The First Man by Albert Camus (Vintage, $16). The manuscript for The First Man — found inside the wreckage of Camus' fatal 1960 car accident — is unedited, pure, and places you squarely back in his Algerian childhood. As our protagonist searches for a father, he finds a teacher. Makes you wonder if Camus somehow knew just how limited his time was.
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian (Harper Perennial, $16). This collection of words defies categorization. After learning that his terminal-cancer diagnosis was an error, our author and protagonist travels across China and deep into his own psyche, away from societal and literary conventions, in order to search for himself. What's out there beyond the world of rules, and can he/we survive it?
Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr. (Penguin, $16). Like Xingjian, Ron Currie Jr. gives his own name to his protagonist, a brooding author who withdraws to a Caribbean island. The parts of this novel about losing a father are forever carved in my memory. Rare honesty and straight-up pain. More people should be reading Currie.
The Ha-Ha by Dave King (Back Bay, $14). A veteran who suffered a serious head trauma and has been mute for 30 years is asked to care for his high school girlfriend's 9-year-old son while she completes rehab. Dreams of a traditional family life resurface, along with the emotional dangers of being too close to what you cannot have.
The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (Back Bay, $14). A man's wife dies in an apparent accident, and the couple's dog is the only witness. In order to know the truth, the husband believes, he must teach his dog to speak. This one is about regret, grief, and needing answers before moving on.
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut (Dial, $16). Vonnegut was a devout atheist and yet, as this 1965 novel about an unexpectedly altruistic son of privilege demonstrates, the Beatitudes sum up the heart of his work. Or as Vonnegut puts it, "Goddamn it, you've got to be kind."