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FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2006

Fiction & Poetry

December 10, 2006

All Aunt Hagar's Children

Stories

Edward P. Jones

Amistad/HarperCollins

A National Book Award winner for his novel "The Known World," Jones continues his examination of race and identity in this short fiction collection, which takes place in Washington, D.C. Although the stories here address the sweep of African-American history -- evoking both the distant past and the uncomfortable present -- Jones never loses sight of his characters' humanity.

*

Averno

Poems

Louise Gluck

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

A linked series of aching, elegiac poems drawing on the Greek myth of Persephone for their lyric intensity. "For Gluck," our reviewer wrote, "this myth is a cautionary tale about human attachment, showing us that there is no safety anywhere."

*

Birds in Fall

Brad Kessler

Scribner

Kessler's novel begins with a plane crash in the North Atlantic, but it quickly becomes more than just a book about grief and loss. Rather, this is an examination of all sorts of migrations and a "luminous tribute to Kessler's abiding and respectful faith in the power of storytelling: There's bold engagement here with the most contemporary fears and the most eternal preoccupations (fate, loss, mourning, healing)."

*

Brookland

Emily Barton

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

In this deft and assured second novel, three sisters operate a family gin distillery in the 18th century in what is now the borough of Brooklyn. The key to the novel is its sense of detail, its unerring recognition of the culture and conditions of its time. "Make no mistake," our reviewer noted, "this is not a book about history but a novel set in the past. The distinction is critical to its success, which is considerable."

*

The Children's Hospital

Chris Adrian

McSweeney's

A contemporary flood of biblical proportions covers the earth in water seven miles deep, with a children's hospital as a latter-day ark. In this disquietingly allegorical novel, the flood becomes "a metaphor for an America weirdly isolated from the rest of humanity and too preoccupied with curing its various ailments to spare a glance at the rising tide."

*

The Echo Maker

Richard Powers

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Powers' ninth novel is a story of "a mind reassembling itself." A coma patient awakens and is diagnosed with Capgras syndrome, a rare neurological condition whose sufferers believe "their loved ones have been swapped with lifelike robots, doubles or aliens." Beautiful and exquisitely rendered, this is a profound meditation on the question of identity -- and the nature of reality itself.

*

The Emperor's Children

Claire Messud

Alfred A. Knopf

Did Sept. 11 change everything? Yes and no, suggests Messud in this comedy of manners, set in Manhattan during the months leading up to the attack on the World Trade Center, which skewers the follies and aspirations of New York's privileged and wannabes.

*

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

Cesar Aira

New Directions

A parable, only 80 pages long, on the art of representing the world, this novel of ideas -- reminiscent in some ways of the work of Jorge Luis Borges and W.G. Sebald -- is based on the Latin American travels of German landscape artist Johann Moritz Rugendas in the mid-19th century. Aira is well-known in his native Argentina, but this is the first of his books to be published in the United States.

*

Everyman

Philip Roth

Houghton Mifflin

In his 27th novel, Roth turns to mortality, delivering a full-on and unflinching portrait of a 71-year-old retired commercial artist at the end of his life. (His funeral is the opening scene.) Heartfelt, understated, and deeply luminous, this is a nearly perfect miniature, an explication of the fate that awaits us all.

*

Forgetfulness

Ward Just

Houghton Mifflin

The protagonist of Just's 15th novel is an American expatriate portrait painter and sometime spy whose wife is murdered by Islamic terrorists. Our reviewer wrote that it is "the first notable work by a major American writer to engage the moral and emotional complexities of the post-9/11 world."

*

Fun Home

A Family Tragicomic

Alison Bechdel

In this graphic novel, Bechdel re-creates her difficult childhood, using her relationship with her father -- a closeted English teacher and funeral director who committed suicide after she came out to him -- as a lens through which to explore her own sexuality and identity. Densely drawn and subtly written, this is an example of graphic storytelling at its most profound.

*

Gallatin Canyon

Stories

Thomas McGuane

Alfred A. Knopf

McGuane's 14th book features stories set in the American West that are narrowly focused but universal in their implications. For the characters here, the challenge is to find a way to persevere in the face of life's sublime indifference, to accept that things can change in an instant and that we are all at the mercy of larger forces that we can't control.

*

Hollywood Station

Joseph Wambaugh

Little, Brown

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