It’s far too early to have read the major book releases of 2016 — or even the likely contenders published in the first quarter of 2016 — but at this point it’s fair to say that among all of the forthcoming novels and works of nonfiction that we’re aware of, a selection of standouts has emerged. And while 2016 contains fewer famous authors than last year — there is no Toni Morrison, Elena Ferrante, Harper Lee, or (if you want) Jonathan Franzen — there are still plenty of household names. On May 10, for example, we’ll see the publication of Don DeLillo’s Zero K, Louise Erdrich’s LaRose, Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time, and Nobel winner Herta Müller’s The Fox Was Ever the Hunter. And that’s just to mention a select few.
The Past, Tessa Hadley (January 5, Harper)
It sounds absurd, but this family drama set in a country house may be the one that pushes Hadley beyond the threshold of writer’s writer — she’s been roundly praised by everyone from Zadie Smith to Hilary Mantel — and into ubiquity on American bookshelves.
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt (January 5, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Dueling timelines thread this ghost-story novel about two orphans who are paid a visit by their strange aunt, who subsequently takes them on a strange journey. Its hallucinatory quality has already earned it widespread acclaim from some of the sharpest literary minds in America.
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (January 12, Lee Boudreaux Books)
Add this debut to the short list of novels that take place in a single day, only this time the story concerns the World Trade Organization protests that raged in Seattle in 1999. If you’re looking for a novel that moves with heat this winter, look no further.
Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War, Ian Buruma (January 19, Penguin Press)
Celebrated writer Ian Buruma mines the letters of his grandparents to tell a love story that endures through two World Wars in Europe.
The Portable Veblen, Elizabeth McKenzie (January 19, Penguin Press)
An energetic novel set in Palo Alto, a family drama in the Freudian sense, a story of neurotic engagement and marriage — but one that deals with the big themes of life young and old.
On the Edge, Rafael Chirbes, trans. Margaret Jull Costa (January 25, New Directions)
The year’s best early discovery. Chirbes trumps Houellebecq with this novel of monologues, of welter and ruin in a fallen Europe.
Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Diane Williams (January 26, McSweeney’s)
Perhaps the finest collection of 40 stories since Donald Barthelme, Williams lights this one up with tremendous humor and wit. Everything here is chasing after vapor and vanity, and everything is fine, fine, fine, fine, fine.
The Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee (February 2, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
This impossibly deep and lyrical novel set in 19th-century Paris tells the story of soprano Lilliet Berne — and her betrayal. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more complete reading experience this year.
Black Deutschland: A Novel, Darryl Pinckney (February 2, FSG)
The personal, political, and historical merge for Jed, a black, gay man who finds himself in Berlin during in the age of AIDS. Fans of Pinckney’s sharply observant nonfiction will be thrilled; new fans are certain to follow.
The Lost Time Accidents, John Wray (February 9, FSG)
This big, multi-genre epic from the author of Lowboy and Canaan’s Tongue considers the damage wrought by the 20th century alongside questions about the nature of time. At more than 500 pages, it’s a gamble, but one thats sounds like it could conjure the ghost of Alain Resnais’ Je t’aime je t’aime.
Square Wave, Mark de Silva (February 9, Two Dollar Radio)
A novel that looks our technocratic, militarized present in the face, Square Wave tells the story of a night watchman who discovers weaponized weather modification technologies. It sounds crazy, but in de Silva’s hands it all makes perfect (and terrifying) sense.
Sudden Death, Álvaro Enrigue, trans. Natasha Wimmer (February 9, Riverhead)
If Hegel got drunk and wrote a novel, it might read like Enrigue’s Sudden Death, which imagines a 16th-century world wherein time itself has gone topsy-turvy. It begins with a tennis match between Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo.
Private Citizens: A Novel, Tony Tulathimutte (February 9, William Morrow)
Set in San Francisco in the 2000s, Tulathimutte’s accomplished, witty, often hilarious debut transforms the Bay Area into a Balzacian microcosm that seems to contain every germ of contemporary American life and youth.
Tender, Belinda McKeon (February 16, Lee Boudreaux Books)
An invigorating and lifelike novel that earns its title, Tender tells the story of Catherine and James, two friends who meet in Dublin at the close of the 1990s.
The Fugitives, Christopher Sorrentino (February 16, Simon & Schuster)
National Book Award finalist Sorrentino returns with his first novel since the amazing Trance (2005). The Fugitives — which promises more of the same absorbing, mystifyingly good prose — tells the story of one Sandy Mulligan, who absconds from Brooklyn to Michigan only to find himself caught up with a native Ojibway storyteller and an ambitious journalist.
