The 15 Best Books of 2013

12/18/2013 4:00 AM |

– – – – 15 – – – –
Pain, Parties, Work
By Elizabeth Widmer

By focusing solely on the month that Sylvia Plath spent as a collegiate guest editor at Mademoiselle in the summer of 1953, Widmer manages to shed new light on her overly scrutinized subject. The tangibles of that long-ago June—silk stockings, black pumps, crab cakes—reveal Plath as a sensual aesthete, capable of joy and buoyancy in addition to her great suffering.

– – – – 14 – – – –
By Alissa Nutting

Pro-tip: when reading this on the subway, put it away a stop or two before your own so you can compose yourself, as this super-steamy, unabashedly explicit story of a female middle school teacher preying on her male students is bound to get you worked up in outrage, arousal, or both.

– – – – 13 – – – –
Elect H. Mouse State Judge
By Nelly Reifler

This slim, strange novel tells the story of young mice kidnapped by Mattel dolls, with private detectives Barbie and Ken on the case. If it sounds like dumb pop-culture subversion, it’s not; instead, it’s as though the experience of being kidnapped as a child is so surreal that this is the only way accurately to capture it in literature. It’s weirdly moving.

– – – – 12 – – – –
Slaughterhouse Poems
By Dave Newman

Memory is elliptical and unreliable; even memoirs written in prose have an element of the poetic. This affecting collection of poems brings that out to the forefront with an elegiac look at an adolescence filled with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

– – – – 11 – – – –
Vampires in the Lemon Grove
By Karen Russell

Russell’s humanity is so in the forefront of this collection that it’s a little shocking to reflect on how out-there the premises of her short stories really are. A veteran’s apparently alive tattoo begets a haunting examination of PTSD, while enslaved human-silkworm hybrids engender a powerful story of endurance and defiance. Russell’s writing is so powerful, so effortlessly good, that she makes it seem easy. It ain’t.

– – – – 10 – – – –
The Good Lord Bird
By Jim McBride

Returning to the milieu of American slavery, McBride this time gets it right, with a darkly comic story of an escaped slave who would like to be free, yes, but is content to let others do the hard work while he tries to pick up girls. John Brown stands at the center of this daring novel, by turns intimidating, pathetic, fearsome and hilarious. He’s one of the year’s most memorable literary creations, and McBride places him in a world that is no less
fully realized.

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