Elese's Eleven Favorites of 2022
A chance encounter in an airport lounge with an old acquaintance, a delayed flight, and a few drinks lead to the story of another chance encounter: an early morning visit to the beach, a drowning man, and the obsession that sets the course of one man's life. Set in the LA art world, this thriller-adjacent story is one of those novels you pick up and don't set back down until it's done.
I spent a month of this year reading Lady Joker, Vols. 1 & 2. Ostensibly about the kidnapping of a beer company executive and the fallout thereafter, this book is an immersion into Japanese corporate, police, criminal, and journalistic culture. That Takamura is a woman and this book is almost entirely about men adds more intrigue, with its unmitigated devotion to details both obscure and obscurer. I can't entirely say who I would recommend this to, or why I liked it so much, but I devoured the 1,200 or so pages, and certainly nothing else I've read in 2022 approaches this literary experience.
The matrix of characters from A Visit from the Goon Squad is back! (And while it's not necessary to have read Jennifer Egan's prior Pulitzer-winning novel, it certainly wouldn't hurt...) In The Candy House, Egan offers sketches of life in a society hurtling toward inexorability, where increasingly elaborate manifestations of reality are fueled by new technology. It's the near future, it's the past, it's the present, it's the search for the authentic—it's more of Jennifer Egan's magnificent storytelling.
Two American college students, both artists, studying abroad in Berlin in the late aughts. Think complicated female friendships, clubs, drugs, lavish parties, Amanda Knox references, and plenty of twists that will keep you guessing. SO MUCH FUN.
A literary puzzle: one story told four different ways—a novel (about the accumulation of wealth, a marriage, mental illness), a memoir (by the husband, unfinished, ghostwritten), a memoir (by the ghostwriter), a diary (by the wife)—each adding intricate layers to the narrative. Having read them close together, Trust has become intertwined with To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara in my mind: Both are New York stories & contenders for a “great American novel.” Both pull off impressive literary feats of perspective & time & structure. And both novels are pure brilliance.
This might be one of the bleaker things I've ever read, but it's also astoundingly clever and thought-provoking. Yanagihara tells the story of one neighborhood in NYC over 3 centuries—1893, 1993, 2093—but it's not quite as simple as that. 1800s-era New Yorkers are living in the Free States in an alt-history of the aftermath of the Civil War. 1993's main character is a Hawaiian man living in NY; the scourge of HIV/AIDS is referenced but also modern Hawaiian history has been reworked. And then let's just say that the author's version of 2093 New York imagines entirely new levels of misery. The overall novel has a loose throughline; the themes and characters' names repeat across the three sections—just a whole lot of very literary stuff going on here.
Steamy, literary, electric. I absolutely loved it. If you want an escape, this is it.
In this absolutely gorgeous memoir, Putsata Reang reflects on her family's journey from Cambodia to the US, her childhood in rural Oregon, her family and community's expectations, her queerness, but most of all, her mother. A powerful story that changed me just a little bit. What more can you ask of a book?
A campus novel about power, agency, and desire. But also, just how much does the author share the opinions of her main character? And at which point—how the protagonist feels at the beginning, the middle, or the end? And let's talk about that ending! This one messed my brain up in the most delightful of ways.
Books by Emily St. John Mandel don't tend to linger on my to-be-read pile, because they're just so consistently good! Sea of Tranquility keeps up the tradition with a fast-paced plot, a clever imagining of the not-so-distant future, and numerous callbacks to her previous novels, specifically The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven.
Amy Bloom tells the story of her second marriage: how they fell in love, the impact of her husband's diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer's, his decision to end his life through assisted suicide, and what comes after. It's not something I would normally pick up, but I chanced upon an excerpt and was captivated by the author's spare, piercingly direct storytelling. Bloom speaks to deep truths about love and death, and I highly recommend this memoir.