McNally Jackson's Bestselling Fiction Staff Picks
Ernaux deconstructs the summer around a “singular sexual event” that serves as the origin for the influence that desire, lack, submission, shame, “despair of the flesh”, etc… have had on her self-image and on her writing career.
A gentle, beautifully paced novel about a cafe that offers its guests the opportunity to time travel, given that they follow a certain set of rules. What inspires someone to want to time travel? Often it's because we regret something that happened in the past, we wish we could just go back and say the right thing, do the right thing, just change the present outcome somehow... Although the characters coming to this cafe often find themselves in such circumstances, this book is one of the most hopeful things I've ever read. It's sure to warm your heart and keep you engaged, but just remember to take a break every once in a while, before your own coffee ends up getting cold...
A book to make you miss LA if you've never been, miss quaaludes if you've gone straightedge all your life, miss torrid love triangles if you've only ever had a crush. In these vignettes, Babitz's legendary, whip-smart love for Southern California is enough to overtake Didion's equally-legendary skepticism of it, at least for a moment or two.
There's a way in which Nelson's Bluets is bereft meditation on not just the color blue, but the things we love. What makes us feel the way we do, and why? And more importantly: does it matter, the reason? Bluets is a complex dive into the wide blue ocean from a very high diving board. The judges are not looking -- you are -- and if you're optimistic, their eyes have nothing to do with the grace of this beautiful book's descent.
This book feels like a fever dream in the best way possible. Mona Awad has crafted a deftly unnerving novel that is like a mix of Heathers and Jennifer’s Body. If you like the sound of pretentious cliques, exploding heads, and dark academia…this book is for you.
A mother and daughter take a trip to Japan. They spend time together, in a way that they haven't in a long time, as memories start to swirl around them. Au, in effortlessly clear and crystalline sentences, explores the quiet gaps between people and even quieter attempts at connection. This is a book you fall into without even realizing, built on heavy melancholy and pure elegance. I wish everything I read was this perfect.
— David G
A person gets kidnapped by the wind, a woman and her dead husband search for a burial plot, two golfers discover a man living in an underground world beneath the green. Though the premises of Smith's stories are strange, the world he depicts looks a lot like bourgeois American life circa 2022: banal yet vaguely menacing. If that doesn't interest you, the stories are extremely short, funny, and a lot of them are about pizza. And dogs. And death. I don't remember if there's one with all three.
I'll admit, I'm a bit of a sucker for sprawling historical novels (although this only spans about twenty years), but I'm not exaggerating in saying that it's one of the best I've ever read. Whether you're a sucker for historical fiction like me, or are a lover of decadent, thoughtful prose and characters, whatever the topic may be. But the topic is yet another point in favor of this wonderful book: it's about Palestine and its people during the British mandate era, and this Palestinian perspective on history is sorely underrepresented in English. Hammad is a ridiculously talented writer, and this is definitely a debut not to be missed.
— Jacob R
The local witch is found dead in a small town in Mexico. Why this happened, and everything leading up to it, is slowly unfurled by Melchor as she spins this deeply sinister tale of greed and violence, masterfully jumping between characters and viewpoints, widening the scope as the story morphs into something far, far uglier. At the book's heart is a portrait of desperation, one so seemingly inescapable it makes monsters out of so many, and destroys everything that doesn’t succumb to it. Horrifying, stomach churning, and frequently dazzling, it was easily the best book I read in 2020.
I laughed out loud, literally, countless times while reading. It's hilarious, mostly in not trying to be especially funny. It's just raw and real. It's also incredibly dark. Not gratuitously. Just, again, raw and real, and touching those deep places that many of us have known. A second-chance love story, with all the passion and unbridled sincerity of their original teenage love, as well as the sweet choosing in their adult love. Mother-daughter relationships that demonstrate the epitome of holding the both-and. I loved this book with my whole heart. It's probably the most pleasantly surprising book I've read in years.
Virginie Despentes is absolutely brilliant, and this book is probably one of the best things I've read in a long time (luckily there are two more coming out in the next two years). Using the story of a record store owner turned homeless, she paints a vast portrait of society today, with a hilarious, infuriating, multi-generational cast of characters, and Frank Wynne's translation is absolutely stunning. It's no surprise this was also on the list for the International Man Booker Prize in 2018 - it's definitely not one to miss.
— Jacob R.
Whether or not she will have a baby, or be a mother, in any sense, is the biggest secret she keeps from herself. Sheila Heti circles this question in a constant state of tortured deliberation, infused with such raw grace and gentle wisdom. She writes about writing, the desire to capture what being human feels like, defined by the lack of mothering as opposed to fulfilling that seemingly inevitable role, and it’s both painful and deeply inspiring.
