These books were not necessarily published in 2013 (hello, Henry Miller), but they were the best books I got to experience over the course of the past year, excluding indies. (If you’re interested, that list is here.)
Holes for Faces by Ramsey Campbell – A collection of horror tales by a master of the genre. If you’re looking for blood, gore, monsters and/or gratuitous sex, this is not the collection for you. These stories explore horror as something man visits upon man, or that man draws up from the well of his own insecurities. Campbell has cited Nabokov as an influence for his prose style and that is very much in evidence here—for me, that alone is worth the price of admission.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano – a portrait of two broken people, Alice, who was crippled in a ski accident, and Mattia, a mathematical prodigy who is haunted by the disappearance of his mentally handicapped sister. They meet as teenagers and form an intense bond, which is rekindled in adulthood. A powerful meditation on how we are irrevocably shaped by our tragedies.
Dead Set by Richard Kadrey – A simply magical book. This is the story of Zoe, a young girl who travels to the underworld to save the soul of her deceased father. Kadrey incorporates mythology and folklore along with punk rock into the plot in wonderfully inventive ways. If Neil Gaiman and Chuck Palahniuk had a love child, it would look something like Dead Set.
A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon – This is one of those books that’s hard to categorize—part speculative fiction, part alternate history, part postcolonialist fable. A flawless novel that is rich, complex and sweeping in scope.
Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt – An even dozen of stories by such authors as Neil Gaiman, Margaret Stohl, and Carrie Ryan, bringing modern voices and perspectives to old favorites. These authors understand that such stories are more than stories. They are our shared experience.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel – Believe the hype.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller – “'I shoot hot bolts into you, I make your ovaries incandescent . . . I am fucking you, Tania, so that you'll stay fucked.” Lines like this, extensive obscenity charges, and copious use of the word “cunt”? I’m so there.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell – One of the most peculiar and enchanting short story collections I have ever come across. Vampires come to a small Italian village in search of an alternate means of quenching their unspeakable thirst, a group of young women turn into giant silkworms, a war veteran with an elaborate tattoo finds peace with the help of a massage therapist—just to name a few.
I, Fatty by Jerry Stahl – Stahl brings Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle to life in this fictional autobiography, chronicling Arbuckle’s experiences from childhood poverty, to superstardom, to the scandals that ruined him. What is particularly notable is the voice that Stahl brings. It is the voice you would expect a comedian to have when the footlights are off-- honest, hilarious and heartbreaking.
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson –Stephen King said about Thompson: “Big Jim didn't know the meaning of the word stop. There are three brave lets inherent in the forgoing: he let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it." In this case, Big Jim let himself see the demons of a small town sheriff with a taste for sadism, and a backstory that is by turns terrifying and tragic. A classic pulp/noir novel, and a forerunner for the sort of psychological thrillers that grace every paperback stand.