Notable fiction books of 2015 – The Washington Post

bats of the republic by zachary thomas dodson (doubleday)

You’ll be transfixed before you read a word: Dodson, a book designer as well as an author, wrote two imaginative stories, one set in 1843, the other 300 years later, and intertwined them on facing pages in a volume packed with fold-out maps , torn telegrams, drawings of bats, and an envelope labeled “do not open.” (resist!) — keith donohue

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best boy by eli gottlieb (liveright)

This heartwarming novel is narrated by Todd Aaron, a 50-year-old man with autism who listens to Barry Manilow and works as a tour guide at the facility where he has lived for decades. Todd is a hero of such singular character and a spirit so clear that you will pray for him to take control of his future. — ann bauer

the buried giant by kazuo ishiguro (knopf)

This daring medieval desert adventure is a dramatic and moving departure from anything Ishiguro has ever written, and yet it is a classic Ishiguro story: elegant, original, and humane. — marie spider

city on fire by garth risk hallberg (knopf)

hallberg evokes what he calls the “lots” of new york city. Spanning almost a thousand pages, it revolves around a single tragedy: the shooting of a college student in Central Park, dragging tangential characters and causing each of them to vibrate with real life until lightning strikes, the electrical grid it overloads and the city goes crazy. angry on that dark summer night in 1977. — ron charles

the complete works of primo levi edited by ann goldstein, translated from the italian by stuart woolf, ann goldstein and others (liveright)

A boxed set of the Italian writer’s complete works captures the breadth of his literary career: his devastating 1947 memoir, “If This Be a Man,” along with his stories, poetry, and fiction and nonfiction heretofore not collected. — michael dirda

the country of the ice cream star by sandra newman (ecco)

Newman’s richly imagined world of the future is inhabited almost entirely by African-American children and teenagers who are immune to a deadly virus, and whose complex dialect evolved into slang makes this sweeping epic riveting and challenging to read. — chris bohjalian

delicious foods by james hannaham (small, brown)

A gripping story about a teenager trying to save his drug-addicted mother from indentured servitude on a modern fruit farm. In quick and startling scenes, Hannaham makes the ornate prison of racism visible. the narcotic high of this novel comes from the alternation of chapters narrated in the disembodied voice of crack cocaine itself. — r.c.

the discreet hero by mario vargas llosa, translated from spanish by edith grossman (farrar, straus and giroux)

This exquisite mix, a delicious melodrama of sex and betrayal, love and revenge, shows that the Peruvian Nobel Prize winner is still at the peak of his career. — Marcela Valdés

the dying grass: a novel of the nez perce war by william t. vollmann (viking)

This complex account of noble Indian chief Joseph’s doomed struggle for survival is a masterpiece: an American tragedy with all the lights and shadows, the great distances, and the unforgiving climates (political, emotional, physical) of our nation. . — david treuer

eileen by ottessa moshfegh (penguin press)

In this dark Hitchockian novel, Eileen Dunlop, a lovable misfit working at a children’s prison outside of Boston in the early 1960s, is clearly headed for disaster. but even when it arrives, with predictable violence, the reader can only gasp. — patrick anderson

epitaph by mary doria russell (ecco)

an epic retelling of the shooting at the o.k. barnyard that places the 30-second battle within the larger context of the time. Russell creates a broad canvas that touches on topics as disparate as the politics of President Chester A. Arthur and life in the Jewish quarter of San Francisco. — steve donoghue

Final: A Reagan Years Novel by Thomas Mallon (Pantheon)

The Kind of Novel Washington Loves: Set primarily in 1986 and 1987, “Finale” is a political drama anchored in historical events and oozing withering assessments from real-life people: Nancy Reagan, Richard Nixon, and, of course the gipper himself. — connie schultz

seekers, keepers by stephen king (writer)

A disgruntled reader begins this complex story of literary obsession and its aftermath. An excellent stay-up-all-night thriller, this sly tale recalls the themes of King’s classic 1987 novel, “Misery.” — elizabeth’s hand

excuse you by ann bauer (overlook)

