Best Fiction of 2013

constellation ofvital phenomenalowlandgoldfinchgoodlordbirdlifeafaterlifesignatureofallthingsinterestings

Now that many of the 2013 best book lists are out, I’ve compiled some of them to see which titles stood out among the thousands that were reviewed in the last 12 months.

I used the lists from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Book Page, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the New York Times, the Washington Post, O Magazine and LibraryReads. This blog entry will focus on fiction, and I will do another entry later featuring nonfiction. The entire list can be found in our catalog by clicking here. Make sure to click on “Next’’ to see all the titles in the catalog list.

Only one book was listed nine times: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Marra’s debut novel is both stunning and heartbreaking. Set in Chechnya from 1994-2004, Marra exquisitely creates characters who try to survive in the depressing, deplorable conditions that war so often brings. This was one of my favorite books of 2013.

Six books were named eight times:

  1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend’s family and struggles to make sense of his new life.
  2. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. The winner of the 2013 National Book Award, this novel tells the story of the zealot abolitionist John Brown through the eyes of a young boy whom Brown freed.
  3. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Ursula Todd, who is born on a snowy night in 1910, repeatedly dies and reincarnates into the same life to correct missteps and ultimately save the world.
  4. The Lowland by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri. A family tragedy brings Subhash back to Calcutta, India from his quiet corner of America in an attempt to heal family wounds.
  5. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. The best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love traces the multi-generational saga of the Whittaker family, whose progenitor makes a fortune in the quinine trade before his daughter, a gifted botanist, researches the mysteries of evolution while falling in love with an utopian artist against a backdrop of the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.
  6. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Forging a powerful bond in the mid-1970s that lasts for decades, six individuals pursue respective challenges into their midlife years, including an aspiring actress who harbors jealousy toward friends who achieve successful creative careers.

Two books were named seven times:

  1. The Son by Philipp Meyer. Kidnapped by the Comanche after his mother and sister are brutally murdered, a young boy quickly adapts to Comanche life until the tribe is decimated by armed Americans, leaving him alone in a world where he is neither white nor Indian.
  2. The Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders.A collection of stories includes “Home,” a wryly whimsical account of a soldier’s return from war; “Victory Lap,” a tale about an inventive abduction attempt; and the title story, in which a suicidal cancer patient saves the life of a young misfit.

Six books were listed six times:

  1. And the Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini. The best-selling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns presents a story inspired by human love, how people take care of one another and how choices resonate through subsequent
    generations.
  2. Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon. An average mother of two working in investigation fraud gets drawn into a shady and eccentric underworld after looking into the finances of a billionaire computer geek in this new novel from the author of V and Gravity’s Rainbow.
  3. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. Arriving in New York to pursue a creative career in the raucous 1970s art scene, Reno joins a group of dreamers and raconteurs before falling in love with the estranged son of an Italian motorcycle scion and succumbing to a radical social movement in 1977 Italy.
  4. Schroder by Amity Gaige. Ensconced in a correctional facility at the height of a custody battle with his estranged wife, Eric, a first-generation East German immigrant who changed his name as a youth, surveys his life to consider the disparity between his original and assumed identities.
  5. Someone by Alice McDermott. The National Book Award-winning author chronicles the ordinary life of a woman named Marie, from her childhood to old age, as she experiences the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn.
  6. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. Relegated to the status of schoolteacher after abandoning her dreams of becoming an artist, Nora advocates on behalf of a Lebanese student and is drawn into the child’s family until his mother’s ambition leads to betrayal.

Four books were mentioned five times:

  1. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. Dan Torrance uses his remnant powers to assist the dying before coming to the aid of a twelve-year-old girl being tortured by a tribe of murderous paranormals. Long-awaited sequel to The Shining.
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Prostitute Anna Wetherell is arrested on the same day that three men with various connections to her disappear from a coastal New Zealand town during the 1866 gold rush in this new novel from the author of The Rehearsal.
  3. The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell. A maid for a prominent family in Missouri chases down justice after her younger sister is one of 42 people killed at a mysterious explosion at a local dance hall in this new novel from the author of Winter’s Bone.
  4. Night Film by Marisha Pessl. When the daughter of a cult horror film director is found dead in an abandoned Manhattan warehouse, investigative journalist Scott McGrath, disbelieving the official suicide ruling, probes into the strange circumstances of the young woman’s death.

Thirteen books were named four times: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Circle by Dave Eggers, Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat, How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Moshin Hamid, Longbourn by Jo Baker, MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Transatlantic by Colum McCann, Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

Eighteen books were listed three times: The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates, Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (alias for J.K. Rowling), Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson, Death of a Nightingale by Lene Kaabertol and Agnete Friis, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, March, Book One by John Lewis, Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell, Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, Submergence by J.M. Ledgard, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozecki, Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith, Want Not by Jonathan Miles, and The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax.

Thirty titles were named twice: & Sons by David Gilbert, All That Is by James Salter, Allegiant by Veronica Roth, Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam, Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois, Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee, The Dinner by Herman Koch, Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem, End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver, Enon by Paul Harding, Flora by Gail Godwin, The Harvest by Jim Crace, Help for the Haunted by John Searles, The Infatuations by Javier Marias, Joyland by Stephen King, Life After Life by Jill McCorkle, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne, My Dirty Dumb Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt, People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara Reality Boy by A.S. King, Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee, Vicious by V.E. Schwab, Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda, Wise Men by Stuart Nadler and You Give Good Love by J.J. Murray.

Some of my favorite novels of 2013 showed up on the lists in addition to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, including: The Good Lord Bird, Life After Life by Atkinson, The Lowland, And the Mountains Echoed, Someone, How the Light Gets In, Longbourn, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Transatlantic, Burial Rites, The Cuckoo’s Calling, Eleanor & Park, The Golem and the Jinni, The Rosie Project, Tale for the Time Being and Flora.

–Jo Hansen, jhansen@cooklib.org

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