Lily Tuck, whose novel The News from Paraguay won the National Book Award in 2004, is one of our finest writers of novels-in-vignettes, and her latest, Sisters (Atlantic Monthly, $20), takes compression to extremes. Its “chapters” are often over in a page, a paragraph, sometimes a sentence, but they’re such vivid shards that you feel like you’re catching all the other pieces in a mosaic without having to see them spelled out. This is the story of a woman reflecting on her shaky marriage, whose trappings—her husband’s children, passions, and memories—all come courtesy of a prior spouse. Tuck centers on her narrator’s relationship with this other woman, who, though living across town, always seems to be in the air. What could turn spiteful in another writer’s hands comes off as gentle and empathetic in Tuck’s, as her lead character seizes on snatches of imagery (“a messy ponytail,” “did not wear rings”), to think through what her ostensible rival’s life must be like. Is it the narrator and not the man who links the two of them who truly understands this woman, she who sees that the bouillabaisse dinner he fondly remembers from France might have made her pregnant body sick? For such a short novel, Sisters is full of these kinds of insights, simply but inimitably framed.
Marcus Conway is at his kitchen table, listening to the church bell toll in his small Western Irish town of Lewisburgh. In some sense, that is the entirety of Mike McCormack’s 2017 Man Booker long-listed Solar Bones (Soho, $25). But told in the manner of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine’s book-in-the-span-of-an-escalator-ride, it’s really about much more. Marcus’s mind cycles through a variety of episodes surrounding the night his young daughter has her big art opening, each piece testing his duties as a good family member, a good worker, and a good political citizen. Picking out where one piece ends and the next begins, however, is tricky and one of the greatest pleasures in this book. Yes, this novel is one sentence long, but this is no cause for intimidation. McCormack’s writing is so lucid, conversational, and well-paced that Solar Bones counts as one of this year’s (or any year’s) most unconventional page-turners. Nor does McCormack use his virtuosity as a mere gimmick; rather, it’s one with the underlying emotions of this book and this unforgettable character, Marcus, who wants to hold together everything he knows, the joys and the struggles both, for as long as he has left.
As Kevin Young says in Bunk (Graywolf, $30), and as everyone is now all too aware, we are living in a “golden age of the hoax: the supposed age of information.” But this book is much more than a treatise on the “fake news” in the subtitle. It covers centuries of fakery, cataloged with a sense for detail and implication that showcases Young’s literary gifts—he’s a poet and critic who currently serves as poetry editor for The New Yorker. His stylistic flair only adds to the meaning of the book: thorough historical treatments on the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, P. T. Barnum’s freak shows, and “caught on film” fairies all forecast some very evidently personal treatments of contemporary hoaxers like Lance Armstrong, JT LeRoy, and Rachel Dolezal. This is a maximalist approach that takes on some deeply provocative recurring threads: namely, how racial hierarchies creep up as the unspoken root of so many hoaxes, and what separates artifice that’s presented as fiction or satire from something that’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes, no matter how benign and inventive it might seem. This is the kind of mammoth book you might never get to the bottom of, and that’s why it already feels like a landmark that will be studied for years.