The Best Books of 2014

Fiction

by PopMatters Staff

8 January 2015

 

Falling Out of Time to The Hundred Year House

 

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Falling Out of Time

David Grossman

(Knopf)
US: Mar 2014

Falling Out of Time
David Grossman


David Grossman’s Falling Out of Time is a work of heartbreaking genius. Initially it’s affecting on an artistic level, because his talent and way with words are rather remarkable and secondly, after you’ve done some research on him, it’s heartbreaking because you realize that the book was written as an elegy to his son Uri, who was killed by a missile in Lebanon in 2006. The last words in the book make mention of the years it took him to write it, as if suggesting that there is some hope at the end of the road, or perhaps making an empty promise to parents who might one day find themselves in his painful situation. Grossman’s word experiments in Falling Out of Time represent the suddenness of death, and also, in a way, the hope that we’ll encounter similar moments in the future. Jose Solis

 

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Flings

Justin Taylor

(Harper)
US: Aug 2014

Flings
Justin Taylor


There’s a story in Justin Taylor’s new collection, Flings, that blew me away. It’s about two young people engaged to be married. They’re a bit drunk, and they decide to play a truth-telling game. There’s a hint that the game will go horribly awry, and that the two people will end up irrevocably hurting each other—an update of the George-and-Martha story from the world of Edward Albee. Flings is full of this kind of wisdom. There is a Buddhist belief: You never know what will happen next. The present moment has infinite possibilities. Taylor knows this to be true. He watches from Olympian heights, with amused detachment, as his characters surprise themselves and one another. Taylor’s stories require effort, but they reward you with genuine information and artistry. A wealth of disturbing knowledge awaits you here. Dan Barrett

 

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The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Stephen Collins

(Picador)
US: Oct 2014

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil
Stephen Collins


Stephen Collins’ The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil has a title so irresistible that it’s a surprise to see that he actually pulls off the addition of a great book to go along with it. In his first novel Collins, who won the prestigious Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic short story prize in 2010 for his comics work, has crafted a hauntingly beautiful parable built on a deceptively simple plot. The book’s entire plot is essentially in its title. Set in the island of Here, it tells the story of Dave, a man with a life so typical, we can pretty much say he rinses and repeats his routine every single day. Through a series of gorgeously realized black and white panels, Collins shows us how Dave’s facial hair begins to grow bigger and bigger until it becomes completely out of control, and the more he tries to cut it, the more violent and unexpected is its return. For all the unattractiveness of Dave’s beard, the true story being told is one of irrational fear, of xenophobia, which has resonated throughout the ages. Collins’ prose is simple, the story is told using comic book-like speeches and pithy narration that sometimes achieves true beauty, “...perhaps the most disturbing and remarkable story you’ve ever heard. It is the story of a man whose face has become in just the past two days a portal to hell”. Jose Solis

 

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The Girl in the Road

Monica Byrne

(Crown)
US: May 2014

The Girl in the Road
Monica Byrne


The Girl in the Road is an extraordinary debut novel that blends genres into a rich, sensuous broth shot through with as much violence as empathy. Which is not to say the novel is filled with bloodshed, although blood certainly is shed and certain moments will turn the stomachs of the sensitive, but rather that the novel’s emotional scope spans the speculative futures of African and Indian peoples through a lens that is as bound to be poetic as it is to be honest and unflinching, especially when it comes to the cultural collateral damage inflicted on women in those regions. That the writing is feminist and therefore unavoidably angry does not narrow the focus of a book filled with wonder at the possibilities of desire, gender and belief. In its refusal of genres and boundaries, its celebration of ancient heritage and a riotous profusion of languages, religions, smells and tastes, and above all in its heartfelt, humorous appraisal of the shocking beauty of life, all scars and suffering included, The Girl in the Road is profoundly generous and humane writing; wise without posturing. Stefan Braidwood

 

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How to Build a Girl

Caitlin Moran

(Harper)
US: Sep 2014

How to Build a Girl
Caitlin Moran


How to Build a Girl is the fictional, first-person account of young teenage Johanna Morrigan. Her family is poor, on welfare, two parents and five children crammed into inadequate public housing in the UK. Her unemployed and partially disabled father harbours dreams of making it as a rock star, but his sun has clearly set and he spends more of his time drowning dreams in drink than actually playing. Her harried mother tries to keep the household together, but is mostly occupied with newborn twins. Growing up with hippie parents, it seems, results in a far-from-normal childhood. Not only is Johanna deliciously funny and unrelentingly honest (Johanna’s inner dialogues, while frequently hilarious, also ring deeply and sincerely true), but also her heart is in the right place, too. With How to Build a Girl, Moran has taken it upon herself to write not just a best-selling book but a desperately needed guide for young people seeking advice and role models in a complicated, confusing and rapidly changing world. Hans Rollman

 

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The Hundred Year House

Rebecca Makkai

(Viking)
US: Jul 2014

The Hundred Year House
Rebecca Makkai


The Hundred Year House is a mystery novel in the purest sense, in that it’s not about what will happen, but what has happened, and why. When you read it the second time, mystery solved, the book becomes something else, but equally excellent. The story concerns Zee and her husband, Doug, who move into the former carriage house on her mother’s estate in Illinois. It’s 1999. The estate, Laurelfield, was formerly an artists’ colony that housed various writers and artists, among them the deceased poet Edwin Parfitt, about whom Doug is writing a book. Laurelfield, which will be 100 years old on New Year’s Day, is said to be haunted by the ghost of Zee’s great-grandmother, Violet Devohr, who killed herself somewhere in the house. Zee has always been fascinated by the haunting. While teaching a course on ghosts in British and American literature, she muses, “We aren’t haunted by the dead, but by the impossible reach of history. By how unknowable these others are to us, how unfathomable we’d be to them.”  By the time you get to the end of The Hundred Year House, you can play the events of the novel backwards in your head, as if you were rewinding a video of a glass breaking: here at the end, you see all the pieces scattered on the floor, and now you see them bestirred and lifted as if by an invisible wind, and now they come neatly, impossibly, but deeply satisfyingly, together. Jennifer Vega


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