If 2014 was a year of solid works by major writers, like Marilynn Robinson’s Lila, and groundbreaking debuts, like Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper, 2015 looks to be, well, the same. Although it’s difficult to know what great novels may come out of independent presses, we already have a strong slate of promising works by relative unknowns, like Mary Costello, and relative well-knowns, like Toni Morrison and Jonathan Franzen, from the bigger houses. There are so many potentially noteworthy books that I was forced to excise Nobel winner Patrick Modiano’s collection of novellas and Milan Kundera’s new short novel, The Festival of Insignificance, due in June. In any case, here are the novels sure to drive the literary conversation in 2015.
The First Bad Man, Miranda July (January)
After wild success with short fiction, films, performance art, etc., etc., one of the only remaining boxes for Miranda July to check off is the novel. We’ll find out whether she nails it in about a week.
After Birth, Elisa Albert (February)
This novel about friendship and life after pregnancy (and more) has been praised to the skies by writers like Emily Gould and Jenny Offill. And Lydia Davis called it “fast-talking, opinionated, moody, funny, and slightly desperate.” It promises to be one of the best and funniest books of early 2015.
The Sellout, Paul Beatty (March)
This novel about “a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court” may end up being the smartest, funniest, and most important novel of 2015. From what I’m hearing, it’s clearly a contender for a novel of the year.
God Help the Child, Toni Morrison (April)
This novel from American master Toni Morrison may be the most anticipated of 2015. From every indication, the novel concerns the vicissitudes of childhood and parenting, two themes that promise to be huge this year.
My Struggle: Book Four, Karl Ove Knausgaard (April)
Can Knausgaard maintain the quality of this Leviathan of Memoir Novels? Americans may begin to show fatigue for the project in 2015, but diehards will continue to promote it, and for good reason. It is one of the most important artistic projects of our time.
Academy Street, Mary Costello (April)
Americans may not know of Mary Costello now, but they will soon. Her debut novel Academy Street cleaned house in Ireland and the UK, winning several awards and receiving blurbs from illustrious writers like Ron Rash and J.M. Coetzee. The book follows the relocation of a single mother from Ireland to America. Prepare for a rare combination of deep literary accolades and crossover appeal.
Mislaid, Nell Zink (May)
Zink’s The Wallcreeper was the best debut novel of 2014, and, more importantly, one of the best American novels to surface in a while. But it felt rushed, almost hurried, mostly in a blissful, exhilarating way, but also in the manner of a first novel. As if by magic, her follow-up is already here, and it suggests a writer who has long been at work on her fiction. The novel sounds epic, and it promises to lay bare “all of our assumptions about race and racism, sexuality and desire.” After reading The Wallcreeper, I believe it.
The Making of Zombie Wars, Aleksandr Hemon (May)
Frankly this novel about an amateur screenwriter sounds weird and perhaps not at all good, but in the hands of Hemon, one of our best writers, it could be excellent. And it’s Hemon’s first novel in seven years. His last, the excellent The Lazarus Project, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Purity, Jonathan Franzen (September)
First Freedom, now Purity: Franzen seems to have taken kindly to the one-word-concept-title. This one sounds especially Dickensian, with its orphan protagonist, a woman named Purity or “Pip.” Given that it’s a multigenerational epic — and that it’s a novel by Jonathan Franzen — it’s sure to be one of the most discussed books of 2015.
City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg (September)
This debut novel by Hallberg, a relatively unknown entity (and writer for The Millions), sold for almost $2 million. What we know: it takes place in NYC during the 1970s. Hit or miss, it’ll be a huge conversation driver in late 2015. And, given that it comes out in September, it will have to reckon with Franzen.