What happens when the world discovers that a quiet 42-year-old bookstore clerk and former priest has the power of forgiveness? Can he really offer absolution to any sinner? and even if he can, should he? These are some of the questions raised in Bauer’s lively, moving, and often funny novel. — reeve lindbergh

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smiles of fortune by adam johnson (random house)

From devastated American cities to South Korea to abandoned torture chambers, the six stories in this National Book Award-winning collection take place in a mysterious world you recognize but don’t. They are all embroiled in a haunting twilight of moral struggle, and each is a miniature demonstration of why Johnson won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013. — r.c.

frog by mo yan, translated from the Chinese by howard goldblatt (Viking)

The Nobel Prize-winning author boldly confronts China’s recently relaxed one-child policy. the narrator is a writer struggling to turn the life of his aunt, a midwife turned abortionist, into a nine-act play, which forms the book’s epilogue. — steven moore

gbh by ted lewis (soho)

Set in mid-1970s Britain and first published in 1980, “GBH” is one of the coldest brilliant crime novels you’ll ever read. Lewis’s latest and possibly best work, while not for the faint of heart, is a riveting tale of power, love, arrogance and betrayal, but above all a portrayal of what might be called a tragic villain. — michael dirda

Getting in Trouble: Kelly Link’s Stories (Random House)

To understand the particular weirdness, the pleasant allure of “getting into trouble,” it’s worth looking at the work of authors like Joan Aiken, Elizabeth Hand, Ursula Le Guin, and Karen Joy Fowler: Writers who excel at fiction that can be loosely characterized as “fantastika”. In Link’s stories, you won’t find tediously believable situations or even truth of life. instead, you will find magic and wonder. — m.d.

girl waiting with gun by amy stewart (houghton mifflin harcourt)

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Constance Kopp, the feisty heroine of Stewart’s charming novel, is a formidable character who can generate heat, strike a spark, and catch a criminal without missing a beat. Based on the little-known story of the real Constance Kopp, one of America’s first deputy sheriffs, the novel is an entertaining tale of the lengths one woman will go to protect her family from her. — carol memmott

a god in ruins by kate atkinson (petite, brunette)

A sequel of sorts to his beloved “Life After Life” (2013), this new novel tells the story of Teddy Todd, who served as a Royal Air Force bomber pilot in World War II. a powerful play about youth and war. — maureen corregán

citrus of golden fame by claire vaye watkins (riverhead)

This searing debut is all about the arid world that awaits us. Luz Dunn is living in a star’s abandoned mansion in Los Angeles when she and her partner kidnap a boy whom they assume is being neglected. when this makeshift family flees into the desert, they find an isolated colony of survivors who might help them, or leave them fry. — r.c.

golden age of jane smiley (knopf)

The final installment in Jane Smiley’s The Last Hundred Years trilogy, which traces the story of an Iowa farming family through five generations. The Smiley Saga also tells the story of the transformation of Middle White America: how each succeeding generation amassed learning, sophistication, power, and wealth; and, most crucially for this latest volume, how they witness the impending destruction of the planet. — valerie sayers

the green path by anne enright (norton)

welcome to the madigan family of county clare: four grown children, all dealing with the emotional tyranny of their never satisfied mother. When Enright brings the kids back to the old family home for a Christmas reckoning, the result is momentous and buoyed by tender humor. — r.c.

honeydew by edith pearlman (small, brown)

This collection of offbeat, often bittersweet love stories is filled with sly charm and a rich, precise vocabulary. Pearlman even writes elegantly about sex. — heller mcalpin

I’m radar by reif larsen (penguin press)

from the author of “the selected works of t.s. spivet”, this clever masterpiece of geekhood spans continents and decades. it’s packed with scientific references, tech talk, arcane lore, and historical research, and features a boy born black to white parents. —steven moore

the illuminations by andrew o’hagan (fsg)

