Best books of 2016 to give -- and receive: Fiction favorites
This week, The Thread is sharing some of our favorite books of the year. Below are our fiction picks for 2016. What a nearly impossible to task to narrow it down! Tell us your favorite books of the year @TheThreadMPR.
"The Nix" by Nathan Hill
"The Nix" is a mother-son story, steeped in sharp wit and dark laughs. When Samuel is 11, his mother disappears, leaving the family without a trace. He doesn't see her again for 20 years, when he catches sight of her on the news hurling rocks at a presidential candidate. He decides to write her biography, uncovering secrets that stretch across decades and continents.
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"Wintering" by Peter Geye
"Wintering" is two stories inextricably tangled up in each other, as all family secrets are. In 1963, Harry takes his son Gus on an excursion into the Minnesota wilderness, braving the coldest conditions of the year. Gus keeps the truths of the trip a secret for 30 years, until his aging father disappears into the woods once again.
Gus seeks out his father's longtime love, Berit, and begins to reveal the true story of that winter. You can feel the chill on the pages of this literary thriller.
"LaRose" by Louise Erdrich
Nobody brings beauty from tragedy more skillfully than Louise Erdrich. Her heart-wrenchingly intimate fifteenth novel begins with a death: An Ojibwe man kills his neighbor's 5-year-old son in a hunting accident. Following long-held traditions, the man and his wife give the grieving family their own 5-year-old son, LaRose, to raise. The novel follows the two families in the shadow of this aching loss.
"Sweetbitter" by Stephanie Danler
This is "Kitchen Confidential" for the younger generation: A raw and biting look at a young woman's first year in New York City, trying to make it in the restaurant world. Tess' life becomes fine wines and oyster shucking, late hours and dive bars, as she crashes her way through new friendships, new tastes and new loves.
"The Association of Small Bombs" by Karan Mahajan
Karan Mahajan's novel picks up where the headlines leave off. News of bombs exploding in markets and on busy streets stream by on news tickers, but Mahajan brings to life the people left in the aftermath. He follows the shockwaves of one bomb, planted by a radical group in a crowded Delhi marketplace.
The novel tells the story of the parents of the bomb's young victims, of the deep scars of a surviving boy and of the fate of the bomb-maker himself.
The Association of Small Bombs The Association of Small Bombs
"Mr. Splitfoot" by Samantha Hunt
"Mr. Splitfoot" is an eerie and electrifying read — mixing modern and gothic, and blurring the line between the living and the dead. The book follows Nat and Ruth, two foster children eager to escape the grasp of their fanatically religious caretaker. Their ticket out of the home is talking to the dead: They make money passing messages from the deceased to the grieving population of upstate New York.
The book's parallel storyline is set decades later, when Ruth's pregnant niece sets out on foot for a cross-state journey that leads her toward a mystery in the woods. Even if the supernatural is not your cup of tea, the frenetic style of "Mr. Splitfoot" will sweep you up in the book's wildly unraveling reality.
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead adds a touch of wild reinvention to America's history of slavery: He reimagines the path that slaves used to flee to the North as an actual railroad, with tracks running underground. The novel follows a runaway slave, Cora, on her dangerous path to freedom.
The Underground Railroad The Underground Railroad
"The Wolf Road" by Beth Lewis
If you haven't lost your taste for dystopia, Beth Lewis' twisted, post-apocalyptic visions are some of the most compelling of the year. The novel follows Elka, who has been taught to survive in the harsh landscape by the only man she trusts: Trapper. But when she turns 18 and comes in contact with what's left of civilization, she learns his dark secret: He's wanted for the murder of nine people. With this horrifying revelation, she flees into the frozen wilderness, but he's not ready to let her go.
"Grief is the Thing with Feathers" by Max Porter
Max Porter's debut novel packs an emotional landslide into its slim 100 pages. The book features a grief-stricken father and his two young sons, unmoored by a great loss. Then a crow comes to the door. Not just a crow, but Crow.
Sarcastic, wise and ripped from the pages of folklore, Crow tells the father that he will be there as long as he is needed. The imaginary bird watches over the ravaged family, as they negotiate a path through their grief.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers Grief is the Thing with Feathers
"The Vegetarian" by Han Kang
When Yeong-hye, a young woman living in Seoul, finds herself plagued by disturbing dreams, she decides to become a vegetarian to cleanse herself. Her body's transformation becomes increasingly bizarre as her family and friends watch her Kafka-esque deterioration. The book is split into three perspectives, as Yeong-hye's husband, brother-in-law and older sister narrate her metamorphosis. This is a book that gets under your skin and into your dreams.
