Periscope Depth

50 books 2014: Best Literary Fiction

I read 50 books in 2014. This week, I’m going through each genre and highlighting my favorites.

Galveston, Nic Pizzolatto: A short, brutal Gulf-of-Mexico noir, written with clarity and little affectation. Gritty yet humane. If you like bad men doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, you’ll love this.

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy: Not just a great novel, not just an intensely personal novel, but a page-turner as well. Conroy is equally adept at depicting the sultry, decaying majesty of Charleston as he is the grisly personal details of life at a military academy in the mid 1960s. He makes no apologies for the racism and sexism of the characters – even the narrator’s friends – giving the entire narrative an added touch of verisimilitude. The tone of the dialogue gets soap operatic near the end – people talking in paragraphs rather than sentences – but that can be forgiven.

This book should be required reading for senior year in every boys’ high school in America. It would hit them at the peak of their power, as Will McLean and his chums are, but it would also have the chance to influence them as they took their first steps into college and a more complicated world.

The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick: A moving story with a well-realized, engaging, yet unreliable narrator. The author does a fantastic job of depicting the inner world of a brain-damaged man in recovery – simple and passionate without being stupid.

Note: I read the novel before seeing the movie and liked the novel significantly more. The ending of the movie, for my money, completely changes the story’s tone and theme.

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood: A remarkable drama. Atwood tells a powerful story with subtly mannered characters, as always: very little melodrama (until the climax), just people trapped in social orders they never chose, grappling with what to display and what to conceal.

The Bend of the World, Jacob Bacharach: A delightful jaunt through 20th century conspiracy theories, 21st century corporate politics, and drug-addled scenesterism. Bacharach grapples with the notion that the narrative we tell ourselves about our actions may not reconcile with everyone else’s view of us – his narrator, Peter Morrison, is as reliable as a bus stop tract – but that doesn’t make the narrative any less “true.” What does that make “truth,” then? Well, meet him at the secret underground river beneath Pittsburgh, where all eventualities converge, and find out.

Honorable Mention: The Last Picture Show, Things Fall Apart, Beautiful Ruins, The Sense of an Ending