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Top 10 Best Fiction Books of 2020

Top 10 Best Fiction Books of 2020

Reading fiction in 2020 was an act of defiance—of turning our attention away from the catastrophes playing out around us to engage in a quiet, imaginative act. And the year’s best fiction offered many paths toward greater understanding and meaningful escape. Whether in the tumultuous halls of power in Tudor England with The Mirror & the Light, a storm-ravaged mansion in A Children’s Bible or a ghost-filled Japan with Where the Wild Ladies Are, readers could find joyful, thrilling distraction, mo... Read more

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Breasts and Eggs

2019 | Mieko Kawakami, Sam Bett, David Boyd

A New York Times Notable Book (2020) A TIME Must-Read Book of 2020 An Electric Lit Favorite Novel of 2020 A The Atlantic Best Book of 2020 Kawakami, who exploded into the cultural space first as a musician, then as a poet and popular blogger, and most importantly as a best-selling novelist, challenges every preconception about storytelling and prose style. She is currently one of Japan’s most widely read and critically acclaimed authors, heralded by Haruki Murakami as his favorite young writer. An earlier novella published in Japan with the same title focused on the female body, telling the story of three women: the thirty-year-old unmarried narrator, her older sister Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter Midoriko. Unable to come to terms with her changed body after giving birth, Makiko becomes obsessed with the prospect of getting breast enhancement surgery. Meanwhile, her twelve-year-old daughter Midoriko is paralyzed by the fear of her oncoming puberty and finds herself unable to voice the vague, yet overwhelming anxieties associated with growing up. The narrator, who remains unnamed for most of the story, struggles with her own indeterminable identity of being neither a “daughter” nor a “mother.” Set over three stiflingly hot days in Tokyo, the book tells of a reunion of sorts, between two sisters, and the passage into womanhood of young Midoriko. In this greatly expanded version, a second chapter in the story of the same women opens on another hot summer’s day ten years later. The narrator, single and childless, having reconciled herself with the idea of never marrying, nonetheless feels increasing anxiety about growing old alone and about never being a mother. In episodes that are as comical as they are revealing of deep yearning, she seeks direction from other women in her life—her mother, her grandmother, friends, as well as her sister—and only after dramatic and frequent changes of heart, decides in favor of artificial insemination. But this decision in a deeply conservative country in which women’s reproductive rights are under constant threat is not one that can be acted upon without great drama. Breasts and Eggs takes as its broader subjects the ongoing repression of women in Japan and the possibility of liberation, poverty, domestic violence, and reproductive ethics. Mixing comedy and realism, it is an epic life-affirming journey about finding inner strength and peace.

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I Hold a Wolf by the Ears

2020 | Laura van den Berg

An urgent and unsettling collection of women on the verge from Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, Laura van den Berg's first story collection since her acclaimed and prizewinning Isle of Youth, draws readers into a world of wholly original, sideways ghost stories that linger in the mouth and mind like rotten, fragrant fruit. Both timeless and urgent, these eleven stories confront misogyny, violence, and the impossible economics of America with van den Berg's trademark spiky humor and surreal eye. Moving from the peculiarities of Florida to liminal spaces of travel in Mexico City, Sicily, and Spain, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears is uncannily attuned to our current moment, and to the thoughts we reveal to no one but ourselves. In "Lizards," a man mutes his wife's anxieties by giving her a La Croix-like seltzer laced with sedatives. In the title story, a woman poses as her more successful sister during a botched Italian holiday, a choice that brings about strange and violent consequences, while in "Karolina," a woman discovers her prickly ex-sister-in-law in the aftermath of an earthquake and is forced to face the truth about her violent brother. I Hold a Wolf by the Ears presents a collection of women on the verge, trying to grasp what's left of life: grieving, divorced, and hyperaware, searching, vulnerable, and unhinged, they exist in a world that deviates from our own only when you look too close. With remarkable control and transcendent talent, van den Berg dissolves, in the words of the narrator of "Slumberland," "that border between magic and annihilation," and further establishes herself as a defining fiction writer of our time.

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