1. Universal Harvester – John Darnielle
Before John Darnielle wrote novels he was the lead singer of the excellent indie band The Mountain Goats. Good news for all: John’s excellence pervades his fiction as it does his songwriting. Universal Harvester, his sophomore release, tells the story of a young man in rural Iowa who begins to find strange scenes recorded over the VHS tapes returned to the movie rental store where he works.
As Darnielle slowly unwinds the mysteries of this small town, the emotional timbre of the book careens from the terrifying to the tender. I don’t read a lot of gruesome, horror-based fiction so I was pleased to see how Darnielle used such a haunting premise to arrive a deeply human conclusion.
2. Tenth of December
For me, George Saunders is the discovery of the year. Tenth of December, a short story collection, lit up my brain in corners I did not know were dark. Saunders’s language is lightning fresh and full of wit; often I oddly thought, “he sounds younger than he is.” He has a voice packed with wisdom but also wry and irreverent. The humor lets me put my guard down, and then when I least expect it, Saunders delivers deep moral truth. Each page was an absolute pleasure.
3. The Color of Magic – Terry Pratchett
The Color of Magic is a book of great silliness. I am sure Terry Pratchett would be glad to hear me say it. In The Color of Magic a cast of foolish, magical characters encounter dragons, treasure, and many near death-experiences within a fantastical realm called Discworld. Pratchett has a long bibliography of fantasy-satire; I have often heard his name mentioned alongside the great sci-fi humorist Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame. Check this one out if you need to take your mind off of the real world for a while.