2023 Holiday Picks - Fiction



Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese. Epic, enthralling, engrossing, and exquisitely written. Full of 20th century Indian history and lush descriptions of the land and environment, Verghese’s writing will immediately pull you in. An extended family, profoundly written with depth and emotion, surrounds matriarch Big Ammachi, a main character you won’t soon forget. Their story unfolds as they realize the sacrifices made by earlier generations and their own as they struggle to break the cycle of family deaths-by-water. Long but well worth it.

The Eyes & the Impossible by Dave Eggers. This is the most fun book I’ve read in quite a while! Do not turn away from it because it’s “animal fiction”, you’ll be missing out. You will thoroughly enjoy Dave Eggers’ latest book if you — Love Golden Gate Park, Love dogs, Love entertaining wordplay, Love good friendship tales, Love the magic in everyday things, Love books that are fun for the whole family, Like Golden Gate Park, even just a little. (Beware of the ducks.)

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. A brilliant storyteller takes us back to the 1920s and 30s in Chicken Hill, a dilapidated neighborhood in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where immigrant Jews and African Americans live side by side. The groups are different in many ways but united by interconnected relationships and the racism shown to both by the White Christian leadership of Pottstown. When the state comes looking for a deaf Black boy to institutionalize him, it triggers an incident involving the beloved “matriarch” of the community that brings the Chicken Hill population together with an inspiring show of caring and humanity.

Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward. "Let us descend now into the blind world," wrote Dante in Inferno: Canto IV, and Ward resuscitates that descent, conjuring the harrowing coming-of-age journey of Annis, torn from her mother's side and uprooted from one life of enslavement into a deeper Hell. Sold from one "master" to the slave market in New Orleans and into the hands of another, Annis' story is told with an arduous immediacy, the luminous poignancy of Ward's writing in stark contrast to the cruelty on the page. Gripping and powerful.

North Woods by Daniel Mason. With verdant, vivid language, and rich with biblical references and themes, North Woods is the story of a cabin in the wilds of Massachusetts and the lineage of people who inhabited the homestead over the course of a few hundred years. It is a linguistically brilliant homage to the cycle and beauty of the natural world, an ode to innocence lost and the shifting landscape of life into the ghostly hereafter, and a meditation on the casual violence of nature and both the kindred spirit and brutal savagery of humankind in the grasp of this mortal coil. An excellent book club pick!

The Postcard by Anne Berest. An unforgettable read! The story of a mother’s detailed research into the path of her family’s journey from Russia to Palestine to France directly before the Holocaust, and the daughter’s continuation of that search years later to find the truth about her family’s fate. It all starts with an un-signed postcard… Set primarily in Vichy France, this brilliant work of auto-fiction shines a spotlight on anti-semitism in historic as well as contemporary France. A harrowing personal account and a nail-biting mystery joined seamlessly together — you will never forget this story. 

Shark Heart: A Love Story by Emily Habeck. You might not believe me when I tell you that this quirky debut novel, about the relationship between newlyweds Wren and Lewis (a man diagnosed with a mutation that will, over the course of a year, transform him into a great white shark... I KNOW, but trust me here) will knock your socks off, charm you and steal your heart, and leave you in tears—and you will be grateful, transformed yourself by the experience of living in this world that Emily Habeck has created for a few hours. WOW.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. Tom Lake is a novel set during the Covid pandemic about a family, a long-time married couple and their three adult daughters, sheltering together on their cherry orchard in upstate Michigan during harvest season, but to call it a "pandemic novel" is reductive as it is so much more—with nuanced nods to Thornton Wilder and Chekhov, about the passing down of stories and performance, about marriage and aging, about the necessity of gazing into the past in order to move into the future. The movement of the novel is carried forward by mother Lara's remembrances of tender first love and her time performing as Emily Webb in Our Town at a small but mighty theater as a young woman. As Emily says in her Our Town soliloquy, "But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another." Bound together by the pandemic, by love and shared history, Patchett's characters look at one another and linger in life's present moment, finding meaning and companionship in all its turmoil and quiet glory.

Wellness by Nathan Hill. If the Great American Novel is one that uses character study to examine the spirit, inequalities, and complexities of a segment of America, then Nathan Hill's Wellness would be a worthy contemporary novel added to that canon. Wellness kicks off with the burgeoning love of Jack and Elizabeth, young 20-somethings living in Chicago in the early 90's, and carries us through stages of their marriage, parenthood, and familial histories. Hill nails down a time and place and people with such writerly exactitude, his eye for character nuance, and societal norms a thing of greatness.