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Best Contemporary fiction novels

SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS
by Marisha PesslThis stylish debut novel from Marisha Pessl might
scare you away at first glance. The table of contents
of the 500 page tome looks like the college syllabus
from hell. Almost every page is strewn with
references to real and imaginary books. The novel
even comes with a final exam in three sections at the
end. The very title aims to intimidate. But don't be
fooled. Pessl's novel is - in the words of my British
friends - bloody good fun. The prose is clever, the
characters fascinating and the plot artfully
constructed, with more than a few surprises along the
way. Pessl has hit a home run in her first appearance
at the plate.ATONEMENT by Ian McEwanI like Keira Knightley as much as the
next guy. But don't just wait for the
movie version of Atonement - read
the book first. McEwan's poise and
control of his story are striking.
This novel starts off like Jane Austen
and ends like Samuel Beckett, with a
dose of Erich Maria Remarque in the
middle, but the reader never feels the
gears shift, so subtly does the author work through
his changes. McEwan is a masterful plotter, and the
even the perspicuous reader will constantly remain in
the dark, unable to guess what lies fifty pages
ahead. He is also an indefatigable researcher and a
prose stylist of the highest order. One of the finest
novels of the last quarter century, Atonement shows
that experimental contemporary fiction can move as
elegantly and confidently as a Victorian novel.THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE by Jonathan LethemLethem is the master of fallen heroes,
but in his case they often wear a cape
and fly through the air. He finds
inspiration in comic books and science
fiction, but always rises above the
limitations of genre formulas. (For
another example, see his marvelous
short story "Super Goat Man" available
online at The New Yorker
ent/?040405fi_fiction) Lethem's
narratives are always tightly woven,
but there is always room for
experimental twists. As a frequent
writer of music criticism, I was
delighted by his cleverness in inserting
detailed liner notes from a CD box set
of 70's soul music - very artfully done
- in the midst of the novel, without
losing the thread of the story.THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan FranzenThe Corrections is the real deal – a
novel that works on all levels: plotting,
character development, prose style,
acute perspectives. Its narrative
takes us on a wild trip – to collapsing
Eastern Europe economies, small town
America, cruise ships, the lousy office
job, shallow academia – but every
shift in the scenery makes sense,
contributes to the overall effect. Here
is one of the finest novels of our time,
and a book not to be missed. EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED
by Jonathan Safran FoerBefore Borat graced the silver screen, Foer gave us
his Ukranian narrator Alexander Perchov, a bumbling
translator whose malapropisms and ridiculous English
make for amusing reading . . . well, at least for a few
pages. Perchov tells us all about himself. "Many girls
want to be carnal with me in many good
arrangements" or "I have a girl who dubs me
Currencey because I disseminate so much currency
around her." Foer intersperses his account of his
family's history which is as surreal as Perchov's tale is
ridiculous. Despite the title, the book falls short of
illuminating, but some passages are brilliant and
laugh-out-loud funny, and the shift from over-the-top
comedy to tragic realism in the closing pages is
handled effectively. Foer is a very skilled novelist, but
his debut book would have been more effective if he
had pared it down into a novella. THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Time O'BrienA series of interlocking short stories
masquerading as a novel, The Things
They Carried has become a staple of
college courses - a "relevant" war
story in this shell-shocked time. Did
Tim O'Brien's book deserve its ranking,
in the New York Times, as one of the
best works of fiction during the last
quarter century? Perhaps not. But
the finest portions of this book will shake
you up. Try on the opening twenty pages
for size. If they don't grab you, go no further,
because this is as good as it gets.THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY
by Michael Chabon
Like Lethem, Michael Chabon is
fascinated by the figure of the
superhero, and finds the fallible and
all-too-human elements hidden behind
the mask of omnipotence. Chabon is a
brilliant story-teller and a skilled prose
stylist. Yet his characters remain
mysterious, despite all his probing.
Their actions constantly thwart our
expectations of their character and
drives. Perhaps this is the flaw in
Chabon's own less-than-invincible
powers - or perhap the sign of an
even deeper insight on his part:
namely, that individual destiny is
always surprising, even to the
individual, and never an obvious
extension of past personal history.HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne RobinsonRobinson is the master of intimate
fiction, building her dramas from the
smallest of human interactions. We
can perhaps guess the painstaking
care of her writing from the fact that
she has published only two short
novels during the last twenty-five
years. But the prose itself also
reveals an intellect that moves with
meticulous care through landscapes.
A luminous quality, reminiscent of
Virginia Woolf, lingers over her
descriptions, and even the tragedies
that surround her characters always
hint at an elusive transcendence just
beyond their grasp. AMERICAN PASTORAL by Philip RothMuch like Thomas Mann attempted in
Buddenbrooks, Philip Roth traces the
rise and decline of a family over the
course of several decades. The main
protagonist of American Pastoral is
Swede Levov, the former star high
school athlete turned successful
businessman, who watches his world
collapse around him, as the turbulence
of society at large penetrates into his
secluded family life. Roth artfully mixes
contemporary events from the Vietnam era
into his tale of generational conflict and social
turmoil.HOUSE OF LEAVES
by Mark DanielewskiMix in one part Pynchon with two parts the Blair Witch
Project, and spice lightly with over-heated
deconstructionist rhetoric, and you might be able to
construct your own house of leaves. But why bother
when Danielewski has already done such a brilliant
job. This extravagant, quirky novel developed a cult
following when it was released in piecemeal fashion
over the Internet. It was put into book form by
Pantheon in 2000, but this crazy quilt text tries to
subvert every convention of the publishing world.
The typography is a labyrinth, and even includes
passages that must be read in a mirror - for which I
cursed Danielewski heartily while I tried to decipher
them. But beyond the surface flash lies an
extraordinary work, which both probes and parodies a
range of genres, from academic criticism to horror
stories. The plot itself revolves around empty
hallways and rooms - seems boring, huh? But guess
again. This is a must read for anyone involved in
creative writing, and even more essential for students

Source: www.greatbooksguide.com
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