Chicago Review of Books

The Best Fiction Books of 2017

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: best-of lists! Unlike those tacky goblins at Publishers Weekly, who published their lists in OCTOBER, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, we have the common decency to wait until December.

Here are the best fiction books of 2017 according the editors and contributors at the Chicago Review of Books. Check back later for our favorite nonfiction, poetry, comics, and book covers.

How To Behave in a Crowd
By Camille Bordas

Tim Duggan Books

“Set in small-town France, Camille Bordas’s debut novel in her second language is told through the voice of an eleven-year-old boy. When a tragedy strikes his family, Isidore Mazal takes it upon himself to heal them. Surprisingly funny, it’s a heartbreaking novel with a shocking denouement. We interviewed her about How To Behave earlier this year, and it won the 2017 Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction.” —Adam Morgan

Djinn City
By Saad Z. Hossain
Unnamed Press

“I discovered Hossain a few years ago because of his first novel, Escape From Baghdad!, a ‘cross between Zero Dark Thirty and Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ His second, Djinn City, is a really clever, really fun Gothic horror/fantasy/comedy set in the sprawling city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, based on figures from Arabian mythology.”  —Adam Morgan

Eat Only When You’re Hungry
By Lindsay Hunter
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

“Lindsay Hunter’s fourth book is the story of Greg, an obese, 58-year-old retiree whose son, a drug addict, goes missing. To find him, Greg travels from West Virginia to Florida, revealing his past along the way. Sometimes dark, sometimes funny, it’s a remarkable novel about parenthood and addiction. We interviewed her about Eat Only earlier this year.” —Adam Morgan

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

After the Flare
By Deji Bryce Olukotun
Unnamed Press

“When a solar storm destroys most of the world’s electric grid, Nigeria’s space program is the only remaining institution capable of rescuing astronauts stranded on the ISS. Set in the same continuity as Olukotun’s first novel, Nigerians in Space, this books stands on its own. It’s the best afrofuturist “hard sci-fi” I’ve ever read.” —Adam Morgan

Difficult Women
By Roxane Gay
Grove Press

“The women in these stories are ‘difficult’ because they’re untameable. It’s a panoramic view of transgressive womanhood in a world with too many conflicting demands for what a woman should be. We interviewed Gay about the book earlier this year.” —Amy Brady

by Jeff VanderMeer

“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 also published VanderMeer’s follow-up novella, The Strange Bird. I interviewed him during his book tour stop in Chicago.” —Adam Morgan

Exit 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

Lillian 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

The Doll’s Alphabet
By Camilla Grudova
Coffee House Press

“The thirteen macabre tales that make up Canadian writer Camilla Grudova’s first book of short stories are unparalleled in their Burtonesque strangeness, their grotesque fascination with sewing machines, sex, bodies, motherhood, men, canned food, rot and decay. In each story, Gurdova steadfastly denies us a conventional unfolding of plot, constantly upending our expectations in such a manner that just as we begin to detect some recognizable theme to anchor us to the narrative, the story twists again into something even more confounding. A remarkable collection akin to a cabinet of infinite curiosities or a hall of mirrors, A Doll’s Alphabet disgusts and delights in equal measure.” —Dana Hansen

Best Worst American
By Juan Martinez
Small Beer Press

“In his debut short story collection, Juan Martinez takes us across the country (and possible countries) in brisk tales that range from sci-fi and horror to realism and metafiction.” —Adam Morgan

Rabbit Cake
by Annie Hartnett
Tin House Books

“In Rabbit Cake, a young girl named Elvis loses her mother and works to grieve. Hartnett tells the story with immeasurable heart, wit, and charm. The book’s got perfect pitch from open to close.” —Bradley Babendir


Mother of All Pigs
By Malu Halasa

Unnamed Press

“A debut novel from a pivotal voice in Middle East culture, Mother of All Pigs is set in a small Jordanian town, home to refugees from the Syrian War, as well as ‘the only pig butcher in the Levant.’ Halasa sheds light on a part of the world too often ignored by American fiction.” —Adam

