Library Blog

Kevin Kwan discusses his debut novel Crazy Rich Asians in the Members' Room in October 2013.
Kevin Kwan discusses his debut novel Crazy Rich Asians in the Members' Room in October 2013.

The Best of Recent Fiction Debuts

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Debut fiction can be like a great first date. It is an author's first chance to capture a reader's attention and a reader's opportunity to discover somthing new. Many authors announce their talents immediately. Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first book.  Raymond Chandler began with The Big Sleep. Philip Roth won the National Book Award for the stories and novella included in Goodbye, Columbus. More recently, authors like Zadie Smith and Jeffrey Eugenides established their careers with their debut novels White Teeth and The Virgin Suicides.   What follows is a list featuring some of the best reviewed and most warmly received debut fiction of 2013 and 2014 accompanied by a brief description and a tantalizing bit from one of the book's reviews. There are story collections and novels, comedies and tragedies, thrillers and tearjerkers among them. The list is not exhaustive. If you find that your favorite recent debut is missing, please add it in the comments.

Antopol, MollyThe UnAmericans 

Antopol finds inspiration for this collection in the lives of recent immigrants and those they left behind.

"In these stories, Antopol depicts with bold strokes and uncanny intelligence the intimate links between family, history, and politics, never failing to capture the grit and hurt of intergenerational confrontation. Honored as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35, Antopol enters American fiction with startling originality and honesty." - Booklist

Bulawayo, NoVioletWe Need New Names We Need New Names

This novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, follows Darling as she negotiates a childhood in Zimbabwe and an adolescence in Detroit.

"A deeply felt and fiercely written debut novel…. The voice Ms. Bulawayo has fashioned for Darling is utterly distinctive - by turns unsparing and lyrical, unsentimental and poetic, spiky and meditative."  - The New York Times

Healey, Emma | Elizabeth is Missing 

Maud attempts to find her missing friend before she falls deeper into dementia in this mystery novel.

"This is no conventional crime novel but a compelling work that crosses literary genres.… The result is bold, touching and hugely memorable.”  - Sunday Times (London) 

Klay, Phil | Redeployment

A collection  of stories, each in a different voice, from those fighting in Iraq and those who’ve returned home, written by a soldier who served there.

"Redeployment is hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad. It’s the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls. – The New York Times

Kwan, Kevin | Crazy Rich Asians

This satire follows the antics of several incredibly rich Chinese expats living in Singapore. Watch Kwan discuss the novel when he visited the Library.

“Delightfully soapy. . . . [Crazy Rich Asians] eats its chiffon cake and has it too, simultaneously tut-tutting many of its characters for their vapid materialism while reveling in the milieu’s sybaritic excess.” - The Wall Street Journal

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaMarra, Anthony | A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Several characters attempt to rebuild their lives in a war-torn Chechen village at the end of the 20th century.

"Anthony Marra’s first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles.... Here, in fresh, graceful prose is a profound story that dares to be as tender as it is ghastly, a story about desperate lives in a remote land that will quickly seem impossibly close and important." – The Washington Post

Miller, Derek B. | Norwegian by Night

This crime novel features an unlikely hero in 82 year old New Yorker Sheldon Horowitz, recently convinced to relocate to Oslo by his granddaughter.

"Norwegian by Night has all the ingredients of a top-notch thriller, but it's the superb characterisation of the protagonist that fuels true suspense. Funny and moving as well as thoroughly gripping, this is crime fiction of the highest order." - The Guardian

Ng, Celeste | Everything I Never Told You

The mystery surrounding the death of a beloved child undoes the family at the center of Ng’s novel.

"A breathtaking triumph, reminiscent of prophetic debuts by Ha Jin, Chang-rae Lee, and ­Chimamanda Adichie, whose first titles matured into spectacular, continuing literary legacies." – Library Journal

Owuor, Yvonne Adhiambo | Dust

The triumphs and tragedies of the Ogunda family mirror the political situation in Kenya in Owuor’s debut.

"In this dazzling novel you will find the entirety of human experience—tearshed, bloodshed, lust, love—in staggering proportions . . . Although written by an East African, Dust is not just for Afrophiles. It is for bibliophiles." – The New York Times

Rahman, Zia Haider | In the Light of What We Know

With the recent banking crisis and the war in Afghanistan as backdrops, Rahman tells the story of the troubled relationship between two friends.

"In the Light of What We Know is what Salman Rushdie once called an ‘everything novel.’ It is wide-armed, hospitable, disputatious, worldly, cerebral. Ideas and provocations abound on every page.” - The New Yorker

Scott, James | The Kept

This novel of revenge, part western and part noir, is set in rural upstate New York at the turn of the 20th century.

"If not for the author’s sparse, elegant prose, twanged with puritanical patois, The Kept might be simply agonizing. Instead, it is a haunting narrative, salvaged by precise language that never overreaches or oversells." – The New York Times

Swanson, Peter | The Girl with a Clock for a Heart

The trouble begins for George when he runs into a deceitful college ex-girlfriend two decades later in this debut thriller.

"This is a highly original story, well told, that should be a contender for crime fiction’s best first novel of 2014." -  The Washington Post

Yanigihara, Hanya | People in the Trees

This novel, disguised as the memoir, details the life of a scientist, including the discovery that makes him famous and  the controversies that leads to the destruction of his career.

"It is exhaustingly inventive and almost defiant in its refusal to offer redemption or solace — but that is arguably one of its virtues. This is perhaps less a novel to love than to admire for its sheer audacity. As for Yanagihara, she is a writer to marvel at." - The New York Times