The Best Fiction Books of 2005

by PopMatters Staff

3 January 2006


A Slight Trick of the Mind
by Mitch Cullin

>(Nan A. Talese)

Two Sherlock Holmes novels over the last several years have enfeebled the unflappable detective with his most spiteful of adversaries — age. In The Final Solution, Pultzer Prize winner Michael Chabon never actualized either the book’s genre leanings or literary heritage as expected. Early this year, though, Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind hit all the right notes, giving us a Holmes whose approaching death has yet to waver his curiosity, but persistently brings attention to his shortcomings. Without the lumbering genre conventions Chabon tried to wrap his story in, Cullin’s book brings a mournfully poetic melancholy to the hunt, leaving us with a Holmes we never knew, but one that thrills all the same.
Shandy Casteel Amazon

Magic for Beginners
by Kelly Link

>(Small Beer Press)

Kelly Link’s second collection trumps her first on all levels. The fantastic is more subtle here, more sinister and more pervasive. Link writes fantasy fiction in clear, crisp prose that features nontraditional zombies, a fictional television show, and large stone rabbits. She’s toeing the line between literature and sci-fi/fantasy, and her books are usually found in the latter section in stores. The stories in Magic for Beginners are lengthier than typical short stories, driven by solid characters and weird, intriguing scenarios, like a 24-7 gas station that caters to zombies and humans alike. Link brings to each of her pieces a dreamlike, unsettling quality that adds to the sense that on some level of super-reality, all of the weirdness makes some sort of sense.
Megan Milks Amazon

Eleanor Rigby
by Douglas Coupland


No longer looked to as some kind of generational spokesperson, in the last handful of years Douglas Coupland has been writing novel after fascinating novel, tackling big questions about life and death, meaning, desires, and spirituality. In Eleanor Rigby, the tale of the loneliest woman in the world and the secrets she keeps, he again does so in his own charming way. Like his 2003 novel Hey Nostradamus, it appears to be modest in scope but is ultimately quite the opposite. Coupland’s world allows for flights of fancy, for the world to contain surprises and mysteries, yet presents them in a directly emotional way that feels realistic.
Dave Heaton Amazon

Ice Haven
by Daniel Clowes


The disappearance of a small boy provides the backdrop for the dozen or so vignettes that comprise cartoonist Daniel Clowes’ portrait of the suburban town of Ice Haven. The missing boy permeates throughout the book, but Clowes focuses more on the mundane, everyday-lives of Ice Haven’s inhabitants, presenting an incisive, often hilarious, and sometimes disturbing portrait of the town. Clowes’ vignettes comprise of everything from detective noir (a husband-wife team hired to investigate the mystery of the missing boy), to teen comics from the 1950s (new girl in school Violet, who pines for Penrod, an older man from her previous home town) to the modern meta-comic (comics critic Harry Naybors both is involved in the narrative(s) and comments on Clowes’ book periodically). The heart of this collection, however, is the poet/zinester Vida, whose eloquent ruminations on the small town connect all the lonely townspeople and their struggles beautifully.
Raquel Laneri Amazon

Black Hole
by Charles Burns


The first issue came out in 1995, and now all twelve are have been collected in one 368-page tome. Charles Burns’ graphic tour-de-force is a masterwork of retro-pop metaphor and motif. A sexually transmitted disease known as “The Bug” descends upon teenagers in 1970s Seattle and works in the book as an unnerving metaphor for the fear and confusion of late adolescence. The disease does different things to different people, all rendered here with grotesque precision in Burns’ trademark high-contrast style. This story is disturbing, unsettling, and frequently overwhelming: a doozy of the best kind.
Megan Milks Amazon

The March
by E.L. Doctorow

>(Random House)

E.L. Doctorow’s Civil War epic The March is surprisingly the most enthralling page-turned I have come across all year. As in his masterpieces Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, Doctorow’s interpretation of the past is a loose one: one where fictional characters mingle and collide with actual historical figures. The March is a brilliant bloody mess (much like the war itself) of loosely-connected stories, all relating to General Sherman’s infamous march through the South. One narrative concerns a mixed-race slave girl cum drummer boy and surrogate son to Sherman; one, a love story between a Southern girl and a Union surgeon; one, the tale of two existentialist Confederate soldiers who desert and change sides as often as possible as a means to survive. Even the General himself is a main character. Doctorow doesn’t seamlessly weave them together so much as he creates a collage — a modernist pastiche on the many effects and interpretations of war, from its perpetrators and its victims, though everyone is a victim in his story. Beautifully written, with observations that ring true in our modern society (on race, allegiance, identity), The March is a page-turner that is thrilling and intelligent.
Raquel Laneri Amazon

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro


Kazuo Ishiguro’s understatement of the unavoidable devastation awaiting his characters is his fiction’s most piercing trait, and in the brilliantly brushed Never Let Me Go, the wreckage that never makes it onto the canvas, the finality of each character’s future, is as tightly affecting as every singular stolid moment of the book’s narrative. This is fiction melded with science, not haranguing dystopia, but an unhurried deliberation on the unnerving dogmas of cloning, and the persistent hum of belonging and betrayal. Never Let Me Go bristles with a predestined acceptance slowly revealed by the doubt showing through when some begin to question the unraveling providence of their trained obsolescence. It’s a novel of, and for, the ages.
Shandy Casteel Amazon

Shalimar the Clown
by Salman Rushdie

>(Random House)

The public life of Salman Rushdie will regrettably always eclipse his literary achievements; even with the high acclaim he has rightfully won as a critical and commercial success. Trying to top both a fatwa and a Booker of Bookers award must be daunting for an author, although you’d never realize it from his unabated virtuoso work which continues. Shalimar the Clown, his ninth novel, shifts time and place, from present to ancient past, moving through Kashmir, France, and America with burning multicultural quandaries. The intimate betrayals Rushdie infuses the book with keep the tale timeless, never allowing the novel to be encased in the polemical now, but letting it belong to the characters and each of their failings. Shalimar the Clown is Rushdie’s finest epic work since Midnight’s Children.
Shandy Casteel PopMatters review Amazon

by Benjamin Kunkel

>(Random House)

Coming-of-age stories no longer need to address adolescence, it seems, as we are coming of age later and later in life. In his debut novel, Benjamin Kunkel, one of the founders of literary magazine n+1, leads us through his protagonist’s quarter-life crisis. Dwight B. Wilmerding is an over-affluent 28-year-old tormented by relentless indecision and the directionless path his life has taken thus far. Dwight, who works at Pfizer, tries an experimental drug whose purpose is to prevent indecision. Suddenly he is off to Bogotá to visit an old flame and finally, finally do something. Indecision is a comic novel written in an engaging first-person voice brimming with snarky witticisms sure to smack Kunkel with the “voice-of-a-generation” tag. A Generation X for Generation Y.
Megan Milks Amazon

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