So far, 2015 has offered more than its share of excellent debut novels. Some of these were the first works we’d heard of from the authors in questions; in other cases, we found ourselves looking at works that fulfilled the promise of the fantastic short fiction that preceded it. Whether on presses large or small, these are some of the debut novels that have caught our attention so far this year.
Jillian, Halle Butler
A decidedly bleak comedy of manners, Halle Butler’s novel encompasses economic anxiety, long-stewing resentment, and problematic ambition. It generates humor and empathy in equal measure, never losing its measured tone of disorientation.
The Only Ones, Carola Dibbell
(Two Dollar Radio)
Carola Dibbell’s novel of a mother and daughter living in a near future beset by massive class disparities, lethal strains of diseases, and violent religious fanatics is often emotionally harrowing. But in Dibbell’s inventive use of language and in the quieter human moments, she also leaves room for a sense of wonder and a very human heart.
The Infernal, Mark Doten
A kind of hallucinatory reimagining of the early 00s in American politics, Doten’s debut smashes together real-life figures with a surreal version of the War on Terror and its legacy. Boldly experimental and never reassuring, this is a book that gets lodged in your mind in odd ways. It also features one of the creepiest sequences of body horror you’re likely to encounter.
Binary Star, Sarah Gerard
(Two Dollar Radio)
In Binary Star, Sarah Gerard brings together a doomed relationship, eating disorders, and radical politics into a frenetic, decidedly powerful whole. It’s one of the most propulsive narratives we’ve encountered in while, with a deeply haunting metaphor at its center.
Bright Lines, Tanwi Nandini Islam
Lush and vibrant, Tanwi Nandini Islam comes rushing out of the gate with her debut that has a lot of things (great characters, family story, history), but it’s her descriptions of Brooklyn streets and then the effortless move away to a place far away that shows this is a young writer who can control a story with the ease of a tested veteran.
The Star Side of Bird Hill, Naomi Jackson
Much like Tanwi Nandini Islam’s Bright Lines, the best books to come out involving Brooklyn feature characters who leave it to. And no, we’re not talking about some “Goodbye to All That” type of thing; Naomi Jackson’s The Star Side of Bird Hill, somewhat like Islam’s book, is a story about going back to a place that you’re told his your home, but isn’t immediately familiar. In this case, it’s a pair of sisters going back to live with family in Barbados in the late 1980s, and the story shoots sparks of beautiful prose at you page after page and introduces Jackson as a storyteller of considerable talent.
Cult of Loretta, Kevin Maloney
Told in a series of rapid-fire chapters, Kevin Maloney’s debut traces its narrator’s obsession with the title character, venturing through a series of subcultures and instances of unhealthy behavior. This is a book that rarely goes where you expect, and hits some unsettling marks along the way.
The Fishermen, Chigozie Obioma
(Little, Brown and Company)
Talk about a quick start out of the gate: Chigozie Obioma’s debut that takes place in Nigeria in the 1990s, was given a Man Booker nomination for its unforgettable story with a biblical slant. There is something almost mystical about Obioma’s writing as well as his story, and it makes this book nearly impossible to put down.
Find Me, Laura van den Berg
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Laura van den Berg’s masterful short stories, collected in two books so far, balanced the familiar with the strange and unsettling. Her first novel, set in a neat future in which aspects of society have collapsed, serves as powerful evidence that she’s able to work those same qualities into her longer-form prose.