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Find more Top 10 First Novels
We celebrate first novels for their artistry and spirit, inventiveness and incisive retooling of tradition. In the best debuts of the past 12 months, readers will discover new insights into family, nature, ambition, fear, prejudice, and the grace of baseball. —Donna Seaman
The Arriviste. By James Wallenstein. 2011. Milkweed, paper, $16 (9781571310842).
Energetic and naive Bud Younger moves in next door to silver-haired venture capitalist Neil Fox and wheedles his way into a treacherous deal in Wallenstein’s riptide debut about emotional bankruptcy and betrayal.
The Art of Fielding. By Chad Harbach. 2011. Little, Brown, $24.99 (9780316126694).
Henry Skrimshander, a shortstop of phenomenal ability, is at the center of first-novelist Harbach’s psychologically astute baseball saga set at a small liberal-arts school in Wisconsin.
The Borrower. By Rebecca Makkai. 2011. Viking, $25.95 (9780670022816).
In Makkai’s picaresque first novel, Lucy, a 26-year-old children’s librarian, “borrows” her favorite patron, bright, book-loving 10-year-old Ian, after his fundamentalist parents enroll him in a program meant to “cure” his nascent homosexuality.
The Family Fang. By Kevin Wilson. 2011. Ecco, $23.99 (9780061579035).
First-time novelist Wilson mixes dire humor and melancholy in this satirical portrait of the uniquely dysfunctional Fangs––husband-and-wife performance artists Caleb and Camille and their children, Annie and Buster—and offers a scathing critique of how the baby-boom generation maltreated Gen X.
The Language of Flowers. By Vanessa Diffenbaugh. 2011. Ballantine, $25 (9780345525543).
In Diffenbaugh’s enchanting and ennobling debut, Victoria, an abused ward of the California foster-care system, finds her way to a fulfilling life after working with a florist and learning about the hidden meaning of flowers.
The Submission. By Amy Waldman. 2011. Farrar, $27 (9780374271565).
Waldman’s magnetizing first novel brilliantly dramatizes the painful legacy of 9/11 as a disparate group—including two very different 9/11 widows; the brother of a lost firefighter; a journalist; and an architect, the son of Muslim immigrants—confronts the life-and-death moral quandaries associated with choosing the design for a ground zero memorial.
Swamplandia! By Karen Russell. 2011. Knopf, $24.95 (9780307263995).
In Russell’s mythic, lavishly imagined first novel, a shabby tourist attraction deep in the haunted Everglades morphs into a spectacularly strange realm of archetypal mystery and danger as young Ava searches for her missing sister.
The Taker. By Alma Katsu. 2011. Gallery, $25 (9781439197059).
Katsu’s mesmerizing, original debut arcs between a Puritan community and a present-day young woman found in the Maine woods who claims that she has killed a man and that she’s immortal.
When God Was a Rabbit. By Sarah Winman. 2011. Bloomsbury, $25 (9781608195343).
English actress Winman has written a wonderfully wise and darkly humorous tale of young Elly and her older brother, Joe; and of love and friendship, family uncircumscribed by biological bonds, and loss worse than death.
The World Beneath. By Cate Kennedy. 2011. Black Cat, paper, $14.95 (9780802170712).
In her gripping debut novel, Kennedy scathingly portrays Rich and Sandy, a long-divorced couple who have accomplished little, and turns the wilderness into another vividly rendered character when Rich takes their sullen teenage daughter hiking in Tasmania.
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