Joyce Carol Oates’ new book, Dis Mem Ber, gathers seven recent stories of mystery and suspense. Below, the prolific novelist and critic recommends six recent works of fiction that affirm the capacity of great authors to imagine their way into others’ lives.
Best books... chosen by Joyce Carol Oates
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, $16 each). In a politically fractious America in which “bearing witness” has been attacked as a motive for art in recent years, emerging writers have nonetheless written boldly across divides of class, ethnic identity, and gender. Outstanding among these has been Anthony Marra, a young American author whose first two books are set mainly in Russia and the former Soviet Union. In A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Marra’s debut novel, three survivors of the Second Chechen War band together in an abandoned hospital. In 2015’s The Tsar of Love and Techno, linked short stories follow various characters’ dreams and dashed hopes from the 1930s to the present, and then beyond.
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish (Tyrant, $17). Atticus Lish’s award-winning first novel is, in part, an extraordinary immersion in the interior life of a female Chinese “illegal immigrant” in the Flushing section of Queens, N.Y.
The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26). Before writing his third novel, Whitney Terrell twice worked as an embedded reporter during the recent U.S. war in Iraq. The Good Lieutenant, published last year, explores the tragic complexities of the war from the perspective of a young female Army lieutenant from the Midwest.
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson (William Morrow, $15). This extravagantly inventive, linguistically daring work skewers two different American cultures. Johnson, who is African-American, conjures the voice of a naïve young white student who arrives at the University of California, Berkeley, from the deepest of the Deep South.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer (Vintage, $17). Version Control is perhaps the strangest fictional work of appropriated voices and subjects. It’s set in a surreal near future—or several near futures— as well as in several pasts. Though issues of race play virtually no role in the stories, one character, an African-American physicist, recalls dropping out of a writing course because the professor thought he should be mining his heritage instead of inventing science fiction.