Features

The Best Fiction Books of 2017 So Far

Our favorite novels and short story collections of the year.

First, a confession: there are too many damn books on this list. 28 of them, actually. But we’re eclectic readers at the CHIRB, and it’s been a wonderful year for fiction. Whether you’re looking for sci-fi, mystery, translated, historical, literary, or experimental fiction, odds are you’ll find something to love in our “best books of 2017 so far.”


9781250113320_1e13aLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
By Kathleen Rooney
St. Martin’s Press

Somehow, a Chicagoan wrote one of the best New York City novels of all time. I devoured this book in two days between Christmas and New Year’s, and fell in love with Lillian. You will yearn for stroll through Central Park with this one, and won’t want it to end. I interviewed Rooney about it back in January. —Adam Morgan


9781617755330_4975cHadriana in All My Dreams
by René Depestre
Translated by Kaiama L. Glover
Akashic Books

Originally published in French in 1988, this is the first English translation of one of the strangest and funnest books I’ve read all year. Hadriana dies on her wedding day, but when local villagers investigate her grave a few days later, it appears empty. What follows is a story about the possible zombification of Hadriana that’s wrapped in Haitian myth and written in the sparkling, lyrical, and mirthful prose of René Depestre, one of Haiti’s finest authors. —Amy Brady


9780374115241_f1ca2Borne
by Jeff VanderMeer
MCD x FSG

VanderMeer’s first novel after the Southern Reach trilogy did not disappoint. In fact, it’s the only book this year I’ve already read twice. Great news for fans: MCD x FSG is currently holding a Borne fan art contest and they’re publishing VanderMeer’s follow-up novella later this year. I interviewed him during his book tour stop in Chicago. —Adam Morgan


9781620972939_7f112Black Moses
by Alain Mabanckou
Translated by Helen Stevenson
The New Press

This new translation from Africa’s most-celebrated French-speaking writer — Alain Mabanckou, who now teaches at UCLA — is one of the most unique and fascinating novels I’ve read this year. Plus…that cover! —Adam Morgan


9780544912588_3ee9aSalt Houses
by Hala Alyan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Set against the backdrop of a war-torn Middle East, this gorgeous novel follows multiple generations of a single Palestinian family over the course of several years and several relocations–they’re forced to move every time their lives or livelihoods are threatened. Alyan captures the family’s generational, religious, and ideological differences in such beautifully subtle ways it’s hard to believe this is a debut. —Amy Brady


9781941040560_7e248Rabbit Cake
by Annie Hartnett
Tin House Books

With its dark humor, memorable voice, and quirky family focus, Rabbit Cake is a perfect read for the dog days of summer, one that can provide equal enjoyment for the most avid members of the literati and casual readers alike. —Aram Mrjoian

 


9781478967439_5070aPachinko
by Min Jin Lee
Grand Central

Min Jin Lee’s new novel isn’t exactly light reading, but don’t let that stop you from picking it up. This thick historical multigenerational saga is heartbreaking and beautiful. Set amid the social and political background of Japan in the early twentieth century, it’s a fascinating meditation on identity, shame, and struggle. We interviewed her in February.  —Rachel León


WebPerson/a
by Elizabeth Ellen
SF/LD Books

Ellen’s gigantic, circular novel leaves everything on the page. It’s one of the most thoughtful and creative books I’ve read in a long time. —Bradley Babendir

 


9780374100261_8c209The Answers
by Catherine Lacey
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

The very first page of The Answers floored me. Then things got weird. Catherine Lacey’s second novel (after Nobody Is Ever Missing) establishes her as one of the most exciting, unpredictable writers in the country right now. I interviewed her a few weeks ago. —Adam Morgan


9780802126399_db599The Refugees
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Grove Press

For fans of The Sympathizer, Nguyen’s short stories hit the same levels of vibrant prose and nuanced character development. Nguyen’s stories seem to expand beyond themselves, breaking away into the free space beyond the inherent barriers of their narratives. It’s great writing, plain and simple. I reviewed the book back in February. —Aram Mrjoian


515BkRP0gzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_A Negro and an Ofay
by Danny Gardner
Down & Out Books

Elliot Caprice is already in hot water with the Chicago Police when he wakes up in a St. Louis jail. It’s 1952, and mixed-race Caprice doesn’t quite fit anywhere, even at home, where the patriarch is dying and the farm falling to ruin. To save the homestead and maybe find a place he belongs, Caprice takes a job as a process server, which is when things really get complicated. Gardner’s debut crime novel is fast-paced, tough, and full of heart, a long-lost Raymond Chandler novel set in downstate Illinois and Chicago. —Lori Rader-Day


9781936787487_e7efdLarge Animals
by Jess Arndt
Catapult

Arndt’s stories are full of imagination and surprise. They’re equally full of weirdness and empathy. —Bradley Babendir

 

 


9781555977726_c1566Broken River
by J. Robert Lennon
Graywolf Press

This thriller opens like a horror novel: there’s a gruesome murder, a disembodied narrator (a ghost perhaps?), and a large, spooky house. But in typical Lennon fashion, the story quickly becomes something much, much more. Richly observed and darkly comic, this book is as much about weird family dynamics as small-town mysteries. Also, the young, precocious, pre-pubesecent daughter character? She is spot on. Bradley Babendir reviewed it for us earlier this year. —Amy Brady