"Commonwealth" by Ann Patchett
"I never found a book in my store that portrayed a family that was as complicated as my own, and as the families of my friends," Ann Patchett said earlier this fall. Patchett owns a bookstore in Nashville, Tenn. Since she couldn't find a book that fully embraced the messiness of large, extended families, she wrote one. "Commonwealth" is the engrossing story of six step-siblings, told over the course of five decades.
"Underground Airlines" by Ben Winters
Ben Winters has created an unsettling alternate history: The modern world exists as we know it, full of social media and fast food, but the Civil War was never fought. Slavery still persists in four states — "the Hard Four."
The novel follows Victor, a young black man working as a bounty hunter, on the trail of an abolitionist network called the Underground Airlines. His latest assignment isn't sitting right, though, and it leads him to darker secrets about the government arrangement with "the Hard Four."
Underground Airlines Underground Airlines
"Mischling" by Affinity Konar
"Mischling" follows a pair of identical twins hand-picked by Josef Mengele for experiments at Auschwitz. Stasha and Pearl must learn to survive in the camp — and survive without each other — as the trials pull them apart. Affinity Konar's novel mixes beauty and horror in one of the bleakest moments of history.
"Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi
"Homegoing" is a generation-leaping, cross-continental look at lost family histories. The book follows two sisters who never meet: Effia and Esi. They are born just a few years apart in eighteenth-century Ghana: One marries a white British man, one is sold to American slaveholders. The novel follows their descendants on both sides of the ocean, working its way through centuries of changing fortunes.
"They May Not Mean To, But They Do" by Cathleen Schine
Oh, that rare, rare sight in fiction: A happy family. Being a happy family doesn't mean you are without loss or sadness or the occasional fight, and Cathleen Schine paints a charming, modern portrait of a family that genuinely gets along, even in the darker moments.
The family's matriach, Joy, is 86 and still ready to live, just not in the way her children think she should. The misunderstandings and best intentions of three generations trying to take care of each other are welcome diversions on this year's book list.
They May Not Mean To But They Do They May Not Mean To But They Do
"The Unseen World" by Liz Moore
Ada has grown up in the shadow of her eccentric, genius father, who runs a groundbreaking computer lab and spends more time with his machines than with her. When his mind starts to go, leaving her nearly alone in the world, his secrets begin to surface. She spends the next two decades of her life investigating his work into artificial intelligence and his attempts at digital immortality.
The Unseen World The Unseen World
"Another Brooklyn" by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson's slim novel is a lyrical ode to childhood friendship and the streets of 1970s Brooklyn. It's filled with the music, the first loves and the promise of "friends forever" that filled August's life. As an adult, August looks back on the people and the place that defined her teenage years — the ones she outgrew, and the ones she can't leave behind.
Another Brooklyn Another Brooklyn
"The Regional Office is Under Attack!" by Manuel Gonzalez
As far as the public knows, the unassuming building on Park Avenue is a travel agency. An exclusive, extravagant travel agency — the kind that can book you a private tour of the Titanic wreckage or an illegal nighttime zip-line tour of Manhattan — but just a travel agency, complete with travel agents, who know absolutely nothing about what's going on a mile underground, on level B4.
That's the world Manuel Gonzales drops readers into, rappelling down through a ventilation shaft into the underground heart of the Regional Office, a top secret organization of female assassins allied against the "amassing forces of darkness."
The Regional Office is Under Attack The Regional Office is Under Attack
"The Mothers" by Brit Bennett
"The Mothers" revolves around two high school seniors, bound by a secret and its repercussions into adulthood. Nadia, 17 and mourning the loss of her mother, gets involved with the pastor's son, triggering a chain of events she has to hide from everyone, including her deeply religious best friend Aubrey. The novel is an examination of friendship, and of motherhood in all its forms — from absent to overbearing.
"Shelter" by Jung Yun
Spare and suspenseful, "Shelter" introduces readers to a young, mixed-race family, the Chos, who find themselves underwater in their mortgage — and their marriage. This post-recession novel peels back the layers of emotional damage that the financial crisis wrought.
"What Belongs to You" by Garth Greenwell
"What Belongs to You" is a beautiful novel that broaches a subject often kept in the shadows: the world of hustling — gay men paying for sex. Greenwell tells the story of an American teacher working in Bulgaria, and Mitko, the young hustler he becomes enamored with. As the teacher confronts his own feelings about their arrangement, he tries to unravel Mitko's tangled life story while revealing more of his own. The novel explores desire and shame, and when the two collide.