Electric Literature s 25 Best

Best literature Novels


Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

Johnson’s latest novel hit an odd note in the year of Black Lives Matter; it’s almost too timely of a satire on America’s fatal race problem in the South and beyond. D’aron Davenport, a doughy white boy raised in the titular small Georgia town, can’t wait to escape to college at Berkeley. Once there, he befriends three kids who couldn’t be more unlike him - Louis, an in-your-face Malaysian-American comedian; Candice, a liberal do-gooder from the Midwest; and Charlie, a black inner-city kid with a serious drive to succeed. Then D’aron unwisely reveals to them that his hometown stages a yearly Civil War reenactment, and they’re off to spend the break conspiring to disrupt the reenactment with a protest. Though D’aron refuses to believe his home harbors anything but good at its heart, the naive actions of the gang of friends will have consequences devastating beyond comprehension. By turns darkly hilarious and bone-achingly tragic, Welcome to Braggsville rips open the thin camouflage Northerners and Southerners, liberals and conservatives alike throw over our race problems to reveal the ugly truth beneath. - Claire Fallon


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

It’s been called the literary Gone Girl, but it’s so much more than that. Lauren Groff’s novel tells the story of a successful marriage from the vantage point of both parties - bubbly, vivacious Lotto and private, hard-working Mathilde. From Lotto’s perspective, the couple’s happy marriage is the result of some rare magic - but then again, he’s always been a bit dramatic. For Mathilde, taking care of the inconveniences of daily life behind the scenes has mostly been a happy chore, and yet she still feels unworthy of her husband’s affections. Through their intertwining perspectives on their short courtship and the years that follow, Groff suggests it’s the secrets we keep, as much as the intimate moments we share, that form the bedrock of our lasting relationships. - Maddie Crum


You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

The title of You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine reads like a dare to Kleeman’s target audience not to pick up her book. It’s not a diet book, obviously, or a magical thinking manual; think less The Secret and more DeLillo and Pynchon. The protagonist, A, lives in an unnamed city with her roommate, B. She occupies herself watching TV with her boyfriend, C, or eating popsicles with B, who seems to be growing more and more obsessed with her. C, meanwhile, begins to pressure A to appear on a dystopian couples game show with him, while she’s zoning out on the increasingly weird Kandy Kakes commercials that hold her attention more than the programs themselves. Touching on body image, mass media, consumerist religiosity, and the tortured relationships between ourselves, our bodies, our food, and each other, Kleeman’s haunting, dazzlingly-written novel pulls you inexorably into another world, where the rules are different yet painfully familiar. - Claire


The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

The subgenre of “Russian literature” calls to mind bearded men (OK, two particular bearded men) and distraught women stifled by the social strictures of their time. These are beautiful, important books, but as beautiful and as important is Anthony Marra’s recent addition to the chorus. Following an emotionally wrought novel set smack in the middle of the Chechen Wars is his collection of connected stories, all centering on post-Cold War tumult and isolation. A restoration artist commits a revolutionary act unforgivable by the state, a man reflects on fond memories of frolicking through man-made Lake Mercury, and a captured soldier clings to a gift from his brother: a mix tape he keeps in his pocket, fueling his dwindling hope for survival. - Maddie


The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

Shepard has long been better known for his short story collections, which flaunt his unparalleled research skills and curiosity about every nook and cranny of history. But his latest book is a novel, focused on an unusual figure, Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto under the Nazis. Aron, the book’s narrator, is a young orphaned boy living in Warsaw who takes shelter in Korczak’s orphanage. Still a child, bereft of everything comforting and familiar, Aron is overwhelmed in the midst of events far beyond his understanding, as the once-powerful Korczak attempts to stave off Nazi attention from his orphanage for as long as possible. Heartbreaking, spare, deeply human, and somehow even funny, The Book of Aron is the rare new Holocaust novel that feels truly felt, not painstakingly historical. - Claire

Farrar Straus

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty is a poet, and you’d know it by his winding, lyrical sentences. His novel, The Sellout, is a hilarious, artful riff on race in America today. Overeducated and underemployed, the narrator recalls his life as the subject of his father’s controversial, borderline abusive social experiments, which shaped how he thought about the way humans interact. When his home in Dickens, California - an “agrarian ghetto, ” he calls it - is literally taken off the map, the narrator fights to save it, running into warring opinions on equality along the way. To capture the attention of those in charge, he radically suggests resegregating the local high school - an act that lands him in the middle of a Supreme Court case. Come for the funny scenes, stay for the nuanced look at race in America. - Maddie


The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney

This slim novel is a story about stories on every level: Why we create them, who we create them for, how much value they have, whether they can define and change who we are. The narrator, Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, aka Highway, sees the story as his dental autobiography. Growing up without significant resources, stumbling into a bad marriage and then a divorce that separated him from his only child, Highway dreams of being able to afford dental implants. He turns his life around by becoming an auctioneer, claiming to be the greatest one in the world. With the money he amasses, he purchases the purported teeth of Marilyn Monroe herself, which he has implanted into his own mouth. But as the story twists and turns, we see how Highway’s fabulism both creates a captivating autobiography and makes it impossible to separate his reality from his fantasy. Luiselli, who worked closely with MacSweeney on the translation, has a deft comic touch and imbues her prose with a seemingly effortless lyricality. This unassuming gem works its way into your mind, where it will linger long after you’ve turned the last page. - Claire

Read our review.


The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

The final book in a series for readers who aren’t so keen on book series, The Story of the Lost Child concludes the decades-long friendship between narrator Lena and her brilliant, troubled confidant and partner in crime, Lina. Though the two grew up in the same neighborhood, their paths diverged when Lena followed a traditional path toward education and Lina chose the path that more closely followed their hometown’s idea of success by getting married and working in her family’s shoe shop. Through the lens of her friendship with Lina, Lena recalls the tragedies and small triumphs of Naples, from burgeoning equality for women to petty, violent crimes. The result is as much a Dickensian social commentary as it is an intimate examination of the power of personal relationships. - Maddie

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