Kristen Arnett is a LitHub columnist and author of Felt in the Jaw, an award-winning short-story collection. In her darkly comic first novel, Mostly Dead Things, a woman returns to her Florida hometown to help run a family taxidermy shop.
Edinburgh by Alexander Chee (2001).
If I could put one queer book into everyone's hands, it would be this one. The prose is tender and lovely. Music floods every page. There are prisms of shadow and light. Chee writes with lyric vulnerability and creates characters so compelling that you physically ache for them.
This is a deep dive into the body and mind of a singular author who manipulates text on the page to almost tactile effect. She writes powerfully about memory, yes, but she also reminds readers what it's like to inhabit a body. The essays in the book are interspersed with historical material about the Cascade tribe, one of two indigenous tribes in Washuta's heritage.
As a regional writer I am always looking for work that centers place, and Allison's semi-autobiographical novel does this beautifully with South Carolina. The writing is raw and rich. It is a love letter to home full of pain and joy and heartbreak. This is the book that made me want to be a writer.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko (2017).
Ko's debut novel won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and for good reason: It's a deeply fascinating, beautiful look at the relationship between a mother and a son, spanning continents and spanning decades, from early childhood into young adulthood. It is storytelling inside storytelling. It is love and loss and love again.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (2015).
Here's one of the best fiction collections of the past 10 years. The stories are spellbinding, full of fantastic images and engaging characters, with settings so incredible, you'll feel you're hovering there along the physical landscape. Link's sense of humor shines wildly through every page.
Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison (2001).
I keep coming back to this hilarious, tragic, masterfully written novel about a woman whose life is falling apart. Robison's fragmented storytelling jumps effortlessly through time and drags you along for the ride. Why Did I Ever contains pain and pleasure. The book tells the joke and is ready to laugh at it, too. It is a friend for life.