And After Many Days: A Novel, Jowhor Ile (February 16, Tim Duggan Books)
Set in Port Harcourt, Nigeria in the mid-1990s, Ile’s story of a family and community dealing with the loss of a missing teenager could become the surprise debut of the year.
Blackass, A. Igoni Barrett (March 1, Graywolf)
Barrett’s novel about a young Nigerian who wakes up to find that he’s become a white guy has a hilarious and Kafkaesque conceit, so it’s a fortuitous sign that it has already earned Kafka-level praise from Teju Cole, Jess Row, and Marlon James.
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others, Sarah Bakewell (March 1, Other Press)
If the title of this book doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, I’ll just remind you that Bakewell wrote the shockingly good How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, which is (by far) one of the best recent books on its subject. It’s hard to imagine a writer who is more capable of tethering her literary subjects to the concerns of everyday life.
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, Rebecca Traister (March 1, Simon & Schuster)
A much-needed history of the great collective gains made by unmarried women in America, Traister’s book is destined to ruffle the right feathers.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi (March 8, Riverhead)
Keys open doors: this thematic links the stories in Oyeyemi’s already celebrated new collection, which spans periods and environments.
Innocents and Others: A Novel, Dana Spiotta (March 8, Scribner)
It’s been a while — far too long, actually — since we had a smart, accomplished novel about filmmakers. Spiotta could not be a smarter or more accomplished writer, so it only makes sense that her new novel — which is set in 1980s LA — has been compared to the early work of Jean-Luc Godard by Rachel Kushner.
High Dive, Jonathan Lee (March 8, Knopf)
Lee’s much-anticipated new novel tells of an assassination attempt in 1980s Brighton. And the target of the assassination happens to be Margaret Thatcher.
How Will Capitalism End?, Wolfgang Streeck (March 15, Verso)
Streeck has quickly become one of the foremost critics of capitalism and its incompatibility with democracy. Few in the Western world are better positioned to respond to the book’s title question, which is more often raised than answered.
Margaret the First, Danielle Dutton (March 15, Catapult)
Dutton’s anti-historical historical novel about Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, writer of poetry and philosophy and science fiction, has one of the most enticing conceits of any book in 2016. And on the basis of her excellent S P R A W L, I have no doubt she can pull it off.
The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream, Chris Lehmann (March 15, Melville House)
It’s hard to believe that this is Lehmann’s first book, given that he is among the best and most consistent political essayists in America. Here he aims to show that America’s capitalistic blindness is inextricable from its Christian mania. It’s only fitting that The Money Cult should land in the middle of the presidential primary season.
The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (March 22, Ecco)
One of a few 2016 debut novels to win seven-figure bidding wars, Sweeney’s is likely the one to win (at least some of) her publisher’s money back, especially since The Nest has already been praised by Elizabeth Gilbert and Amy Poehler. It tells the story of the “spectacularly dysfunctional” Plumb family.
The Association of Small Bombs, Karan Mahajan (March 22, Viking)
Mahajan’s ingenious first novel, Family Planning, announced an author with a surprisingly ready style. With The Association of Small Bombs — a story about bombs, their victims, and their makers — he may well have moved into the upper reaches of contemporary fiction.
The Year of the Runaways, Sunjeev Sahota (March 29, Knopf)
Sahota’s second novel, about 13 young immigrants who live in a single house in Sheffield, nearly won him a Man Booker Prize. A worthy novel published at the “right” moment, American audiences ignore it at their own expense.
The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, Seymour M. Hersh (April 12, Verso)
“I don’t care,” Hersh recently told a journalist who pestered him about his momentous coverage of American imperial misrule. Forget the noise and the chatter: there is no more important work of nonfiction slated this year than Hersh’s investigation of the White House’s stealthy blunders in Syria and Pakistan.
My Struggle: Book Five, Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. Don Bartlett (April 19, Archipelago)
April is now Knausgaard Month in America. This year we’re treated to Book Five of the Struggle: his father dies, he loses love, and he writes his first novel.
Hystopia: A Novel, David Means (April 19, FSG)
Imagine that Kennedy survived the attempt(s) on his life only to inaugurate the Psych Corps, a dragnet that spreads over America’s “mental hygiene.” This is the originary conceit of Means’ Hystopia, which has the distinction of being a paranoiac novel by a writer whose prose has been praised by James Wood — the archpriest of anti-hysteria.
Ladivine: A Novel, Marie NDiaye, trans. Jordan Stump (April 26, Knopf)
NDiaye is one of the very best writers in France, and even though her work has been well reviewed in the US, this generational story of shame and murder will likely be her breakout novel. If any contemporary European writer is on the verge of Ferrante-like recognition, it’s NDiaye, and deservedly so.
