Intensity Only: RC's Fiction Faves 2023
This book asks, "what if crimes were absolved in blood for sport?" Adjei-Brenyah's answer is brilliantly concocted, delivering a complex future of violence, abolition, and humanity. This story plants seeds of our society's darkest sides in the grounds of hell, urging them to grow into blood-soaked blooms of a carceral-capitalist state nightmare. With expansive yet concise world-building and plot-driving perspective shifts, Chain Gang All Stars is one of the most striking, novel, and immersive stories of the year.
The phrase "hysterical rapture" is used toward the end of this book, and it aptly describes my experience of reading it -- strange, endearing, and thought-provoking; it will entertain. These verbose characters are unsettling in the best way. Intrigue, lying, and sex create complex relationships and a more intricate understanding of trauma, suicide, and love.
Zhang's intricate writing makes the flavorless world of an apocalyptic catastrophe somehow tantalizing and seductive, mouthwatering in detail, and dark with its very real potential. Amidst a climate-changed future of earth-choking fog, we follow the protagonist, a burned pleasure-seeking chef, as she cooks for the rich atop the world's last unsoiled peak. Offering a varied and delighting exploration into the meaning of apex, we watch the pendulum swing between autonomous indulgence, desperate survival, selfish exploitation, the absolution of sin, and the "connoisseurship of loss."
Mona Awad weaves this darkly magnetic modern fairy tale, propelling skincare influencing into cult status. Into the depths of envy and desire, where the boundaries between mother and daughter, whiteness and brightness, kill and kiss become murky. Past and present bleed into a sinfully delectable nightmare of beauty, obsession, grief. Strange and beautiful, you won't be able to look away until the final page.
In Jewish teaching, there is the concept that we have been present through our collective history -- as in 'we' were there, not 'they' were there. James McBride lets readers see so vividly that it feels like we are alive within the pages. Deeply moving and impeccably written, McBride continues his tenure as one of the great American writers of our time. A splendid mural of the varied American experience bringing intersecting, diverse narratives together in this powerful story of struggle, loss, hope, and love.
In this absurd and psychoactive murder mystery, the queer dilemma of "I love her/I want to be her" is examined and torn apart. Streaked with devilish paranoia and 2000s pop culture, Henkel brings study abroad Berlin alive with elaborate prose. A raucous tornado of obsession, coolness, and grief that's as delicious as the first bite of a midnight doner kebap from start to finish.
This book is one of the year's most anticipated reads -- for good reason. Deftly interweaving the past and present, Makkai will keep you on the edge of your seat and questioning everything. It gives us relevant social commentary on the complexity of memory, relational allegiance, power, and reckoning — all set in a prep school, with true crime-inspired drama. If you like this read, you'll love The Comfort of Monsters and Notes on an Execution.
This book is intense, brutal, and unputdownable. An incredible intertwining of multiple perspectives, this book shifts like sand underfoot. Among the complex relationships that transgress class, gender, and power, India shines as a major character. As the first new book I read in 2023, all others read this year had big shoes to fill.
Writing of America’s blood-soaked land embodied, Ward brings us a striking, mellifluously imagined story of antebellum slavery and its depths. Annis, the young, enslaved narrator, opens portals between her matrilineal past, uncertain future, and the unseen spiritual dimensions of her harrowing present. Seamlessly weaving magical realism and the scars of exploitation held within warmth of transcendent love, Ward affirms her place as one of our most brilliant, beloved contemporary writers.