Mischa Berlinski, Fieldwork
Berlinski’s novel is a smart, engaging thriller about anthropologists and missionaries in Thailand that occasionally gets lost in jungles of digression. Honorable mention to Ellen Litman’s charming The Last Chicken in America, about Russian immigrants in Pittsburgh.
The Almost Moon, by Alice Sebold
Lots of big names underwhelmed us this year: Amis, DeLillo, Roth, Rowling. But Sebold, whose debut novel, The Lovely Bones, was the best-selling book of 2002, went above and beyond—or below and behind. Her wandering story of matricide is both implausible and uncompelling: The voice is wrong, the characterization is off, the pacing is set on shuffle.