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
by John Boyne

“This huge, immersive novel is the life story of orphaned Irishman Cyril Avery as he traverses the 20th century, colliding with fate, chance, and the consequences of his choices. Every once in a while, you should find a book that reminds you why you love reading. This funny, heartbreaking, uplifting novel about love and loyalty, faith and fortune, will do just that.” —Greg Zimmerman

When the English Fall
by David Williams
Algonquin Books

“Over at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, I called this book ‘a quiet, brilliant little novel begging for a Netflix adaptation.’ It’s a tale of the apocalypse from the perspective of an Amish family in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and it’s stunning.” —Adam Morgan

House. Tree. Person.
By Catriona McPherson

“Ali McGovern wrangles a job at the nearby psychiatric hospital that she’s not technically qualified for—and then has to keep at least one step ahead of her lies, the strangeness of the hospital itself, her husband’s life mistakes, her son’s secretive behavior, and also the threats to her family when a body is found in a muddy grave across the street from their home. McPherson’s stories are lived in, real, smart, and tense.” —Lori Rader-Day

The Dark Dark: Stories
by Samantha Hunt
FSG Originals

“I honestly can’t believe this is Hunt’s debut collection. I missed Hunt’s word of mouth-y novel last year, Mr. Splitfoot, so this was my first introduction to her brand of weird horror. It’s great. If you loved Carmen Maria Machado’s collection (see below), this should be the next book on your list. BONUS: turn the book on its side for a neat surprise on the cover.” —Adam Morgan

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories
By Carmen Maria Machado
Graywolf Press

“What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said?! It’s the best short fiction collection of 2017. And one of the best covers. Plus, I’m thrilled to see speculative fiction continue to show up come awards season (it was shortlisted for the National Book Award). If you want to try before you buy, read its most-talked-about story, ‘The Husband Stitch,’ for free at Granta.” —Adam Morgan

Strange Heart Beating
By Eli Goldstone
Granta Books

“This novel takes us deep into the grief of a man whose wife, Leda, is killed by a swan. Alongside his journey, we learn to learn the truth about Leda, who kept aspects of her past hidden from him, all told with a breathtaking alchemy of pathos and wry humor.” —Chris Doyle

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
By Erika L. Sanchez
Knopf, October 17

“A moving, contemporary YA about a Mexican-American family in Chicago, Sanchez’s debut novel was shortlisted for a National Book Award. I think this book instantly joined the ranks of the all-time best novels set in Chicago, alongside The House on Mango Street, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Native Son.” —Adam Morgan

The Readymade Thief
By Augustus Rose

“In Augustus Rose’s debut novel, a seventeen-year-old girl becomes embroiled in a century-old mystery after stealing a Marcel Duchamp ‘readymade’ from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The adventure that follows is a literary thriller with an addictive narrative (and literal) puzzle at its heart. We interviewed him about The Readymade Thief earlier this year.” —Adam Morgan

The Grip Of It
By Jac Jemc

FSG Originals

“My favorite haunted house novel since House of Leaves. It’s about a Chicago couple whose new home in rural Wisconsin turns out to be…pretty fucked up. Jac is a Chicago-based author, so I chatted with her about this book on our podcast, Writers Answer Weird Questions  (she’s a big fan of Guillermo del Toro and ‘The Bachelor’). The book was also shortlisted for the 2017 Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction.” —Adam Morgan

Glory Days
By Melissa Fraterrigo
University of Nebraska Press

“Every year, at least one small-press book comes out of nowhere (i.e., it wasn’t on my radar) to become one of my favorites. Last year, it was Julia Franks’ Over the Plain Houses, from Spartanburg’s Hub City Press. This year, it’s Glory Days, a quiet Midwestern ghost story with prose as clear and cold as the Nebraska plains in winter.” —Adam Morgan

Stephen 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

The 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 over the summer.” —Adam Morgan

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