Most of the books I read this year weren’t from this year. Here, though, are four novels published in 2016 that I quite enjoyed.
Could McEwan possibly have had more fun? I doubt it. It’s as though the author said to himself, “I want to write an extended essay on the state of the world, right now, and I want to do so thrillingly.” And he did, and he thrills, because as a craftsman, McEwan is as bad-ass as they come. And because it’s McEwan, telling this bitter comedy from the perspective of a fetus is more than just a clever device. It’s the fetus as writer, the fetus as reader, the fetus as all of us, living in a world so complex and so unclear that our allegiances toss and turn, our morals are endlessly compromised, leaving us Hamlet-like in helpless inaction. What a piece of work, indeed.
For a novel that touches on so many dramatic themes – prison life, marital breakdown, race, the guilt and blame we impose on others and ourselves, how we define ourselves through work – this could have been an overwrought melodrama. But Reeves controls the prose masterfully and with lyrical restraint in this story about a discontented electrician sent to prison for accidentally killing a man. She lets the reader mull over the allegories rather than impose them. This is a touching, thoughtful book full of beautifully drawn characters.
This is a book in which the reader expects calamity to strike at any moment – an unprepared mother and her children winging it across a fire-scorched Alaska. Thankfully, calamities pass most of us by in this life; most of our tragedies are internal. And that’s where this story lies, in the heart and mind of Josie, who does not always make the best decisions but does so in such a human way. Eggers generates terrific empathy for this flawed character. In the end, Josie’s quest finds purpose and clarity, though we know, as does she ultimately, that it will be fleeting. Eggers writes a heartfelt, funny and surprisingly moving book. All is forgiven for The Circle.
“Get out! This ain’t for you! This is our thing” a black comedian yells at two white audience members near the end of The Sellout, and white readers may feel a little of that discomfort, laughing along nervously, wondering if the comedian/author is being serious or not. But don’t get out; stick with it. This rollicking satire about race, blackness and the imperfect notion of equality as we perceive it is hilarious and biting, oftentimes more commentary than fiction. But it just may be the satire we need right now. My favourite book of the year and winner of the Booker Prize.
Honorable Mention: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
I’m four-fifths through this 500-page autobiography. Springsteen writes his life like he writes his music: cleanly, honestly and sometimes over the top. But he’s honest about his ambition and his demons, making this compelling stuff for even the casual Springsteen fan.