2019 has been a tremendous year for all genres of literature, and literary fiction is certainly no exception. While the distinction between literary fiction and general fiction can get a little dicey in certain circles, the definition of literary fiction that I’m using for this article has more to do with the quality of writing than anything else. So, without further ado, here are my favourite works of literary fiction of the year.
The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld
Naomi, the investigator with an uncanny ability for finding missing children from The Child Finder, made a promise that she would not take another case until she finds her younger sister who has been missing for years. But the search takes her to Portland, Oregon, where scores of homeless children wander the streets like ghosts. Though she doesn’t want to get involved, Naomi is unable to resist the pull of children in need. As danger creeps closer, Naomi is forced to consider the question: Can you still be lost even when you’ve been found?
Akin by Emma Donoghue
In her first contemporary novel since Room, bestselling author Emma Donoghue returns with her next masterpiece, a brilliant tale of love, loss and family. A retired New York professor’s life is thrown into chaos when he takes his great-nephew to the French Riviera, in hopes of uncovering his own mother’s wartime secrets. Written with all the tenderness and psychological intensity that made Room a huge bestseller, Akin is a funny, heart-wrenching tale of an old man and a boy who unpick their painful story and start to write a new one together.
Five Wives by Joan Thomas
In 1956, a small group of evangelical Christian missionaries and their families journeyed to the rainforest in Ecuador intending to convert the Waorani, a people who had never had contact with the outside world. The plan was known as Operation Auca. After spending days dropping gifts from an aircraft, the five men in the party rashly entered the “intangible zone.” They were all killed, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves. Five Wives is the fictionalized account of the real-life women who were left behind, and their struggles – with grief, with doubt, and with each other – as they continued to pursue their evangelical mission in the face of the explosion of fame that followed their husbands’ deaths.
Worry by Jessica Westhead
Ruth is the fiercely protective mother of almost-four-year-old Fern. Together they visit a remote family cottage belonging to Stef, the woman who has been Ruth’s best friend—and Ruth’s husband’s best friend—for years. Stef is everything Ruth is not—confident, loud, carefree—and someone Ruth cannot seem to escape. While Fern runs wild with Stef’s older twins and dockside drinks flow freely among the adults, they’re joined by Stef’s neighbour Marvin, a man whose frantic pursuit of fun is only matched by his side comments about his absent wife. As day moves into night and darkness settles over the woods, the edges between these friends and a stranger sharpen until a lingering suspicion becomes an undeniable threat.
Crow Winter by Karen McBride
Since coming home to Spirit Bear Point First Nation, Hazel Ellis has been dreaming of an old crow. He tells her he’s here to help her, save her. From what, exactly? Sure, her dad’s been dead for almost two years and she hasn’t quite reconciled that grief, but is that worth the time of an Algonquin demigod? Soon Hazel learns that there’s more at play than just her own sadness and doubt. The quarry that’s been lying unsullied for over a century on her father’s property is stirring the old magic that crosses the boundaries between this world and the next. With the aid of Nanabush, Hazel must unravel a web of deceit that, if left untouched, could destroy her family and her home on both sides of the Medicine Wheel.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, siblings Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being held in the Old Bailey. The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore. But things might not be as clear-cut as they seem… A brilliant, searing depiction of race, class, and oppression that penetrates the skin and sears the soul, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade.
Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis
Immigrant City is the first short story collection from award-winning author David Bezmozgis in over a decade. In the title story, a father and his young daughter stumble into a bizarre version of his immigrant childhood. A mysterious tech conference brings a writer to Montreal, where he discovers new designs on the past in “How It Used to Be.” A grandfather’s Yiddish letters expose a love affair and a wartime secret in “Little Rooster.” In “Childhood,” Mark’s concern about his son’s phobias evokes a shameful incident from his own adolescence. In these deeply felt, slyly humorous stories, Bezmozgis pleads no special causes but presents immigrant characters with all their contradictions and complexities, their earnest and divided hearts.
There you have it, folks. These are my top picks for literary fiction (so far!) in 2019. What books would you add to the list? Let us know on Twitter @SavvyReader or in the comments below!
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