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Best Fiction of 2007

Sunday, December 2, 2007

ABC, by David Plante (Pantheon). A daring and oddly exhilarating exploration of grief. -- Elizabeth Hand

After Dark, by Haruki Murakami; translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin (Knopf). Short, hypnotically eerie, full of noirish foreboding. It keeps ratcheting up the suspense. -- Michael Dirda

The Air We Breathe, by Andrea Barrett (Norton). In the apprehensive silence that prevails in a sanatorium, a cough is as much cause for panic as an anarchist's bomb. -- Maureen Corrigan

The American Way, a graphic novel by John Ridley (WildStorm). A sly, pointed allegory of U.S. politics in the 1960s. Zooms along, with jabs. -- Douglas Wolk

Angelica, by Arthur Phillips (Random House). A spellbinding novel of sexual repression that cements this novelist's reputation as one of the best writers in America. -- Elizabeth Hand

Away, by Amy Bloom (RH). This immigrant story reads like dry wood bursting into flame; desperate and impassioned, erotic and moving. -- Ron Charles

The Bad Girl, by Mario Vargas Llosa; translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (FSG). Irresistibly entertaining and formidably smart. -- Jonathan Yardley

Bangkok Haunts, by John Burdett (Knopf). A wonderful mystery series that is sprightly and densely layered, like the Thais themselves. -- Richard Lipez

The Bestiary, by Nicholas Christopher (Dial). Magical and melancholy. A richly drawn search across Europe, guided by rare manuscripts. -- RC

The Big Girls, by Susanna Moore (Knopf). To create a world in which an insane child-murderer appears more sentient than anyone else is remarkable. -- Carolyn See

Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman (McSweeney's). A smart, zany comedy from America to Iraq, by a first-time novelist who's 90 years old. -- RC

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo (Knopf). Russo's sensitivity to the currents of friendship and family life, the anxieties that mingle with affection, makes this novel a continual flow of revelations. -- RC

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot D¿az (Riverhead). Oscar clearly is not intended to function as a hero in the classical sense. Geek swagger, baby. Get used to it. -- Jabari Asim

Call Me By Your Name, by Andr¿ Aciman (FSG). The beauty of Aciman's writing and the purity of his passion should place this extraordinary first novel within the canon of great romantic love stories.

-- Charles Kaiser

Charity Girl, by Michael Lowenthal (Houghton Mifflin). During World War I, 30,000 American women were imprisoned for the supposed purpose of preventing the spread of venereal diseases in soldiers. Lively and illuminating. -- Anita Shreve

The Children of H¿rin, by J.R.R. Tolkien; edited by Christopher Tolkien (HM). Grand, epic storytelling and a reminder, if one was needed, of Tolkien's genius.

-- Elizabeth Hand

Christopher's Ghosts, by Charles McCarry (Overlook). A legendary agent sets out to have his revenge on a psychopathic spymaster. Rich in suspense and colorful characters. -- Patrick Anderson

The Collected Poems 1956-1998, by Zbigniew Herbert; translated from the Polish and edited by Alissa Valles (Ecco). Leaves no doubt about the place of Herbert's work in 20th-century letters, which rivals that of W.H. Auden or Elizabeth Bishop. -- Anthony Cuda

Conjugal Love, by Alberto Moravia; translated from the Italian by Marina Harss (Other). Once you start this intense novel, you won't be able to turn away. -- MD

Dancing to "Almendra", by Mayra Montero; translated by Edith Grossman (FSG). The gossamer beauty and blood-soaked brutality that personifies Cuba in 1957. -- Joanne Omang

Delirium, by Laura Restrepo; translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (Nan A. Talese). Stunning, dense, complex. The setting is Bogot¿, Colombia. Far above politics, right up into high art. -- CS

Devotion, by Howard Norman (HM). A man and his father-in-law have a violent quarrel. A beautiful story of fall and redemption. -- Stephen Amidon

Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje (Knopf). Two worlds divided by decades and oceans, but connected by undiminishable echoes. -- Jeff Turrentine

The Elephanta Suite, by Paul Theroux (HM). These three novellas are tenuously connected. The main characters all stay, if only briefly, in a Mumbai hotel. Beautifully paced, sexy and disturbing. -- MD

Endless Things, by John Crowley (Small Beer). The fourth and last installment in a vast, intricate series of novels collectively entitled "Aegypt." A work of great erudition and deep humanity. -- Bill Sheehan

Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks (Doubleday). Like a page torn from Camus, updated with a slew of scientific arguments questioning the very concept of selfhood.

