21 works of fiction to read this spring

Watch for reality-bending explorations of time and space, a Western horror novel from Victor LaValle and new fiction from Han Kang. Plus: Tom Hanks (yes, that Tom Hanks) releases his debut novel

By Kate Dwyer

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MARCH

Published: Fri 7 Apr 2023, 11:20 PM

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

Catton follows her Booker-winning debut novel, The Luminaries, with an eco-feminist thriller. Birnam Wood is a “guerrilla gardening collective” in New Zealand struggling to stay solvent. After its founder sets her sights on an abandoned farm, she tussles with an American billionaire over its fate — the group wants to use the land for crops, while he (supposedly) wants to build a doomsday bunker there. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, out now)


Take What You Need by Idra Novey

In her latest, Novey looks at a young woman’s unresolved feelings toward her family and home, braiding a story of art, ambition and passion. Leah and her former stepmother, Jean, had been estranged when Jean dies. After her death, Leah returns to the small Appalachian town where she grew up to assess her inheritance. It’s been years since she was last there, and in Jean’s home, she finds a living room of welded metal sculptures — and a mysterious young man. (Viking, out now)


Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson

Jackson’s day job is a book editor, and she has worked with authors like Cormac McCarthy, Kevin Kwan and Gabrielle Zevin. In her debut novel, she tells the story of a wealthy — though they might say “comfortable” — family, the Stocktons, and their Brooklyn Heights brownstone. Darley gave up her trust fund for love, while her younger sister, Georgiana dives headlong into an affair. All the while, their sister-in-law, Sasha — who comes from a modest background — is trying to navigate her place while living in the family’s house with her husband, Cord. A comedy of manners (and errors). (Pamela Dorman Books, out now)

Heart Sutra by Yan Lianke (Translated by Carlos Rojas)

Part satirical campus novel, part love story, Heart Sutra centres on a religious university in Beijing whose director has been organising tug-of-war competitions between members of China’s five major religions: Buddhism, Daoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. Two teenagers — a Buddhist jade nun and Daoist master — form a bond that makes them question their commitments to organised religion and wonder if they should pursue a secular life together. (Grove Press, out now)

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

In homage to Little Women, Napolitano’s new novel follows four sisters, the Padavanos, and the man who changed their lives. Tragedy upended William’s childhood, and years later, when his college girlfriend, Julia, welcomes him into her lively home, he feels both a part of the Padavano family and yet still an outsider. That dynamic follows the group into adulthood, particularly as secrets threaten to drive the family apart. (The Dial Press, out now)

Flux by Jinwoo Chong

The three main characters of this time-traveling debut are all grieving, and as you’d expect, in flux: Bo, who is 8, has just lost his mother, while Brandon, 28, has been offered a job at an experimental (if mercurial) time travel company. Blue, who’s in his 40s, is a witness in the company’s trial after three employee deaths. Along with explorations of time and identity, Chong weaves in some noirish elements, too. (Chong is a sales planner for The New York Times.) (Melville House, out now)

Lone Women by Victor LaValle

LaValle, the author of The Changeling and other horror novels, returns with an atmospheric Western. One day in 1915, Adelaide, a young Black woman, lights her childhood home on fire and flees California with only a trunk containing “everything that still matters”. LaValle brings his signature style to the West: “Monsters can mean a lot of different things,” he has said, including real-world social commentary. “If you couch it in something with claws, or wings, or fur, suddenly people don’t feel quite as resistant to hearing about it.” (One World, out now)

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey

A widow named C.M. attempts to unravel her late wife’s past by writing her biography: As an incendiary, boundary-pushing artist, her wife, X, had fascinated and eluded public understanding. But C.M. soon discovers that X — always a cipher, and widely revered for her intensity — had been far crueler and more dangerous than she had realised. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, out now)

Sea Change by Gina Chung

After Ro’s boyfriend leaves to train for a Mars mission, her best friend gets engaged and the mall aquarium where she works decides to sell Dolores, the giant Pacific octopus her missing biologist father discovered. Amid all these upheavals, Ro needs to grapple with her past and forge a way forward. (Vintage, out now)

Commitment by Mona Simpson

California, 1975: Walter Aziz, an aspiring architect, needs to pay his way through Berkeley, while his sister, Lina, who is illegally attending a well-funded public school in Los Angeles, is angling for an Ivy League acceptance. But when their mother checks into a psychiatric facility, the siblings — along with their younger brother — must reconcile their commitments to their family and to themselves. (Knopf, out now)

