The OF Blog: Best of 2012: Debut Novels and Collections

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best of 2012: Debut Novels and Collections

2012 has seen several interesting debut releases.  Some authors had their first published works of fiction made after making a name for themselves writing non-fiction, while others had their first novels published after a successful short story collection or two.  A couple had their US debuts this year after success in the UK a year or two prior.  However one chooses to define "debut," there certainly are some very strong and/or promising voices that I read this year that will not make the final list of 11 (I like prime numbers).  Below is a loose ranking of these "top" 11 out of 26 debut works read, followed by a listing of nine others that, in most cases, just barely failed to crack the final list.

11.  Adam McOmber, The White Forest (novel).  I had McOmber singled out for future reading after one of his stories made the longlist I developed for the aborted Best American Fantasy 4 and although he has a collection already out (which I will read in 2013), his debut novel, The White Forest, is a work that straddles an increasingly blurred line between realist and supernatural-tinged fiction.

10.  Jac Jemc, My Only Wife (short novel).  There is a subtlety to Jemc's use of repetition of words, theme, and tone to outline a grief-stricken husband's inability to get over his wife's sudden (and possibly violent) disappearance.  The prose is impeccable, with a narrative power that threatens to overwhelm the reader with a deluge of associations and emotions, without ever becoming maudlin. 

9.  Peter Heller, The Dog Stars (novel).  This is Heller's first novel after several non-fiction works and he eloquently captures the dual senses of freedom and loss in this near-future post-apocalyptic novel.  Although some plot elements share much in common with other works of a similar nature, Heller's narrative is taut, easily shifting from the literary present to the past without ever feeling forced or disruptive.  The prose is deceptively poignant, creating a work that feels "alive" without pretensions to be artificially profound.

8.  G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen (novel).  See my earlier review.

7.  Jennifer duBois, A Partial History of Lost Causes (novel).  See my earlier review.

6.  Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds (novel).  See my earlier review.

5.  Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (novel).  See my earlier review.

4.  Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles (novel).  2012 winner of the Orange Prize.  Miller's retelling of Achilles' life, including his love for Patroclus, could have been hackneyed.  But her gift for narrative and character voices imbues this novel with a power that most veteran novelists will never accomplish.

3.  Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (novel).  See my earlier review.

2.  Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn (collection).  See my earlier review.

1.  L. Annette Binder, Rise (collection).  See my earlier review.

Honorable Mentions:

Tupelo Hassman, Girlchild
Katie Ward, Girl Reading
Adam Wilson, Flatscreen
Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles
Domingo Martinez, The Boy Kings of Texas
Lydia Netzer, Shine Shine Shine
Christian Kiefer, The Infinite Tides
Karolina Waclawiak, How to Get Into the Twin Palms
Kevin Barry, City of Bohane


Jason said...


This is only vaguely relevant to this post, but as a casual reader of your blog, I suspect you might be interested in a debut novel I just finished, Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate. Written entirely in sonnets, but set in 1980's California. Extraordinarily clever, sometimes too clever, but also thought-provoking, funny, and sad. Arguably has some flaws, but ultimately a completely unique reading experience. It took me a week, so you'll read it in an afternoon-- and it will be an enjoyable one. :)

Larry Nolen said...

Written in sonnets? Yes, that certainly would be of interest to me. Thanks! :D

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