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The Best Novels You’ve Never Read

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MARIETTE IN ECSTASY
By Ron Hansen
A perfect book. So compelling, and curious, and beautifully written, it reads like a prayer.
—Elissa Schappell


A RELATIVE STRANGER
By Charles Baxter
His mastery of forms of prose fiction and the embodiment in his work of virtually every aspect of the America that we live in are unparalleled.
—Lawrence Joseph, The Nation


THE ACCIDENTAL
By Ali Smith
A brilliantly clever but sympathetic novel, told from different viewpoints, which deconstructs a family through the device of a mysterious visitor.
—Lindsay Duguid, TLS


THE EXTRA MAN
By Jonathan Ames
An unholy combination of P. G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, sexual perversion, and lifestyle tips. Needless to say, wickedly funny.
—Michael Agger, Slate


SEMINARY BOY
By John Cornwell
Mostly seen in America as a memoir of sexual abuse, this is an exact and compelling re-creation of the whole lost Catholic world that began to dissolve at Vatican II.
—Anthony Grafton


DESERTION
By Abdulrazak Gurnah
A searing tale of disastrous colonial encounters. I’ve always been mystified as to why Zanzibar-born Gurnah is not as known in the U.S. as he is in the U.K.
—Laila Lalami, L.A. Times


HOME LAND
By Sam Lipsyte
Yes, it got some terse praise, yes, it’s become sort of a cult favorite, but by God, Lipsyte ought to be a household name in this country. —Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Harper’s


SAMEDI THE DEAFNESS
By Jesse Ball
Graham Greene’s feel for a plot twist—stuck in a superglued handshake with Gogol’s dark wit.
—Helen Oyeyemi


TAPPING THE SOURCE
By Kem Nunn
Dark, mysterious, and tightly plotted, with a starkly written prose reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy.
—Michael Leone, Cleveland Plain Dealer


RAILS UNDER MY BACK
By Jeffery Renard Allen
A huge, muscular, sweat-drenched epic about the fall-out of migration within the African-American community in Chicago and New York.
—John Freeman


STRANGER THINGS HAPPEN
By Kelly Link
A book that could be shelved under several genres—horror, fantasy, literary fiction—it suffers from the limited ways in which we think about literature.
—David Orr, Times Book Review


WHAT SALMON KNOW
By Elwood Reid
Short stories that keep the form’s most solemn promises.
—Walter Kirn


THE DARLING
By Russell Banks
This riveting tale of a sixties revolutionary exiled in Liberia is one of the best political novels I’ve read in years.
—Adam Shatz, literary editor of The Nation


THE FALL OF A SPARROW
By Robert Hellenga
It didn’t get the love lavished on Hellenga’s first novel, The Sixteen Pleasures, but to my mind it’s an even richer, profounder book. The Fall of a Sparrow raises all the old deep questions about cosmic justice and the lack thereof, but also has much to say about Oriental carpets, Delta blues, Parmesan cheese, Latin poetry, and finding a new life when your old one has exploded.
—Katha Pollitt


THE TENDER LAND: A FAMILY LOVE STORY
By Kathleen Finneran
She received the Whiting Award for this symphonic memoir. But she hardly got any attention for it. —Marcela Valdes, Washington Post


JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF FLIES AND OTHER TRAVELS
By Aldo Buzzi
For its eccentric and humorous erudition.
—Ian Buruma


A PRIMATE’S MEMOIR: A NEUROSCIENTIST’S UNCONVENTIONAL LIFE AMONG THE BABOONS
by Robert M. Sapolsky
Intelligent and compassionate. This book gives us an alternative view of ourselves.
—Azar Nafisi


MEMORIES OF MY FATHER WATCHING TV
By Curtis White
Fit to stand with White Noise as a book about the great national pastime.
—Keith Gessen, n+1


ON THE WAY TO MY FATHER’S FUNERAL
By Jonathan Baumbach
He came of age with more widely known writers like Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover. It’s a terrible mistake that his name isn’t often mentioned along with theirs.
—Michael Cunningham


RAMPART STREET
By David Fulmer
Layers a major knowledge of jazz music, the historical setting of early New Orleans, and a troubled French-Creole investigator into mystery novels with a distinct and fascinating tone.
—Jules Brenner, Critical Mystery Tour


THE WIFE
By Meg Wolitzer
Funnier than Roth, Bellow, Amis— all of whom Wolitzer satirizes in this brilliant, hilarious novel.
—Ruth Davis Konigsberg, the New York Observer


DO EVERYTHING IN THE DARK
By Gary Indiana
With scrupulously intense sentences—pitch-perfect, pitch-dark—Indiana conjures a hugely sad New York novel that feels at once state-of-the-art and stunningly ancient.
—Ed Park, The Believer


THE EMPEROR’S BABE
By Bernardine Evaristo
A daring and thoughtful exercise in sustained anachronism—about “the It Girl of Londinium,” a teenager of Sudanese extraction living in London in 221 A.D. who is the trophy wife of a grotesque senator.
—Leo Carey, The New Yorker


DRAMA CITY
By George Pelecanos
Few authors can write about race and the urban landscape with his nuance and insight—and nobody else can do it while telling such a damn good story.
—David Montgomery, Chicago Sun-Times


LAST NIGHT
By James Salter
Should have been a best seller, and over its long lifetime probably will be. So why not now?
—Jason Epstein


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