their demons in the frozen Black Hills.
Emma is hitchhiking across the United States, trying to outrun a violent, tragic past, when she meets Lowell, the hot-but-dumb driver she hopes will take her as far as the Badlands. But Lowell is not as harmless as he seems, and a vicious scuffle leaves Emma bloody and stranded in an abandoned town in the Black Hills with an out-of-gas van, a loaded gun, and a snowstorm on the way.
The town is eerily quiet and Emma takes shelter in a diner, where she stumbles across Earl, a strange little boy in a tinfoil mask who steals her gun before begging her to help him get rid of “George.” As she is pulled deeper into Earl’s bizarre, menacing world, the horrors of Emma’s past creep closer, and she realizes she can’t run forever.
Tinfoil Butterfly is a seductively scary, chilling exploration of evil—how it sneaks in under your skin, flaring up when you least expect it, how it throttles you and won’t let go. The beauty of Rachel Eve Moulton’s ferocious, harrowing, and surprisingly moving debut is that it teaches us that love can do that, too.24 .
By Chia-Chia Lin
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
A searing debut novel that explores community, identity, and the myth of the American dream through an immigrant family in Alaska
In Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, we meet a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and repairman, while the mother, a loving, strong-willed, and unpredictably emotional matriarch, holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes up a week later to learn that his little sister Ruby was infected, too. She did not survive.
Routine takes over for the grieving family: the siblings care for each other as they befriend a neighboring family and explore the woods; distance grows between the parents as they deal with their loss separately. But things spiral when the father, increasingly guilt ridden after Ruby’s death, is sued for not properly installing a septic tank, which results in grave harm to a little boy. In the ensuing chaos, what really happened to Ruby finally emerges.
With flowing prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Lin explores the fallout after the loss of a child and the way in which a family is forced to grieve in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately more profound, reality.
The Water Dancer
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published by One World/Random House
Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.
So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.
This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.26 .
We Cast a Shadow
By Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Published by One World/Random House
“You can be beautiful, even more beautiful than before.” This is the seductive promise of Dr. Nzinga’s clinic, where anyone can get their lips thinned, their skin bleached, and their nose narrowed. A complete demelanization will liberate you from the confines of being born in a black body—if you can afford it.
In this near-future Southern city plagued by fenced-in ghettos and police violence, more and more residents are turning to this experimental medical procedure. Like any father, our narrator just wants the best for his son, Nigel, a biracial boy whose black birthmark is getting bigger by the day. The darker Nigel becomes, the more frightened his father feels. But how far will he go to protect his son? And will he destroy his family in the process?
This electrifying, hallucinatory novel is at once a keen satire of surviving racism in America and a profoundly moving family story. At its center is a father who just wants his son to thrive in a broken world. Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s work evokes the clear vision of Ralph Ellison, the dizzying menace of Franz Kafka, and the crackling prose of Vladimir Nabokov. We Cast a Shadow fearlessly shines a light on the violence we inherit, and on the desperate things we do for the ones we love.