As always, these are the top five books I read this year (not necessarily published in 2011). In no particular order:
1. Affliction by Russell Banks
This one started slow, but wow, what a finish. My first Russell Banks, but definitely won't be my last. There were some amazing passages in this novel, so amazing, I actually pulled out a highlighter for much of it (something I really don't think I've ever done before).
2. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
Thanks to Paul Tremblay for the recommendation. Abbott is a fabulous writer who grounds the reader firmly within the psyche of an adolescent girl. The writing is image filled and gorgeous without ever losing the all important teenage voice. The kind of book I'd love to write.
3. Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy
This fine collection features the kinds of stories I like best: edgy, violent, sometimes creepy, but always grounded by muscular, starkly beautiful prose and an acute sense of place. My favorite "The Caves in Oregon" begins with blood leaking from a freezer and ends with a married couple traversing the caves beneath their house. I always love stories where the strange (the caves) intersects casually with real life (the couple's devastation over a miscarriage). Plus, the freezer bleeds!
4. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
This novel covers a surprising amount of philosophical and moral ground without ever becoming didactic. It's a about a boy who teaches the people around him what it means to be a good person. He's a high functioning-- aw, screw it. I'm really at a loss of how to describe this one. Just know this: it will defy your expectations, and when you're finished, you'll walk away from the novel with the realization that you've fallen in love the Marcelo and Jasmine. And "the real world?" You'll realize it's pretty damned overrated.
5. Joe by Larry Brown
I don't know why it took me so long to read a Larry Brown book. I read two this year, Fay and Joe. I liked them both, but I loved Joe. The best thing about this book is the characterization of the title character. He comes alive, and despite all his flaws (and he's got a ton), the reader can't help but root for him. It seems like many of the writers I love, are able to pull this feat off. Brown does it with a keen ear for language and some of the best dialogue this side of Elmore Leonard. Do check out Fay, as well, but out of the two, I liked Joe better.