The 15 Best Fiction Books of 2015 So Far

Nothing is sacred in contemporary fiction! That’s the lesson taught by the best books (so far) of 2015. From high-comedic novels that challenge race, class, and gender lines to short stories that lunge at the borders of literary form, from re-imaginations of literary classics set among immigrant communities to reinventions of autobiography — in a few short months, the fiction of 2015 has thrived on iconoclasm. With this in mind, here are the best fiction books of 2015 so far; we’ll have to wait until autumn to see if Franzen and Company can keep up the pace…

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Book of Numbers, Joshua Cohen

“Proust did not give in to sleep,” Walter Benjamin wrote in “The Image of Proust,” the same essay where he declared, in the first paragraph, that “all great works of literature found a genre or dissolve one.” Well, of all the novels on this list, Cohen’s Book of Numbers is the only one that can lay claim to inventing a genre — one that now extends several decades into the past. We can call this genre “the Internet Novel,” if we like, or we can just acknowledge that this book, a Nile of language, was written by an author who did not give in to sleep. — Jonathon Sturgeon
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Mislaid, Nell Zink

In one short year, Nell Zink has become the most misunderstood US writer of the last ten. Still, you can enjoy Mislaid — it really is by some measure the funniest novel of the year — even if you don’t appreciate, like I do, Zink’s joshing of US journalists, which has already become a pastime for her. In either case, this iconoclasm on Zink’s part may well have formed against Mislaid’s primary comedic target: the American South’s mania for class, race, and gender lines. — Jonathon Sturgeon

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After Birth, Elisa Albert

A novel about unlearning the nonsense that comes along with motherhood and childbirth, Abert’s debut is also the story of a (for once) credible friendship. Written in perfectly clipped sentences, it’s a first-rate example of the novel-as-rant. Funny, mean, brusque, but always alive, After Birth evokes a radical past and points to a better future for American fiction. — Jonathon Sturgeon

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Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera

The first of Herrera’s novels to be translated into English, Signs Preceding the End of the World renders the Mexican-American border as both a fraught passage between nation states — as a dangerous boundary lined with death and memories of the dead — and a singularity between states of being, where one soul is translated into another. Short and filled with things never before seen in our own literature, Herrera’s novel also features one of the most affecting protagonists, a young woman named Makina, in all of recent fiction. — Jonathon Sturgeon

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My Documents, Alejandro Zambra

The culmination of Zambra’s work so far, My Documents is a highly inventive, affecting, often hilarious set of autobiographical fictions — or is it a novel, set in past and present Chile, composed of different files in a documents folder? — that epitomizes the expression “the oeuvre is the soul.” — Jonathon Sturgeon

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The Love Object, Edna O’Brien

With the publication of Ben Marcus’ New American Stories, this summer will offer plenty of new thinking about the short story form. But for now I’ll stick with O’Brien’s fire-warmed Chekhovian realist fictions (though they are slyly experimental), which run the gamut from stories of class and romance to cautionary tales of sex and madness. — Jonathon Sturgeon

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The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth

Fairy tales, whether or not we choose to acknowledge them, are hugely important to some of our most ingenious writers of contemporary fiction, including authors like Kelly Link and Robert Coover. Now we have several hundred more, some of which are featured in this collection, gathered and recorded by the Grimms’ favorite folklorist. Found in municipal archive in German, von Schönwerth’s tales include all the favorites: Mermen, turnip princesses, and more. — Jonathon Sturgeon

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Against the Country, Ben Metcalf

The first good novel of 2015 is one of its best. And it’s one of two sui generis novels on this list to take place in Virginia. (The other is Mislaid.) It is also one of two novels on this list to take the form of an extended rant. (The other is After Birth.) But I think you almost have to go back to Huysmans’ Against the Grain (also translated as Against Nature) — the title of which this book’s title recalls — to unearth a kindred spirit of similarly nasty eloquence. A novel as much about fathers as it is about provincial rage, Metcalf’s Against the Country is filled with lines that I have memorized, like this: “Fathers write, and sons read, and sons then write, and fathers then die before they can read what their sons have written against them.” — Jonathon Sturgeon

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The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Hailed as madcap, brilliant send-up (“Swiftian,” say the critics) of race and American history, Paul Beatty’s novel follows a young man suffering from loss and disillusionment whose attempt to save his town,  Dickens, results in some unorthodox challenges to American doctrine — attempting to reinstate slavery and re-segregate schools. — Sarah Seltzer

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Outline, Rachel Cusk

Over the course of ten seemingly one-sided conversations, a deeper current begins to take shape in Cusk’s quietly revolutionary novel. A woman’s life and traces of her history take shape in the background of others’ stories.  — Sarah Seltzer

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Ruby, Cynthia Bond

Oprah’s Book Club anointed this dark, magic-infused story of a woman who has fled her southern hometown, suffered again in the North, and returned at last, where the locals think she’s gone mad. Testifying to the brutality of racist and sexist violence as well as unusual sources of healing, Bond’s novel has been drawing comparisons to art as diverse as Toni Morrison and HBO’s True Detective. — Sarah Seltzer

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Ana of California, Andi Teran

Inspired by Anne of Green Gables, Tehran’s novel follows a teenage orphan on a last-ditch attempt to find a home on a farm, which isn’t exactly her natural habitat. As heartwarming as its inspiration, with a contemporary bite. — Sarah Seltzer

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RE Jane, Patricia Park

Another clever classic-lit update that touches on modern themes, this one a spin on Jane Eyre that follows a young half-Korean orphan as she moves from being ignored in Flushing, Queens to nannying in Park Slope to finding her roots in Seoul. Self-knowledge is more important than romance as the prize that lies at the end of this heroine’s journey.— Sarah Seltzer

The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen

Chronicling espionage and double-dealing in the postwar years, this highly praised debut novel traces both a fractured global politics as well as its narrator’s fractured identity. “His book fills a void in the literature, giving voice to the previously voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light,” says Philp Caputo in the New York Times. — Sarah Seltzer

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Counternarratives, John Keene

Richly conceived and brilliantly executed, the most original set of fictions to be released so far this year, John Keene’s Counternarratives does for American literature what Alexander Kluge’s fiction has done for German literature — it reopens its future by laying bare its ideological roots. The long narrative “An Outtake From the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,” which documents the lost story of a runaway slave — as if this story were cut from Bernard Bailyn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history — is a masterpiece of short fiction. — Jonathon Sturgeon