The New Earth by Jess Row

Winter Wilcox is getting married, and desperately wants her family to reconcile. The previous years have been dense with conflict: Her mother revealed that her biological father was Black; Winter’s sister was killed by an Israeli Defense Force sniper; her brother became a monk; and their father took a vow of silence at a Zen monastery in Vermont. Can they all cast aside their loneliness and come together again? (Ecco, out now)

APRIL

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sally, a comedy writer, drafts a sketch poking fun at her male colleagues who date their show’s female celebrity hosts, in an attempt to prove this wouldn’t happen if the genders were reversed. But the same week, she strikes up a rapport with a pop star, Noah Brewster, and all bets are off. (Random House, out now)

Greek Lessons by Han Kang (Translated by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won)

In this slim novel by the International Booker Prize-winning author of The Vegetarian, a teacher losing his vision and a student losing her voice build a friendship during night-school Greek lessons. A story of connection amid profound loss. (Hogarth, April 18)

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane

Known for novels like Mystic River and Shutter Island — plus writing on TV shows including The Wire and Boardwalk Empire — Lehane is back with a thriller set in the summer of 1974, just before Boston’s desegregation busing crisis reached a boiling point. One night in August, Mary Pat’s daughter goes missing and a young Black man is found dead on the train tracks. Though the episodes seem unrelated, Mary Pat’s search for answers leads directly to the Irish mob. (Harper, April 25)

MAY

Chain Gang All Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

This new novel by Adjei-Brenyah, the author of Friday Black, follows a televised gladiator circuit where convicted murderers fight to the death for the chance to win their freedom. Loretta Thurwar is just a few kills away from civilian life, and she’s grappling with the guilt of leaving behind her teammate and lover, Hamara, known as Hurricane Staxxx. (Pantheon, May 2)

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

Verghese’s earlier novel Cutting for Stone, following the lives of two boys who were conjoined at the skull and born to a nun in Ethiopia, was a runaway bestseller. In this new epic, Verghese traces the birth of modern India through the experience of a family in Kerala that seems to be cursed: A member of each generation has drowned. (Grove Press, May 2)

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin

Prospera, a utopian society, sends its elders to be reborn on the Nursery, a nearby island. Proctor Bennett is the ferryman who shuttles the bodies back and forth between the islands, and though he is by all counts “successful,” he is haunted by a recurring dream. But when his estranged father boards his boat with a message for him (“The world is not the world. You’re not you.”) Proctor sets off to make sense of his existence. (Ballantine, May 2)

The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks

For his first novel (he is also the author of a story collection), Hanks spins a Hollywood tale that leaps between decades and perspectives. Characters include a comic book artist in the 1970s, the present-day film director transforming that comic book into a franchise and a film studies professor writing about the production. Comic books by Hanks himself (and illustrated by Robert Sikoryak) are interspersed throughout the text. (Knopf, May 9)

Retrospective by Juan Gabriel Vázquez (Translated by Anne McLean)

While in Barcelona for a retrospective of his work, Colombian film director Sergio Cabrera looks back on the events that shaped him. Using over 30 hours of conversations recorded between 2013 and 2020, plus “countless emails and text messages” with Cabrera and others, Vásquez reconstructed the real director’s life, episode by episode, in this genre-bending novel. During the early days of pandemic, he writes in the author’s note, “ordering someone else’s past was the most efficient way of contending with the disorder in my present.” (Riverhead, May 9)

The Guest by Emma Cline

Cline’s previous novel, The Girls, centered on a Manson-like cult; her new thriller takes a close look at how the young, broke and beautiful operate in spaces of extreme wealth. After her (much) older love-interest kicks her out, Alex must talk her way into an extra week out East. Her grift leads her to a fratty seasonal rental, an art collector’s mansion and a fling with a troubled heir. (Random House, May 16)

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

Kuang, 26, is the bestselling author of The Poppy War trilogy. Her fifth novel in as many years probes questions of identity, power and narrative ownership in book publishing. When struggling writer June Hayward’s “stupidly, ridiculously successful” Asian American classmate dies in a freak accident, she publishes her friend’s next manuscript under the pen name Juniper Song — which is just as problematic as it sounds. (William Morrow, May 16)

– This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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