In ascending order:
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Comic novels rarely enjoy much award-love (Take a look at the past winners of the major book awards; you’ll find more laughs at a burn unit), but Lipsyte’s inventive, caustic, and down-right funny The Ask should be on your radar. Milo Burke, Lipsyte’s protagonist, is the worst kind of mediocrity—the kind that not-so-secretly believes they are destined for some ill-defined greatness. Struggling along at this job as a fund-raiser for a pretentious, mid-level university in New York City (this is starting to hit a wee close to home), Burke has disdain for the wealthy donors he must woo, contempt for comfortable liberalism of his friends, and a one-liner for everything. One to scratch your misanthropy itch, by way of your funny bone.
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
From our review:
Like many Holocaust stories, this one is harrowing, but the time Orringer spent establishing these characters and these stories in the first half of the book deepens our investment; the dreadful cost is brought home all the more powerfully because The Invisible Bridge shows us a time before the fall. Orringer's great achievement here is to give us the Holocaust anew, to remind us of the scale of what was lost and to cherish what survived.
The Invisible Bridge is a two-fer: the first half about a young man going to school in Paris, getting into trouble, and falling in love. (It’s the “We’ll always have Paris” backstory from Casablanca, if Bogie were Hungarian and Bergman older and had killed a cop.) The second half leverages our emotional investment from this deep grounding, as the Nazis, and their allies, round-up and exterminate Eastern Europe’s Jews. This is an engrossing read that has lingered in our minds, even as our raging bibliophilia has marched on.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
We’re not alone in our admiration for Marlantes’ steady, enveloping novel of the Vietnam War, and it is sure to be in the mix for all of the major American literary awards. From our review:
Marlantes [is] unrelenting in his account of the Vietnam War's operational and political confusion; he doesn't spare us the arcana of a Marine officer's life, knowing full well, as one of the characters says, that the truth is not found, but assembled:
"Intelligence, Lieutenant," Simpson went on, "is built up by the fastidious collection of minutiae. You understand that, don't you? It isn't the result of spectacular finds. It's the result of hard work, constant attention to detail--to minutiae. Mi-nu-tiae."And though Marlantes tries to guide us through the minutiae with a chart of the chain of command, a detailed map of the operation, and a lengthy glossary of military terminology, the deluge of call signs, equipment, procedures, ranks, titles, and tactics is beyond comprehension. And once Mellas [the novel’s protagonist] realizes (the reader alongside) that these particulars are not in themselves meaningful, but the minutiae out of which meaning is made, he comes to be himself at last.
Like The Invisible Bridge, Matterhorn re-visits familiar territory, but, and this is the sign of great writing, forces to reconsider what we thought we knew.
So, there you go—the leaders in the clubhouse for 2010. Several marquee releases await (seriously, just release the new Franzen already), but someone's going to have to bring some serious heat to top Matterhorn.
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