As I did with non-fiction, here are the fiction books I read this year that I loved.
The Shadow Year – Jeffrey Ford From my review: The aspect of this novel that struck me the hardest was the strength of the narrator’s voice. Ford does an excellent job framing the story through the eyes of an adult man remembering the events. From the first pages, events flow in a dreamlike and hazy fashion. There are not many places where the author lingers in detail. Instead, we get the broad brushstrokes of childhood memory. Even better, the fantastic elements of the story are met with little fanfare by the children. They live at a point in their lives where monsters, ghosts, and other supernatural things are just as real and mysterious to them as the complicated relationships of their parents and the struggles of school.
This year I committed myself to read three books at a time: One comic book collection, one fiction book, and one non-fiction book. As a result, I read some very informative books, filling in my knowledge on subjects I realized I only understood tangentially. Here were my favorites, in no particular order, expect the last book which is my favorite.
The Second Amendment: A Biography – Michael Waldman After the shooting at Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February was moved emotionally in a way that none of America’s previous school shooting tragedies had hit me. I think I’d chosen to be numb to what had gone before, notably Sandy Hook, despite being an elementary school teacher out of pure psychological survival. I knew I had issues with the proliferation of guns in the United States but was unable to articulate my views and wanted to clarify facts so that I could clarify or possibly change my understanding. Author Waldman does an excellent job of giving in-depth explorations of gun ownership from colonial America to the most recent Supreme Court cases surrounding the issue. I walked away having a firmer, never final, viewpoint on an issue and was able to navigate past my emotional response to holding a much more reasoned one, while not eschewing the humanity involved.
The Cabin at the End of the World (2018)
Written by Paul Tremblay
Wen is on a summer vacation to a lake cabin in rural New Hampshire where her fathers want the family to be disconnected from the internet and their phones for a little while. She’s out collecting grasshoppers when a strange, imposingly large man shows up, introducing himself as Leonard. He seems very kind and quiet, telling her she is a great little girl and implying that he’ll be speaking with her parents very soon. Wen feels conflicted, safe at moments and then wary. Then the other emerge from the tree line, and Wen feels a strong sense of dread. Over the next two days, Wen and her dads will experience a confusing and terrifying series of events, forcing them to question the very reality of the world around them.
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The Grip of It by Jac Jemec
Julie and James feel a strong need to leave their urban apartment and purchase a home in the suburbs. They find a large house that is surprisingly affordable but even during their first walk through something is off. There is a hum coming from somewhere beneath them, inside the walls, never becoming too loud but always ringing in their ears. The couple shakes it off and goes on with moving in and making this home their own. Things just get worse though, rooms that didn’t exist before suddenly appear, stains appear on the walls that won’t seem to go away, and even the neighbor and boys playing in the woods nearby start to become figures of menace and dread. James and Julie start lying to each other which only increases their paranoia and disconnect, leading to a horrific conclusion.
Vernon Little is a teenager living in the nowhere town of Martirio, Texas. After a life of mundanity, one day his friend Jesus up and shoots 18 of their classmates and then kills himself. Without anyone to heap their collective anger and rage on due to the suicide, suspicious immediately turn to Vernon. Everyone becomes convinced he must have known Jesus had this planned and therefore his hands are covered in blood. A reporter rolls into town who is named Eulalio Ledesma (Lally for short), and he claims to work for CNN with a promise he will help clear Vernon’s name. This is just the beginning of the foul-mouthed teen’s manipulations, and Vernon quickly learns everyone is out to claim their own piece of him. Events begin to spiral out of control, and Vernon is confronted with the fact life as he knew it is effectively over.
It’s the mid-1960s on Long Island, New York, and an unnamed preteen narrator is beginning a year of his life he will never forget. This is his last year in elementary school and he, his brother Jim, and little sister Mary become embroiled in a mystery that no one else in their neighborhood seems to take note of it. It starts with the disappearance of a local boy and then rumors of a peeping tom carousing the backyards at night. The narrator spies a strange white car driven by a man dressed all in white whose presence seems to correlate with the prowler. Then his sister Mary, an odd one who allows her imaginary friends to speak through her, begins to show the possibility of clairvoyance, knowing where neighbors are at precise moments when she should not be able to. This shadow year will linger for our protagonist and what he learns will haunt him decades later.