Casey is living the opposite of her best life: rebounding from the death of her mother and a lost love, drowning in debt, working a crap job, and on year six of writer's block. Everything doesn't magically change. But, little by little, you walk with her as she starts to figure it out. Complete with all the twisty self-awareness I've come to love in books with writer protagonists, plus dry humor and difficult choices. You'll root for Casey. You'll also get to reminisce about life in 1997.
Machado’s stories haunt me everywhere I go; they live within the forgotten curses, the subliminal identities, and discarded and “cursed” parts of my body- make no mistake, this is a intoxicatingly empowering sort of haunting, one that makes you feel oh so dizzyingly seen.
After reading this you will never use the phrase “Didn’t I tell you?” again unless the purpose is to make the recipient feel insignificant or less than.
It helped me better understand how it feels to be an old woman, and a young woman, and a couple, and a person.
If Christ’s parables were about shitty college relationships, working in retail, and losing a parent. Sheila Heti’s writing contains so much warmth and light and wisdom that you almost forget she is insanely funny. Manna for nonbelievers.
— Jack K.
Emily St. John Mandel is, first and foremost, a storyteller. She takes opposing narratives with seemingly no relation and skillfully intertwines them with suspense and verve. The Glass Hotel succeeds on an entirely new level from her previous books. It left me mesmerized and craving more.
A little gem of a novel where a gay man gets a happy ending, which, sadly, is still revolutionary, more than 100 years after it was written.
In college, my best friends and I sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pantsed this book. We passed it around, shocked by how perfectly it fit us all, wooed by Heti’s vulnerability. We’ve since purchased our own copies, our notes in the margins all too personal to ever be lendable.
This is a Bonnie and Clyde story on steroids. You follow Kody Rawlee Green and Tella "Teal Cartwheels" Carticelli on their roadtrip through America. There’s double homicide, robberies, and moments of sweet tenderness. There’s Elvis, Graceland, and ranches in Montana. There’s love and all of it’s fragile possibilities. This book reads like a breeze and reminds you that there is beauty in the usual aspects of everyday life.
When a crush doesn't text back, some of us post way too much on Instagram, or craft strongly worded vague tweets. In Annie Ernaux's case, she wrote an entire book about it. Ernaux's prose is angry, sharp enough to cut glass, yet at the center of this novel is a soft, lonely person who just wants to be loved. Ernaux is one of my favorite writers, and this is an excellent place to start for those just now discovering the absolute gift that is her work.
Trying to graduate through high school is tough. Trying to make it to graduation when your high school is actively trying to kill you is even harder. Throw in a prophecy that basically says you’re going to bring about the death of untold millions and a golden boy who irritatingly won’t stop saving your life, and you’ve got A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. Perfect for fans of Harry Potter… if Harry Potter were rated PG-13 and told from the perspective of Draco Malfoy.
Is there anything truly gayer than witches coming together to take back their collective power from the ex that screwed them all over while falling in love in the process? For lovers of Practical Magic and Halloweentown, and all things witchy.
It is 2017 and you may well be turning to dystopian fiction in order to better comprehend the present political climate. If so, add Parable of the Sower to your list. The classics of the genre - 1984, Fahrenheit 451, depict life under an authoritarian regime; Parable, two decades old but set roughly two presidential terms from the present, feels eerily predictive of how our communities might respond if society collapses altogether.
Written in 1895, these three interconnected and impressively modern stories are like an itch you can't stop scratching. Like the book within the book - the eponymous 'King in Yellow' which drives mad those who read it - these stories leave ghosts behind them, weird chemtrails in your brain that take on phantasmagoric shapes in the grainy light of recollection. For fans of Poe and Lovecraft, especially if you'd prefer if their syntax were closer to that of Ernest Hemingway.
I typically don't read King's books because they are long and I've found that it may take a while to get into. However this book was captivating from the very first chapters. Children, murder, kidnapping, super powers. This book is super intense but in a good way. It seemed like everything keep getting worse and I wondered how the story could continue to stay engaging but it did. This book has made me more open to reading more of King's books.
The first book in my current, favorite trilogy, Black Sun is one of the most unique worlds I’ve encountered in fantasy fiction. Inspired by a pre-Columbian mythology, Roanhorse’s writing is incredibly creative and her characters are layered and exciting. This is a great read for a newer sci-fi/fantasy reader as well as a seasoned reader who is looking for something that’s not the “same old.”
The Expanse might be my favorite series, both in its book form and its TV incarnation. It's magnificent, and deeply addictive. You don't have to be a space opera fan to fall in love with the intense interplanetary political drama, the brilliant and wild cast of characters, or the high-tension adventure that ensues when humanity discovers an alien substance of tremendous power. The point isn't the aliens who might or might not be out there; the point is what a fractured humanity does with the discovery of this unimaginable and possibly uncontrollable power. Trust me on this one.
I mean it’s right there in the tagline: Lesbian necromancers… exploring a haunted gothic castle… in SPACE. Tamsyn Muir’s kickoff to The Locked Tomb series truly has it all-- grit, gore, and memes. So many memes.