Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Dover, $6.34).
I have Brontë's family saga to thank for my appreciation of scoundrels in literature. The best thing about Wuthering Heights is its invigoratingly complex, deliciously human cast, all of whom are run ragged by the vengeful, resolutely warped Heathcliff. The ultimate antihero? Yes.
It's hard to decide on the worst person in O'Connor's blackly comic 1952 tale of apostates, con artists, and aggressively stolen gorilla suits. Asa? Mrs. Flood? Hoover Shoats? It could be Hazel Motes himself, so incensed by the irrationality of faith that he goes utterly mad.
Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser (Harper Perennial, $10.62).
There is no one really to root for in Glaser's recent novel about the obsessive, jealous friendship between two affected arts students, yet Paulina & Fran is as curiously moving as it is viciously funny.
The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante (Europa, roughly $11 per novel).
Never comfortable, never tame, Ferrante's Neapolitan novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child) gift us with characters blemished by a country in social and political upheaval. All of the books' characters — from academic to revolutionary to housewife to our heroines, Lila and Lenù — are capable of betrayal, avarice, and self-defeat.
Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (Picador, $16).
A privileged schoolteacher has an affair with an underage student from a disadvantaged background and burdens a vulnerable colleague with the details. Or, an insecure woman falls for a callous brat and in so doing puts herself at the mercy of a domineering, vindictive frenemy. Morals don't come much murkier than those in Heller's downbeat, coarse, but also beautiful novel.
Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. (Grove, $10).
Nobody captured the desperation of lives lived on the periphery quite like Selby did. His full-tilt prose was as provocative as he was empathetic. Although it's impossible to elect just one masterpiece from his work, this 1964 tale, with its cast of hopeful losers and souls warped by disadvantage and environment, is surely a contender for the Great American Novel.