This is a list of my 10 favorite novels that I read in 2010. They were not necessarily published in 2010. Actually, none of them was published in 2010. They are not in a specific order.
Diary of a Blood Donor was the first book I read from Mati Unt. In fact, before receiving this book as a gift [thanks Anni], I had never even heard of Mati Unt. Originally published in Estonia in 1990, then published in English translation by Dalkey Archive in 2008, this book is a postmodern – though smartly accessible – retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The Tsar’s Dwarf is full of grotesque characters and stinging sentences. It is the story of a deformed female dwarf from Denmark who is given as a gift to Peter the Great in the 18th century, and is forced against her will to join the Tsar’s collection of dwarf jesters.
Dear Everybody is a novel comprised entirely of suicide notes and diary entries written by a man to everyone in his life. It was one of the most subtly complex and moving books I have ever read, and I am astounded by its ability to be at once both incredibly progressive at the sentence-level and yet so accessible. This is a book I would give to any reader, whether they’re into the avant or the popular. It made me laugh and it broke my heart.
The Magic Kingdom was the first Stanley Elkin book I read. Luckily he has over a dozen books in print , because I plan to read every single one. In this one, a man who recently lost his 12-year-old son to a long and painful sickness decides to take a group of terminally ill children on a dream vacation to Disney World for one last hoorah. Hilarity ensues.
The Ice-Shirt was the first book-length work I read from Vollmann. I read it in May, and it set me off on a Vollmann addiction that is still surging. It is the first in the Seven Dreams series – a currently half-finished cycle of 7 fiction/history novels that tells the story of North America, beginning with its first explorers and ending (hopefully someday) somewhere in the 20th century. This novel, at over 400 pages, is modestly slim compared to others in the Seven Dreams series – one 700+ pages and another over 1000. This novel tells the story of the first people to travel to America from overseas – the Vikings – who made the voyage in the 10th century.
The Other City is an eerie novel of conspiracy and secrets as they unravel and make themselves known. It is the story of a secret society – or, rather, an entire world – as it coexists with ours and literally inhabits the same space. It takes place in Prague, which is fitting, given the book’s stylistic and thematic similarities to Franz Kafka. It also hints of Lovecraft in its creepiness, and Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts in its sense of adventure.
What could I possibly say about Barry Hannah? If I were writing this list before March, I would have been able to rightfully call him America’s greatest living writer. He left the world a dozen brilliant books of fiction, not including his posthumous book of new & selected stories. The Tennis Handsome is a novel, though some of the sections actually appeared previously as separate stories in what is probably his most celebrated book, Airships. I didn’t know this going into it, so I found myself in the sweetest states of déjà vu.
Plants Don’t Drink Coffee was such a fun and light novel, but I found it poignant in its ability to perfectly portray the voice of a curious child. It was neither too precocious nor too saccharine, as are many novels when portrayed through a child’s eyes. It was perfectly absurd without abandoning sense and emotion. [watch my review]
The Succubus gave me nightmares in the same way The Other City did, where one man is left on his own to uncover a world he thought he knew, but, as he begins to see, he actually knows nothing about. Only, except wherein The Other City was filled with fantasy and discovery, The Succubus was an escalation of mistrust and alienation. Also, instead of discovering a new world that exists simultaneously within one’s own, the protagonist in The Succubus instead realizes that the world they once seemed to know has corroded and dissolved, leaving no world in which to exist.
A Heaven of Others was the first book-length work I read from Joshua Cohen, though I previously read his Cupboard pamphlet of short fiction, which came out in the spring of 2010. His 800-page novel Witz also came out in 2010, and in the midst of all the Witz hype I read this relatively slim 180-page story of a Jewish boy who is blown up by a suicide bomber. The bulk of the book explores the wondrous heaven the boy experiences. What really makes this book so good is Cohen’s inimitable prose style.
So that is my list of 10 favorite novels I read in 2010. What were yours?