By Washington Post book critic Ron Charles
Every year it’s always agonizing to pick a too-short list of my favorite novels from among so many, but here goes:
“The Bee Sting” by Paul Murray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is an epic tragicomedy about an Irish family straining under the weight of accumulated secrets and lies. Dad runs a car dealership; Mom is the town beauty, and neither of them is paying enough attention to their two troubled kids.
Written with extraordinary wit and heart, this is a hypnotic novel about the stories we tell ourselves in a world breaking down and heating up.
Read an excerpt:
“The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride (Riverhead) is a Depression-era story set in an old Pennsylvania neighborhood. At the center of town is a kind Jewish woman who owns a small grocery store. She’s determined to keep a deaf Black boy from being sent to a horrific institution.
This deeply endearing story offers a terrific collection of preposterous and saintly characters, and outrageous scenes of comedy and sorrow, all told in a dazzling voice of raw poetry.
Read an excerpt:
Tippoo’s Tiger really exists: In London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, you can see this remarkable wooden sculpture that once moved, growled, and even played music. In “Loot” (Knopf), Tania James imagines how this late 18th-century automaton might have been built — and by whom!
A remarkable historical story, laced with irony and surprise, follows a young Indian woodworker from a sultan’s palace to the other side of the world.
Read an excerpt: “Loot” by Tania James
“Chain-Gang All-Stars” (Pantheon), a debut novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, presents a dystopian world in which convicted criminals battle to the death on a reality TV show for fame, special privileges, and even a chance to go free.
This is a brutal satire of America’s penal system and our enthusiasm for commercialized violence. It’s also a novel that will forever change your attitude about the two million fellow citizens we keep locked up in prisons and jails.
READ AN EXCERPT: “Chain-Gang All-Stars” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Daniel Mason’s “North Woods” (Random House) is an elegant, time-spanning novel about a homestead in western Massachusetts.
Chapter by chapter, we watch residents move into this place, starting with a pair of runaway Pilgrims. Four hundred years later, the house is as crowded with ghosts as this story is packed with magic.
READ AN EXCERPT: “North Woods” by Daniel Mason
That’s it for the Book Report. It’s been great fun to talk with you all year about good books. Here’s to many more in 2024!
Until next year, read on!
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For more reading recommendations, check out these previous Book Report features from Ron Charles:
Produced by Robin Sanders and Roman Feeser.