9781506701462_782f6Mae: Volume I
by Gene Ha
Dark Horse Comics

My favorite graphic novel of the year so far comes from Berwyn’s Gene Ha, about a prodigal sister who returns from a one-of-a-kind fantasy world. Ha wrote the story and drew the art, both of which are fresh and beautiful. We interviewed him earlier this year. —Adam Morgan


9780735212176_8834cExit West
by Mohsin Hamid
Riverhead Books

Mohsin Hamid is a master at writing sparsely and reading his novels can be an exercise in imagination; Exit West is no exception. This novel about a couple that falls in love amid intense civil unrest and must migrate through doors is an imaginative, luminous story that’s eerily timely. I reviewed the book back in March. —Rachel León


9780765378026_bcef2Seven Surrenders
by Ada Palmer
Tor Books

I loved the first book in this series, Too Like the Lightning, and the second volume delivered on all of its promises. Can’t wait for book three in December. —Adam Morgan

 


9781606999592_9d70dMy Favorite Thing is Monsters
by Emil Ferris
Fantagraphics

It’s hard to imagine another graphic novel this year will come close to Emil Ferris’s. At 386 pages it’s lengthy for the genre, but the amazing artwork is what really makes it stand out. Come for the incredible illustrations, stay for a compelling coming of age story full of mystery, humor, and depth. Aaron Coats reviewed it back in February. —Rachel León


9781618731241_094d0Best Worst American: Stories
by Juan Martinez
Small Beer Press

What a short story collection! Martinez takes us across the country (and possible countries) in these brisk tales that range from sci-fi and horror to realism and metafiction. —Adam Morgan

 


9781250120519_3bd45The Last Place You Look
by Kristen Lepionka
Minotaur Books

Roxane Weary is good at finding things, though since her cop dad died and her girlfriend called it quits, Weary’s only been looking for solace at the bottom of a liquor bottle. When she’s hired to find a witness who might exonerate a man scheduled for execution, Weary finds comfort in the bed of her dad’s former police partner—and parallels between the case at hand and one her father could never solve. Lepionka’s debut mystery strikes a sweet spot between character and plot as it brings Midwestern darkness to light. —Lori Rader-Day


9781250087515_917ebThe Gypsy Moth Summer
by Julia Fierro
St. Martin’s Press

Big Little Lies off the coast of Long Island with 100% more bugs. Like Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, this is one of 2017’s thick books worth disappearing into for a week or two. I interviewed Fierro about the book a few weeks ago. —Adam Morgan


9781940953526_94a70Radiant Terminus
by Antoine Volodine
Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Open Letter

Maybe one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, Radiant Terminus was the perfect entryway to the work of French writer Antoine Volodine (which is a pseudonym, one of many that he uses). Taking place in a bleak future, at the fall of the Second Soviet Union, humanity finds itself dying out. A few survivors find their way to a strange commune, run by the despotic Solovyei, who has the ability to invade other people’s dreams. I found this book mesmerizing and it really opened the door to more of his work, which was the best reading experience of the year for me! —Timothy Moore


9781566894647_e777dStephen Florida
by Gabe Habash
Coffee House Press

This book’s been compared to the Oscar-nominated film Foxcatcher, which makes sense, given that it features a disturbed, small-town wrestler. But Habash’s book is simultaneously funnier, weirder, and darker. A really unique reading experience. —Adam Morgan


fingerprintsFingerprints of Previous Owners
by Rebecca Entel
Unnamed Press

One of the most notable debut novels I’ve read this year is Rebecca Entel’s. Fingerprints of Previous Owners tells the tale of a maid who by day works for a Caribbean resort built on the grounds of a slave plantation, by night she searches for artifacts to unlock the island’s tragic past. It’s a quiet novel, but breathtakingly beautiful. I interviewed Entel a few weeks ago. —Rachel León


exesExes
by Max Winter
Catapult

Full of brainy detours and irreverent asides, Exes is a powerful investigation of grief, love, and our deeply held yet ever-changing notions of home. I also reviewed it and praised it endlessly. —Sara Cutaia

 


9780062560292_8deb4The Day I Died
by Lori Rader-Day
William Morrow

Who knew handwriting could be such juicy fodder for a mystery? Rader-Day’s third novel is actually my favorite thus far, even though I’m quite partial to The Black Hour. Rachel Leon interviewed her about it back in April. —Adam Morgan

 


9781524731823_7aa67Spoonbenders
by Daryl Gregory
Knopf

A generations-spanning family of psychics—both blessed and burdened by their abilities—must use their powers to save themselves from the CIA, the local mafia, and a skeptic hell-bent on discrediting them in this hilarious, tender, magical novel about the invisible forces that bind us. I literally just reviewed this yesterday. —Sara Cutaia


9781250107947_9ce32

The Supremes Sing the Happy Heartache Blues
by Edward Kelsey Moore
Henry Holt

Moore is one of the most unique writers in Chicago, and this follow-up to his last novel, The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, is as fun and exuberant as that gorgeous cover art. —Adam Morgan

 


9780374537111_47576Dear Cyborgs
by Eugene Lim
FSG Originals

Relevant, important fiction in the time of political chaos. Superheroes and artistic characters fill the pages with musings and arguments about what matters and what’s vital in a life riddled with uncertainties. I interviewed Lim a few weeks ago. —Sara Cutaia


Help the Chicago Review of Books and Arcturus make the literary world more inclusive by becoming a member, patron, or sponsor. Each option comes with its own perks and exclusive content. Click here to learn more.

1 comment on “The Best Fiction Books of 2017 So Far

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: