Best Fiction of 2015

  1. Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
    A beautiful, stirring, and powerful epic of Indonesian politics and family, Eka Kurniawan's Beauty Is a Wound is a vibrant tapestry of village life, colonial rule, political independence, and generational drama. Sweeping across decades, Kurniawan's violent, enchanted saga compels on account of its impressive breadth, storytelling verve, and traces of magical realism. - Jeremy G.
  2. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
    I was charmed by the Watson family, peopled by an unemployed librarian and a tarot-card-reading circus mermaid. Simon Watson has lost a lot in his young life — his parents, his job, and soon his house will fall over the cliff it is perched atop and land in the sound below. Even with all that, what Simon is racing against is losing his sister, Enola. - April C.
  3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
    The story entails the journeys of an aging couple, two warriors, and Sir Gawain, the chivalrous knight from Arthurian legends. Their fates all meet as they make their way across Britain, at a time when ogres and other mythical creatures were said to still walk among us. We come to learn that what they think they are seeking is not quite what is drawing them, as in most lore, and that memories are really just our own personal mythologies. - Aubrey W.
  4. The Cartel by Don Winslow
    The Cartel isn't just the best book that I read in 2015... it's also one of the best books I've encountered in the whole of my reading lifetime. This is an epic tragedy, really, spanning decades (set in motion in Winslow's previous book, The Power of the Dog), that shines a light into every kind of human darkness. What's more, The Cartel has at its heart a profound, shattering message which lays bare one of the defining issues of our times. - Gin E.
  5. Cult of Loretta by Kevin Maloney
    This is one funny — and sometimes disturbing — short novel. Cult of Loretta combines a likable sad-sack narrative with early '90s Portland grunge-drug culture and the pain of romantic hearts that can't be tamed or understood. I loved all the Portland references throughout, which made it feel like a strangely historical read. If I were to ever make a list of best books set in Portland (especially books that truly capture the oddness of our city), this would be near the top. – Kevin S.
  6. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
    The story of a community's tragedy on what was supposed to be a happy occasion — a wedding — is recounted through the voices of multiple characters. As readers piece together the details of what happened, we also witness their intricate web of connections. Did You Ever Have a Family demonstrates how a tragedy can ripple through many lives in unexpected ways, and how healing and redemption can be found within those connections. – Jen C.
  7. The Fall of Princes by Robert Goolrick
    Goolrick's story is a fall from grace told with clear-eyed, gut-wrenching honesty — no pity, no remorse, but sometimes aching with sorrow and self-inflicted rage. This is the story of hard-edged men in '80s suits with their equally buffed and cut arm-candy women dressed in nearly nothing, all playing hard with the kind of ready cash few of us experience. The excesses of The Fall of Princes make for a brutally fascinating and compelling read. – Tracey T.
  8. Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link
    Kelly Link is the best short story writer ever. There, I said it. With a jab of surreal, a dash of magic, and so much emotional pull, Get in Trouble is a book I'd recommend to most anyone. – Rachel G.
  9. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
    Anyone who has read Gone Girl, Dark Places, or Sharp Objects knows that Gillian Flynn has a tendency to play cat-and-mouse with her readers. The Grownup, which originally appeared as "What Do You Do?" in George R. R. Martin's Rogues anthology, is a must-read for any Flynn fan. This 62-page story really embodies Flynn's unmistakable dark and quirky humor. It's a quick mystery that will hold you until the end. – Tiffany R.
  10. In the Country by Mia Alvar
    What's it like to be a stranger? This idea is explored in Alvar's excellent debut collection of stories. The characters move to, travel to, and work in Bahrain, the Philippines, New York City, and Boston; sometimes they return home only to find it no less alien. Their isolation and subsequent self-examination is inspected in beautiful and sometimes funny prose; their attempts to build community and make connections told of with sympathy and grace. - Eva F.
  11. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
    While A Little Life is perhaps the saddest book I've ever read, I was buoyed by the portrayal of the emotional lives of the four main characters. Rarely has friendship between men been more closely examined than the relationships between Willem, Jude, JB, and Malcolm. Yanagihara shows an alternate way of forming family — not through blood or marriage, but through lifelong friendship. - Adam P.
  12. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
    Lucia Berlin is the greatest short story writer you've never read. Her writing style is conversational and real, yet poetic at the same time. Her protagonists are mostly working-class women who are unlucky in life, and Berlin writes about them with great insight, compassion, and, occasionally, humor. What left me totally gobsmacked, though, was Ms. Berlin's way with language. - Sandy M.
  13. The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
    This thoroughly mesmerizing read is a retelling/reimagining of Camus' The Stranger, where Mersault, Camus' anti-hero, murders an unnamed Arab merely because the sun gets in his eye. Daoud's debut novel is narrated by the nameless Arab's younger brother. The winner of the Goncourt first novel prize, The Meursault Investigation is a thorough indictment of colonialism as well as post-colonialism. – Sheila N.
  14. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
    If you love beautifully spare writing, messy memorable characters, and flawlessly described settings, try this story of loneliness and connection, love and heartbreak. Souls inspired me to make some dramatic changes in my own life and motivated me to read Haruf's five other exquisite novels. – Peter N.
  15. People Like You by Margaret Malone
    The stories in Malone's People Like You are so good — they're only-book-on-a-desert-island good. They are exactly why I read, with their sumptuous minimalism, their gorgeous, particular detail, their delicious deadpan humor, their off-kilter characters. - Gigi L.
  16. Purity by Jonathan Franzen
    Purity stands even taller than The Corrections, Freedom, and the underrated Strong Motion. His newest novel gives the reader characters to laugh with and at while also creating excellent and academic conversations about today's society. Purity is a thick, engrossing, and twisting novel peppered with chilling macabre scenes that ends perfectly. Its beauty and reflection on humanity helped me appreciate living in the United States in 2015. – Jeff J.
  17. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
    Reading Ferrante (The Story of the Lost Child is the fourth and final in the Neapolitan series, and, yes, they must be read in order) was like reaching into the coffer of everything I have ever wanted from a writer and finding every piece there. Her novels are not, as some mistakenly think, "books for women" — they are masterpieces for the ages. Like a surgeon, she has dissected humanity and written us down. – D. Lozano
  18. The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein
    This wonderful, quirky novel explores love and loneliness against the backdrop of the Norwegian Sea, 95 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The constant sunlight creates an enchanting environment for the characters to find themselves and form connections with others whose circumstances have brought them to the top of the world. – Jen H.
  19. The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra
    It's not the first time I've selected a book by Anthony Marra as my top pick of the year. His work always catches my attention and stands apart as some of the most beautiful, intricate, absorbing writing I've experienced. The Tsar of Love and Techno is no exception. The stories in the book are woven together in a way that reads more like a novel than a short story collection, and there are many surprising connections revealed as you move through the book. – Kim S.
  20. The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams
    This definitive collection, containing stories from three decades of Williams's writing plus 13 new pieces, marvelously showcases her wit, her awe-inspiring prose, and her talent for demonstrating cause and effect in the subtlest of ways. – Renee P.