2014 Phinney Books Gift Guide: Fresh Fiction

A dozen books of fiction, many of them debuts, by young writers who work the sharp edge of storytelling. If you know someone who likes to be surprised and challenged by what they read, delight them with one of these new voices.


Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

An innovative serial-killer thriller set in the decay of modern Detroit. "The plot is slippery and strange, and the tension and the weirdness build and build, to a climax like nothing you've ever read—not in crime fiction, not in literary fiction, not anywhere." —Ben H. Winters, author of The Last Policeman

The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck

One life told five times (not unlike Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, though in quite a different style), in a German bestseller and award winner that spans the European twentieth century. "Erpenbeck's writing is a lure that leads us—off-center, as into a vortex—into the most haunted and haunting territory." —Anne Michaels


An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

An affluent young Haitian-American woman is taken hostage in Haiti. "A fantastically exciting novel … horrible, hypnotic and perfectly constructed to frustrate any search for comfort or resolution." —Ron Charles, Washington Post

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

The Portland novelist's debut, in which a social worker helping a near-feral young boy is drawn into the world of a Montana survivalist family. "Fourth of July Creek is Henderson's first novel, a somewhat startling fact because the book reads like the work of someone who has been around and seen too many things he wished he hadn't." —Miami Herald

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A decades-spanning story with a cast of hundreds, with the attempted assassination in 1976 of Bob Marley at its heart. "It's like a Tarantino remake of 'The Harder They Come' but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by Oliver Stone and William Faulkner…. It's epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-to, colossal and dizzyingly complex." —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Redeployment by Phil Klay

The collection of stories about soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and returning home that just won the National Book Award for Fiction. "Redeployment is hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad. It's the best thing written so far on what the war did to people's souls." —Dexter Filkins, New York Times

10:04 by Ben Lerner

A second novel about a poet writing a second novel (and far better than that sounds), involving death, birth, superstorms, art, money, parenthood, and Back to the Future. "10:04 is a mind-blowing book …. Don't even worry about classifying it; just let Lerner's language sweep you off your feet." —Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Layers of lives in Mexico City, Harlem, and Philadelphia overlap in an elegiac evocation of love and loss. "Faces in the Crowd is the greatest of all things: a novel meant to be reread. It's not until the latter half of the book, once the complexities of the structure are fully apparent, that the mystery Luiselli has crafted gains exponential, existential force, which we can then trace to the very first pages." —Alexander Kalamaroff, The Rumpus

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

An Irish girlhood in a trouble family, told in fragmented language that gathers a gripping, poetic power. "This book is hard to read for the best reasons: everything about it is intense and difficult and hard-won. The result is an instant classic." —Anne Enright, The Guardian

McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh

A tiny, vivid novel of a self-destructive 19th-century sailor accused of murder. "Ottessa Moshfegh's first novel reads like the swashbuckled spray of a slit throat—immediate, visceral, frank, unforgiving, violent, and grotesquely beautiful." —Zachary Tyler Vickers, os Angeles Review of Books

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

A single mother waitresses her way up the ladder to a high-end Dallas steakhouse. "Tierce's fearless debut novel isn't a success story, or a redemption story, or even a cautionary tale. It's a story of desire, of survival, of choices made for better or worse, and it's an intense and convincing (and unflinchingly explicit) immersion in a life in the service trenches." —Tom, Phinney Books

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

A fiercely independent woman farming on a remote British island remembers her trouble past in Australia. "Daring and fierce, this is a book that makes you feel the need to look over your shoulder in case something dark and hulking might be gaining on you." —Caroline Leavitt, Boston Globe