It may be hard to believe, but we’ve already made it halfway through 2013. And what a year for fiction it’s been! The first half of this year has been full of wonderfully strange short fiction, big important novels, and everything in between — and it’s only getting better (Donna Tartt! Margaret Atwood!) from here. After the jump, Flavorwire’s favorite fiction from the first half of 2013. Check them out, and be sure to weigh in on your own favorite reads this year in the comments.
Tenth of December, George Saunders
George Saunders is a perennial Flavorwire favorite — and he’s also a favorite of pretty much anyone who’s serious about contemporary fiction. This collection, his first since 2006, would make this list for its second story alone, gorgeous, devastating, and short enough to read aloud at dinner parties without invoking everyone’s ire. The other stories? Yeah, they’re pretty good, too.
Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
Cats have nine lives, but Ursula Todd has somewhat more than that, in this darkly comic, wonderfully postmodern novel. She dies over and over again in her palimpsest-like world, but lives over and over again, too, trying to get it all right. Suspenseful and compelling, Atkinson has done it again.
The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
This book, at least as far as critics are concerned, is becoming sort of a love-it-or-hate-it phenomenon. Well, consider Flavorwire squarely in the love-it camp — the novel is a gorgeous ode to art, language, and misadventure, occupied by artists, revolutionaries, and those who talk to make their worlds real (not a mutually exclusive list, of course). This book is striking, captivating, and let’s just say it: cool as hell.
A Guide to Being Born, Ramona Ausubel
Not only is Ramona Ausubel’s first collection of stories one of the best of the year so far, but its cover is standing nearly unrivaled as one of the most weirdly beautiful and alluring ever. The stories here are both surreal and unnervingly close to home — like “Atria,” wherein a pregnant teenager is sure she’s growing a magical beast in her womb, and “Tributaries,” where people grow extra arms every time they fall in love, and are forced to deal with the physical manifestation of their interior thoughts.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Karen Russell
Here’s another Flavorwire favorite with a new book of stories, this one markedly more mature than her first collection, and maybe even Swamplandia! “Reeling for the Empire” is an incredible, multicolored nightmare that will never, ever leave you, and “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” is also quite haunting. That Karen Russell. She wants to stay with us forever.
In his debut novel, Matt Bell is playing with language, theme, and form in a way no one else is really attempting right now — or at least not attempting quite so well — which itself renders the book of interest. But then there’s the story itself, a wonder. This dream-fable of a book will alarm and soothe, and cuddle up next to you for months of uneven dreams.
The Dinner, Herman Koch
This dark, delicious novel, which unfolds sneakily over a single meal, turns from a sugary satire to a psychological thriller as the courses come out. Also featuring one of the best unreliable narrators in recent memory.
The Fun Parts, Sam Lipsyte
The darkest of Lipsyte’s works, and perhaps the best. The beloved author’s newest collection includes a host of brutal stunners that unpack all the grimy weirdness of the world we know, and imagine the banal eccentricities of worlds we might not. Held within is also Lipsyte’s famous Dungeons and Dragons story, which this writer has used to cajole more than one short story skeptic into a true believer.
The Son, Philipp Meyer
A searing multi-generational epic of survival in the American West, written by one of literature’s skyrocketing contemporary stars — named in The New Yorker‘s “20 Under 40″ issue back in 2010. Bloody battles in mid-19th-century Texas, Comanche raids, dragging oneself up by the bootstraps in the cattle and oil industries, layer upon layer of history and myth. Truly stunning.
Bobcat, Rebecca Lee
Lee’s debut collection is both understated and constantly surprising, but the real triumph here is her cool, clear prose, augmented with just enough perfectly strange metaphor. In standout story “The Banks of the Vistula,” Lee writes, “In one of Stasselova’s lectures he had taken great pains to explain to us that language did not describe events, it handled them, as a hand handles an object, and that in this way language made the world happen under its supervision.” This is just how the book feels, whether navigating dinner parties, campus rivalries, internal tragedies, or a bobcat gnawing on an arm.