It has been an interesting year for fiction. I mean this, of course, in the very specific sense that it has been a wonderful year to be a reader of novels and stories (though when is it not?), but then also in the sense that we are living in a time of alternative facts, of subjective truth, of constructed (however shoddily) reality. It has thus become increasingly difficult to find within our existing world many places of beauty or hope; it feels like it has fallen on us to create those moments, create a new way of being.
This has started to happen, I think. It can be seen in the waves of protests that have swept over this country in the last 12 months. It can be seen in the voices of the women and men who have spoken about enduring countless incidences of sexual abuse and harassment. It can be seen in the downfalls of dozens of powerful men. It feels like we have the power to build a new truth right now, a better reality. This is a dangerous thing, of course. It would be easy to fuck up entirely. But it is also a time full of wild potential, of possibility.
And then also we can just read about such things. Each of the following books is notable this year precisely because of the ways in which they created their own realities, their own truths. Each of these books reflects the world with varying degrees of distortion, all the better in which to reflect the person peering into them. Within these pages, you will find ghosts, magical doorways, and an amputee ukelele virtuoso. You will also find love, grace, humor, despair, and rage. You will find no capital "T" truth, which is a relief, of sorts, because it makes it all the easier to find your own truth in these imagined worlds.
Here, then, are the best fiction books of 2017.
The Gift by Barbara Browning (available here)
In trying, recently, to explain The Gift to a friend, I found myself resorting again and again to the word "exuberant." In part this is because Browning's writing is joyful, even radiant, at so many points; this work of autofiction is overflowing with sexuality, sensuality, intellectual and artistic curiosity, and wonder. This is not to say that it's glib. There is a sharp edge of melancholy throughout and one of the most devastating, beautiful breakup scenes I've ever read. But the exuberance extends to how Browning handles the concept of truth within The Gift, in that the idea of truth is ever-expanding; its meaning grows and shifts. The question of whether or not truth is a game is posed; the answer relies on whether or not everyone who is playing is following the rules. That is the crux of everything, really, this focus on the power of collaboration and how, when done right, we can only then work together toward making everything from art to love to a better reality.
(Read my profile of Browning here.)