Must-Read Fiction for Spring 2014: Identity Theft, Dystopia, and Burlesque

Must-Read Fiction for Spring 2014: Identity Theft, Dystopia, and Burlesque

Don’t you love it when a bunch of your favorite authors have new books coming out all at once? This spring, we’re champing at the bit for new novels from Emma Donoghue ( Room), Michael Cunningham ( The Hours), Joshua Ferris ( Then We Came to the End), and Julia Glass ( Three Junes). There are also some thrilling voices we haven’t heard in a long time, as in Akhil Sharma’s autobiographical novel that was 10 years in the making, and new voices like Laline Paull’s, whose buzzed-about first novel is a dystopia set in a beehive. Read on for more highlights of spring’s up-and-coming must reads!

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    1. Boy, Snow, Bird

    Named to Granta’s list of Best Young British Novelists, Helen Oyeyemi will publish her fifth novel this spring, before she turns 30. Boy, Snow, Bird is a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale that, in some ways, is both more fantastic and more grounded in reality than the classic story. A girl named Boy escapes from an abusive father in New York in the 1950s and moves to Massachusetts, where she meets and marries a man named Arturo. Arturo’s daughter, Snow, is white, yet when the daughter he and Boy have together, Bird, comes out “colored,” Boy learns that Arturo’s family is African-American, passing as white. What follows is a timely story of race, belonging, and what we decide to see when we look in the mirror.

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    2. And the Dark Sacred Night

    Kit Noonan’s life is in turmoil: His once-solid job, family, and future prospects are all crumbling. At the urging of his wife, Kit decides to go to the root of the problem—figuring out who, exactly, his father was. The woman who holds the secret to Kit’s past is Lucinda Burns, whom fans of Julia Glass’ National Book Award-winning first novel, Three Junes, will recognize. There’s also the triumphant return of Three Junes’ hero, Fenno McLeod, now in his 60s. And the Dark Sacred Night will delight Glass fans and introduce newcomers to one of our greatest storytellers.

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    3. Frog Music

    Fans of Emma Donoghue’s previous book Room, narrated by a five-year-old boy held captive with his mother, will be shocked yet delighted by the change of pace in her new novel. Frog Music is based on the real-life, unsolved murder of a prostitute in 1870s San Francisco. When young Jenny Bonnet is killed, her friend, the burlesque dancer Blanche Beunon, is determined to bring her killer to justice. Donoghue brings us a riveting murder mystery set amongst the brothels, outlaws, and wildness of the West.

  4. 4. Family Life

    Mr. and Mrs. Mishra, who head the eponymous family in Akhil Sharma’s second novel, are charmingly dysfunctional. When the father dourly reflects to his wife, “No matter what we do, we will all die,” she replies sardonically, and without blinking an eye, “Yes, yes, beat drums. Tell the newspapers, too. Make sure everyone knows this thing you have discovered.” Her resilience will be tested after the Mishras move from Delhi to America to find a better future, only to be struck by a tragedy that leaves one of her sons brain-damaged. Ten years in the making and mapped to his own life, Sharma’s moving novel explores what it means to be devoted to your family, no matter what fate befalls you.

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    5. All the Light We Cannot See

    Memory Wall author Anthony Doerr’s new novel is a boy-meets-girl story written upon an epic, war-torn backdrop. Marie Laurie is a blind girl living in Paris, the daughter of the Master of the Locks at the Museum of Natural History. Her father builds her a model of the city that she studies with her hands in order to learn the streets. Werner is a German orphan who grows up with his sister Jutta, who follows a childhood passion to become a master radio technician. After Germany strafes Paris in World War II, Werner and Marie cross paths on the Brittany coast—two outcasts who find a way forward in each other.

  6. 6. American Innovations

    The stories in New Yorker “20 Under 40” writer Rivka Galchen’s first collection, American Innovations, are clever twists on the classics. Most notably, she retells James Thurber’s “ The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Aleph,” and Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose” from the perspective of female characters. Written with inventiveness and heart, Galchen’s stories plunge into the weirdness and wonder of being alive.

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    7. The Bees

    Laline Paull’s daring first novel, The Bees, blends the dystopian nurseries of The Handmaid’s Tale with the totalitarian vision of 1984. The heroine of the book, Flora 717, is born a slave to the sanitation class, but a physical “abnormality” enables her to be a nurse instead. Like the other bees, Flora intones the mantra of the hive—“Accept, obey, and serve”—yet the aberration in her nature that may truly get her into trouble in this rigidly policed hive is her curiosity. Buzzing with sensuous detail and shocking moments, Paull’s intimately-researched look at life in the hive is a surprising reflection of our own structures of power, obedience, and free will.

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    8. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

    Author Joshua Ferris confounds easy categorization. His first novel, Then We Came to the End, was an office comedy, brilliantly narrated in the first-person plural “we.” His second novel, The Unnamed, about a man compelled to walk against his will, was as serious and concentrated as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Now, in his third novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Ferris tackles identity theft: Paul O’Rourke is a curmudgeonly New York City dentist who grumbles about technology—and then discovers that someone has been impersonating him online. Horrified but fascinated, Paul begins to wonder if the online version of himself might be better than the real thing.

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    9. The Snow Queen

    Have you ever seen an angel? Skeptic Barrett Meeks, the hero of Michael Cunningham’s new novel, can’t say for certain what it is that he sees one day shining down on him while walking through Central Park. As Barrett takes an unexpected turn toward religion, his brother Tyler, living in Brooklyn and trying to compose a wedding song for his seriously ill fiancée, turns to drugs for inspiration. Written with the same simple beauty and care as his novels The Hours and A Home at the End of the World, Cunningham’s The Snow Queen explores how ordinary human beings struggle to reach transcendence.

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    10. Wonderland

    Seven years ago, before life got in the way of a skyrocketing music career, Anna Brundage was a rock star to be reckoned with: tall, redheaded, fierce, and mesmerizing onstage. Now 44, she wants to recapture the thrill and power of holding an audience rapt—but in the music world, seven years is a lifetime. What Anna hasn’t lost is her voice, and she’s determined to share it with all who’ll listen. Intimately observed, moving, and sexy at the same time, Stacy D’Erasmo’s Wonderland takes you thrillingly deep into the life of an artist.


  1. I really loved Boy, Snow, Bird. But overall Helen Oyeyemi is a great author. I went to book talk and both Helen Oyeyemi and Joshua Ferris were there. I never heard of Joshua Ferris before but he was very funny and I found his writing style interesting. I’ve seen The Bees before but still on the fence about reading it.

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