In this insightful novel about the way we fight our wars today, the misadventures of a British platoon in Afghanistan alternate with the story of their captain’s grandmother, who is gripped by dementia at home. each plot is, in its own way, a matter of life and death. — adam kirsch

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a manual for cleaning women by lucia berlin (fsg)

the berlin stories embody, rather than simply describe, the challenges faced by their marginalized narrators and protagonists. Unlike the chiseled tales of her contemporary Raymond Carver, Berlin’s lean, beautiful prose is constructed in unpredictable ways that speak to the sprawling rural and urban landscapes of the West and South America that fueled her imagination. — laird’s hunt

mary gaitskill’s mare (pantheon)

A captivating story, told in a relentless series of short soliloquies, about a Dominican girl from Brooklyn who befriends a needy white woman in upstate New York. — r.c.

the marriage of opposites by alice hoffman (simon & schuster)

hoffman imagines the inner life of camille pissarro and her parents and surrounds them with a cast of full-bodied supporting characters. The result is a fierce and painful story of the conflict between personal desire and social constraints across three generations on the island of St. tomas — wendy smith

my fight: book four by karl ove knausgaard, translated from norwegian by don bartlett (archipelago)

Probably the longest autobiographical narrative since the death of Knausgaard’s idol, Marcel Proust, this Norwegian epic remains a literary sensation. the author’s haunting Scandinavian obsession has a way of getting under the reader’s skin, not because his life is so exciting and eventful, it isn’t, but because he is so familiar. — rodney welch

our souls in the night by kent haruf (knopf)

neighbors addie and louis live alone in holt, colo., nursing memories of the sad marriages they had until disease stole their spouses. Neither of them have reason to hope that the remaining years will offer relief from the arid rituals of retirement, but then a surprising love story unfolds. a gift from haruf, who died in 2014. — r.c.

saint maizie by jami attenberg (grand central)

A fictionalized account of the life of Mazie Phillips-Gordon, the Queen of the Bowery, who occupied the box office of New York’s famous Venice Movie Theater on the south end of the Bowery from the beginning of Prohibition to the end of the Depression. — carolina preston

the secret chord of geraldine brooks (viking)

Brooks, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his civil war novel “March,” turns his ability to recreate the past into the story of David, the Hebrew warrior king. somehow, the novel reads like a prose poem, full of battles, passions, loyalties, and betrayals, but it is a page-turning poem. — alicia hoffman

a slant of light by jeffrey lent (bloomsbury)

Lent’s harrowing novel recounts the harrowing aftermath of a union veteran’s return to New York’s Finger Lakes region. Lent has always been as adept with plot as any thriller author, and here he weaves half a dozen narrative threads into a richly textured tapestry. — wendy smith

a spool of blue thread by anne tyler (knopf)

These quirky characters — adult children and the elderly parents they come to help — initially seem like the same members of the Baltimore family we’ve socialized with for 50 years in Tyler’s fiction. but somehow the familiar seems transcended in this wonderful novel, imbued with freshness and surprise. — r.c.

the state we’re in: stories from maine by ann beattie (writer)

beattie’s unsurpassed talent for rural tragicomedy is on display in a splendid collection of short stories largely set in maine, where his characters live in a state of disgust and existential exhaustion. — howard norman

the story of the lost child by elena ferrante (europe)

The fourth installment of Ferrante’s acclaimed series continues the story of two lifelong friends, Lila and Lenú, in the context of Naples. This complex and wise story shows Ferrante’s breadth of vision and makes this final installment feel like the essential volume. — juan domini

a strangeness in my mind by orhan pamuk (knopf)

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Telling the story of a sweet-tempered small-town boy who moves to Istanbul and survives for 40 years, Pamuk lovingly does for Istanbul something akin to what James Joyce did for Dublin: he captures not just the appearance of the city but its people, its beliefs and its values. — adam kirsch

the strangling vine by m.j. carter (putnam)

