[It’s been another year, that’s for sure. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to highlight a handful of things that have made me happy this year—and, yes, to complicate and analyze them, because I yam what I yam. I’d love to hear your year highlights and takeaways as well!]
On two wonderful new novels from familiar voices, and one from a writer I’m just encountering.
1) The Night Watchman: Louise Erdrich has been publishing for nearly forty years, and I’ll always have a soft spot for her first novel, the magisterial Love Medicine (1984). But she has never rested on the laurels of that stunning debut, and over those four subsequent decades has continued to evolve as a writer (while building a literary universe to rival Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha). The Night Watchman feels like it’s both in conversation with some of the best of that career and staking new ground at the same time, and makes clear that Erdrich remains one of the truly towering American novelists of this and any era.
2) Harlem Shuffle: While Erdrich’s four-decade career has been defined (at least to a degree) by continuities, Colson Whitehead’s quarter-century career has been marked by striking shifts, with every novel engaging (and also exploding, or at least radically repurposing) different genres and literary traditions. Whitehead’s latest Harlem Shuffle is no different, using tropes of crime and heist fiction/stories to tell a family story of race and community in 1960s New York. After the truly painful read that was Nickel Boys, Harlem Shuffle is far lighter and more fun while still connecting to many of the same histories and issues, a reflection of Whitehead’s truly unique ability to reinvent himself again and again while remaining true to his craft and mission.
3) Libertie: As those hyperlinked posts illustrate, I’ve written about Erdrich and Whitehead many times in this space, but this is the first time I’ve highlighted Kaitlyn Greenridge, mainly because I haven’t yet had the chance to read her acclaimed debut novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman (2016). I’ll be rectifying that gap soon, though, because I greatly enjoyed Greenridge’s second book, the historical novel of race, gender, family, and identity in 19th century America Libertie. I’m a sucker for great historical fiction, and Libertie is one of the best historical novels I’ve read in years, capturing so many layers of its period and world while dealing with themes that remain powerfully relevant in our own moment. Can’t wait to read more from this awesome author I added to my list this year!
December Recap this weekend,
PS. What do you think? 2021 stories you’d highlight?