A Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes
The dialogue among childhood friends—British, bookish boys in the 60’s—provides a full sense of their worldview and the dynamics of any teenaged group. Barnes is wonderful at portraying them at the micro level and then pulling back twenty years into the future to provide the macro lens and the inevitable distortion of time.
Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
This is an amazing first novel full of visceral energy (in particular what it is like to be a teenager, the child of hippies, in the drug-fueled 80s;) the raw, unadorned doom of adolescence; and the fate of biology. I gobbled it up.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
I feel like Harbach is a clairvoyant and a ventriloquist. Oh, and he’s experienced past lives and knows, for example what it is like to be a sixty-something college president who’s in love with a student. He knows what it is like to be his daughter, Pella, a young woman struggling to find herself, to be an uber-gifted athlete and a person like Schwartz who’s ambition and wisdom and drive outstrip his own talent. These creations are unforgettable and true.
Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
Dana Spiotta like De Lillo, is a modernist; she gives us the story in the most elliptical, spare, deliberate, gorgeous fashion she can while insisting that the way it’s told is of equal value with what is told. The story itself is a one of the modern obsession with image, fame and identity: Spiotta tracks the sister of a would-be rock star through their interactions and through his own homemade scrapbook of invented concerts and self-generated rave reviews. We come to question the difference between a life of true fame versus imagined, and, at the same time, feel the tragedy of a life and a talent that remains unrealized.
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
Helen Schulman does a rare thing: she satirizes her characters (they are upwardly mobile, private -school New Yorkers) with such a light touch that we are also able to see the distinctions among them—some host parties for six-year-olds at the Plaza and some, like our protagonist, Liz, merely attend them—and to feel the pain of their imploding marriages, and lost dreams. The beautiful life is falling away in the midst of a sex scandal and the Internet and the beautiful children and adults within the story, who love one another with ferocity, are revealed. I’ve always loved her prose style, a lyricism and precision that are rarely concomitant. With each careful sentence, the pieces are stacked. And then they fall beautifully.