James Boice, The Good and the Ghastly
You & Me by Padgett Powell
Here is a short novel that makes your lips contort and quiver as you read it because you’re on the subway and it’s crowded and you don’t want to just giggle and snicker and laugh out loud like a crazy person. But with your lips contorting and quivering like this, you look like you will cry. The person beside you asks if you’re okay, if what you’re reading is sad. You start to answer no, but then you think about it and you find yourself saying, “Yeah, actually. Kinda.” Also, it has lots of good one-liners to put on T-shirts or to quote at random, without context, to confound your enemies. For example: “Be neat, be brave, be Buster-Brown bustamente.” It is a novel that could only exist as a novel.
Dead Stars by Bruce Wagner
Uncle Bruce! For over 20 years, Uncle Bruce has been writing sprawling, hilarious, tragic, dark-dark-dark novels about desperate people in Hollywood. Dead Stars is his biggest (650 pages), his baddest (a character rhapsodizes for 10 pages about tween star crotch shots), but also his most tender. Uncle Bruce wrote it upon release from the hospital for addiction to opiates and narcotics. Dead Stars is like having your eyeballs up against one of those giant flashing LCD screens in Times Square while gorging on Olive Garden and Red Bull, masturbating to TMZ.com (a recommended experience).
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
The best Iraq War novel there probably ever will be doesn’t even take place in Iraq but at a Dallas Cowboys game. It’s about a company of young Marines who are flown home from the war for a few days to be trotted out and marched around before a national audience as props in Beyonce’s halftime performance to make everyone feel good about themselves. It’s hilarious and effortlessly captures not only what it must be like to come back from Over There but also pretty much everything grotesque about America in the 21st century. It was nominated for the National Book Award and should have won.