Eleven Hours, Pamela Erens (May 2, Tin House)
The Virgins, Erens’ second novel, was widely chosen as one of the best books of 2013. Eleven Hours promises more searing psychological probity, only this time she tells the story of two mothers — one a patient, the other a nurse — and an act of childbirth undertaken without the guide of modern technology.
Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi, trans. Robert Chandler, Rose France, Anne Marie Jackson (May 3, NYRB Classics)
Teffi was a genius Russian humorist who was praised by both Czar Nicholas and Vladimir Lenin. Hopefully this best of becomes her American coming-out party.
Zero K, Don DeLillo (May 10, Scribner)
There is little doubt that DeLillo’s Zero K, apparently about a billionaire’s attempt to thwart death, is the most anticipated literary novel of the year. And judging from early reads it’s among his best.
LaRose, Louise Erdrich (May 10, Harper)
Set in North Dakota in the late 1990s, Erdrich’s new novel begins with the accidental shooting of a child and follows the emotional and psychological repercussions on friends and family.
The Fox Was Ever the Hunter, Herta Müller, trans. Philip Boehm (May 10, Metropolitan Books)
A reintroduction (of sorts) to Nobel winner Herta Müller, this early novel is set in Romania during the late years of the Ceausescu regime.
The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes (May 10, Knopf)
Barnes’ first novel since The Sense of an Ending, which won the Man Booker Prize, The Noise of Time traces the life and career of composer Dmitri Shostakovich as it broils under the pressure of Stalin’s gaze.
Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter ed. Christina Heatherton and Jordan T. Camp (May 10, Verso)
This broad collection of sharp commentary from activists, academics, and artists situates recent struggles right where they belong — in opposition to an increasingly global regime of police abuse.
Little Labors, Rivka Galchen (May 16, New Directions)
Galchen’s book about “babies and literature” is modeled on Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. It is then an appropriately strange and beguiling list of crazy “literary miscellany.”
Girls on Fire: A Novel, Robin Wasserman (May 17, Harper)
Of the many, many books on this list set in the 1990s, no one does better than Wasserman’s Girls on Fire to inhabit the decade, with its Cobain occultism and fears of Satanism. It’s also a murder story and a morality tale about female friendship.
Modern Lovers, Emma Straub (May 31, Riverhead)
What happens when, many years after being in a college band, you grow up and have kids who have sex with each other? This and many other questions may or may not be answered in Emma Straub’s beach-ready Modern Lovers.
The Girls, Emma Cline (June 14, Random House)
Another of the year’s seven-figure darlings, sure, but Cline’s is the most likely to deliver the literary goods. Amid the Manson-like story of 1960s murderous-cult entanglement is apparently a tender tale of female friendship, at least according to one editor who dropped out of the bidding war.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay (June 14, HarperCollins)
Gay recently announced this follow-up to her stratospherically praised Bad Feminist. It’s nearly a given that it will move fluidly from the personal to the political with the unsparing frankness and naturalness that is her trademark.
So Much for That Winter, Dorthe Nors, trans. Misha Hokestra (June 21, Graywolf)
If I still had copies of Karate Chop, Nors’ masterful and weird 2014 story collection, I’d hand them out like drugs. The same will presumably go for this collection of two novellas — both on modern romance — that reportedly double as literary listicles.
Fall Books, Confirmed or Rumored!
Here I Am: A Novel, Jonathan Safran Foer (September 6, FSG)
Supposedly, a grittier JSF has availed himself for the sake of his new novel, the title of which makes it sound like the most transparent act of autofiction since My Struggle. Only, instead, it’s apparently about “an American Jewish family, set against a background of traumatic events in the Middle East.”
Intimations: Stories, Alexandra Kleeman (September 13, HarperCollins)
Kleeman’s excellent debut, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, cleverly abstracted our consumerist mania, whether it relates to food or TV commercials or friendship. This collection of stories, reportedly out in September, promises more of the same from one of our most promising young writers.
The Underground Railroad: A Novel, Colson Whitehead (September 13, Doubleday)
Not much has been shared about this forthcoming novel from Colson Whitehead, but the title and the author alone rank this alongside DeLillo’s Zero K as one of the most anticipated novels of the year.
Nicotine, Nell Zink (Ecco)
Allegedly written in under a month, Zink’s forthcoming Nicotine will reportedly see release in 2015. Or, at least, she said as much in an interview or two.
The Lesser Bohemians: A Novel, Eimear McBride (?)
I’ve seen conflicting statements and heard different rumors, but Eimear McBride will or may publish this well-titled follow-up to A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing — one of our favorite novels of 2014 — at some point this year.