The 5 best fiction books of 2021, according to Mark Athitakis

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As 2021 draws to a close, we’re asking four book reviews to pick their favorites from a very successful year (at least book wise). Here are five books Mark Athitakis loved.

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(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

By Jonathan Franzen
FSG: 592 pages, $ 30

Franzen’s sixth novel centers on a 1970s Midwestern family struggling to keep their cool and suppress their appetites as the country’s social fabric begins to unravel. Their crises range from infidelity and drug addiction to sexual trauma – familiar tropes of suburban issues, but Franzen approaches them with gravity (religious metaphors abound) and frictionless style.

"After parties," by Anthony Veasna So

By Anthony Veasna So
Ecco: 272 pages, $ 28

So’s first collection is the testimony of an author whose career was tragically interrupted: he died of a drug overdose last year at the age of 28. These stories, mostly featuring the descendants of Cambodian immigrants from California’s Central Valley, are irreverent narratives for building a new future – though they can’t quite shake their family legacy of forced labor and genocide. .

"Spring of damnation," by Ash Davidson

By Ash Davidson
Scriber: 464 pages, $ 28

Eco-fiction too often succumbs to the kind of moralizing archetypes that can be lethal in novels, but Davidson’s confident beginnings sidestep these issues with remarkable ease. Following the impact of chemical spraying in a 1970s northern California forest town, she creates a host of die-hard idiosyncratic characters who maintain environmental damage in a human context.

"Rebel," by Dana Spiotta

By Dana Spiotta
Knopf: 288 pages, $ 27

Spiotta’s fifth novel is a story of a woman on the brink for the Trump era of perpetual reaction: her hero is a woman in her 50s struggling with feminist infighting on Facebook, the abuse of her daughter by men, her sick mother and her own efforts to leave her husband and fend for herself. With studied composure, Spiotta shows how easy it is to get tangled up in the very social forces you are trying to fight.

"Zorrie," by Laird Hunt

By Laird Hunt
Bloomsbury: 176 pages, $ 26

The main character in Hunt’s gem-like ninth novel is a ‘Radium Girl’ from the 1930s, one of thousands of women who unwittingly used radioactive paint to make clock faces. The book feels itself irradiated: the prose is purposefully nauseous and lit from within as its hero navigates a life defined by poison, war, and grief.


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