On one level, this gripping novel is pure adventure: Young Ensign William Avery and rogue agent Jeremiah Blake set out to find the missing writer Xavier Mountstuart in 1837 India. on a deeper level, it is a subtle critique of how fact and fiction, myth and history, intertwine. — keith donohue

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the supporter of viet thanh nguyen (grove)

a cerebral thriller wrapped in a story of desperate expats. The narrative comes to us as a written and rewritten confession by an imprisoned Vietcong captain who recalls running away with a South Vietnamese general and insinuating himself into the refugee community around Los Angeles. — r.c.

there’s something i want you to do by charles baxter (pantheon)

baxter’s sixth book of short fiction shows him as a master of the genre. Most of the tales here focus on love, both romantic and familial, and Baxter is wonderful at capturing the delicate mysteries of courtship, how couples measure each other up, and how “sometimes you come to love before you get through the first stage.” of attraction.” — lisa zeidner

the czar of love and techno by anthony marra (hogarth)

This remarkable collection of linked short stories moves from the last century to this, from Leningrad to Kirovsk, a Siberian labor camp turned toxic hell, from Chechnya to outer space. — francine prose

two years, eight months and twenty eight nights by salman rushdie (random house)

This weirdly funny novel translates the bloody conflicts between rationalists and religious fanatics into the comic book antics of fire-wielding warrior geniuses, mystical transmutations, and rhyming battle spells. — r.c.

the unlucky ones by sophie mcmanus (fsg)

McManus’ first novel melds old-world elegance and modern irony in a brilliant social satire on life among the 1 percent of the 1 percent. the result is a novel about money and how having too much or too little can twist the spine and the spirit. it’s such a scathing take on America’s aristocracy that copies should be printed on tow truck paper and delivered by a white-gloved chauffeur. — r.c.

the privilege of visiting: new and collected stories by joy williams (knopf)

The stories collected here begin fairly realistically, then permutate into mind-blowing tales, as grim as anything in grimm, but also grimly funny. don’t read them directly, it’s better to sink in slowly, perhaps at random, losing yourself in the melancholy of the characters as they themselves are lost. — lisa zeidner

the water museum by luis alberto urrea (small, dark)

These stories take place in a scorched earth country where the earth is cracked and hard, where “barbed wire sparkled like cobwebs and dew.” a subtle and poignant exploration of the limits and contradictions of ethnic identity shines through these tales like a melody. — michael lindgren

we who are left by clare clark (hmh)

When theo melville, heir to the ellinghurst estate, is assassinated in flanders, the catastrophic events of world war i turn his family’s quiet country life upside down. With lavish breadth and depth, the novel invites readers into an era of historical reverberations, from romance to women’s suffrage to psychics and quantum mechanics. — donna rifkind

and west is west by ron childress (algonquin)

This gritty debut novel combines a searing theme about a drone pilot involved in a major intelligence blunder with a provocative story about currency traders profiting from the financial impact of global terrorism. — carol memmott

west of sunset by stewart o’nan (viking)

o’nan compassionately and beautifully evokes the somber last act of f. the life of scott fitzgerald, when he worked as a screenwriter in hollywood. Sick with alcoholism and tuberculosis, he worked to improve flimsy scripts, a weary but relentless craftsman. — maureen corregán

a window opens by elisabeth egan (s&s)

When her husband’s career falls apart, Alice takes a job at a high-tech book dealership, while continuing to care for her young children and elderly parents. In this comedic novel about the elusive work-life balance, Ella Alice is truly someone to love and support. — emma straub

read more:

the 10 best books of 2015

Featured Fiction Books of 2015

notable nonfiction from 2015

best audiobooks of 2015

best graphic novels of 2015

the best mystery and thriller books of 2015

best poetry collections of 2015

the best romance novels of 2015

the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2015

book news 2015: nostalgia, blockbusters and controversy

best children’s books of 2015

kwame alexander picks his five best children’s books

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