-- Michael Collins

Eureka, by Jim Lehrer (RH). A sedentary and bored CEO of a major insurance company experiences an all-consuming conflagration of nostalgia. His wife calls in a therapist. A nutty, likeable romp. -- Steve Amick

Fellow Travelers, by Thomas Mallon (Pantheon). The time is the mid-1950s, and the State Department is purging its workforce of homosexuals. -- David Leavitt

The 47th Samurai, by Stephen Hunter (Simon & Schuster). From one of the finest practitioners of the classic blood-soaked American thriller, a hero who must go forth and slay the dragon. -- Daniel Woodrell

Generation Loss, by Elizabeth Hand (Small Beer). Although it moves like a thriller, this dark, beautiful novel detonates with greater resound. -- Graham Joyce

Ghost, by Alan Lightman (Pantheon). When a rational man thinks he saw a ghost, his whole world is shaken. A fascinating reflection on what we think we know. -- RC

Ghostwalk, by Rebecca Stott (Spiegel & Grau). A cerebral thriller about Newton and 17th-century alchemy. -- RC

The God of Spring, by Arabella Edge (S&S). The engrossing story of how G¿ricault produced "Raft of the Medusa." This is art history on fire. -- RC

A Good and Happy Child, by Justin Evans (Shaye Areheart). Beautifully written, perfectly structured -- a literary thriller of the first order. -- Andrew Wilson

The Gravedigger's Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco). Every aspect of this ungainly plot feels right, including its ungainliness. Flowing through is Oates's turbulent prose. -- Brian Hall

Hannibal Rising, by Thomas Harris (Delacorte). A portrait of the cannibal as a young man. Arguably the best of Harris's novels. -- Douglas E. Winter

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic). An instant classic that earns its catharsis honestly, not through hype or sentiment but through the author's vision and hard work.

-- Elizabeth Hand

High Season, by Jon Loomis (St. Martin's Minotaur). Sheriff Coffin is an appealing invention, a traumatized former homicide detective working in Baltimore. -- Kevin Allman

Imposture, by Benjamin Markovits (Norton). The youngest medical student to have taken a degree at Edinburgh is abruptly hired as personal physician to Lord Byron. -- Louis Bayard

In the Country of Men, by Hisham Matar (Dial). A haunting, poetic story about a boy struggling to comprehend what's happening to his family during Col. Moammar Gaddafi's reign of terror. -- RC

In Her Absence, by Antonio Mu¿oz Molina; translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Other). This elegant novel focuses intensely on a civil servant and his passionate yet painful relationship with his wife of six years. -- Brigitte Weeks

The Indian Bride, by Karin Fossum; translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund (Harcourt). This new mystery is so suspenseful that it was all I could do to keep myself from catapulting instantly to the bang-up final chapter. -- Richard Lipez

Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan (Viking). Closing day for a restaurant at a depressed shopping mall. Full of regret and gentle humor. -- RC

Lost City Radio, by Daniel Alarc¿n (HarperCollins). Readers will recognize fragments of recent history in Argentina, Chile and Peru. A fable for the entire continent. -- JY

Lost Paradise, by Cees Nooteboom; translated from the Dutch by Susan Massotty (Grove). A young art student travels to Australia after being gang-raped in Sao Paolo. Gripping, brimming with musings about identity and redemption. -- Jennifer Vanderbes

Lottery, by Patricia Wood (Putnam). When a young man with an IQ of 76 wins $12 million, his awful relatives are on him like glue. A profoundly lovable novel. -- Carrie Brown

Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan (Ballantine). A fictional account of Frank Lloyd Wright's passionate affair, a Chicago scandal that ended violently. -- Meg Wolitzer

The Lying Tongue, by Andrew Wilson (Atria). When a reclusive English author living in Venice needs a personal assistant, beware. -- Michael Collins

Making Money, by Terry Pratchett (Harper). Another ingenious entertainment from the preeminent comic fantasist of our time. -- Bill Sheehan

The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard (HC). The characters are engaging and, though nothing remarkable happens, the story is potent and engrossing . -- Marilynne Robinson

The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis, by Michael Pritchett (Unbridled). In parallel stories, 200 years apart, this novel explores America's most legendary adventure and surveys the emotional landscape of its sorry hero.

-- RC

Mister B. Gone, by Clive Barker (HarperCollins). The story of Botch, a disembodied spirit literally trapped in the pages of his own book. One of the most resonant, provocative novels of Barker's career. -- Bill Sheehan

Mistress of the Art of Death, by Ariana Franklin (Putnam). When Cambridge townspeople blame the Jews for a string of child murders, a female doctor from Italy must find the truth. -- Diana Gabaldon

Mothers and Sons, by Colm T¿ib¿n (Scribner). This story collection shows that the bond between mother and son is as inexplicable as it is unbreakable. -- Jeff Turrentine

My Holocaust, by Tova Reich (HC). Serious, hilarious and utterly scathing. Something here to offend everyone.

-- Melvin Jules Bukiet

Nada, by Carmen Laforet; translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (Modern Library). This fine new translation shows that after six decades, Nada has lost none of its power and originality. -- JY

New England White, by Stephen L. Carter (Knopf). Carter casts a critical eye on the lifestyles of the black and privileged. Formidable storytelling. -- Jabari Asim

Once in a Promised Land, by Laila Halaby (Beacon). An ordinary couple from Jordan struggle to live in Albuquerque. Insightful, heartbreaking. -- CS

Origin, by Diana Abu-Jaber (Norton). Lena's no hero. She's scared to death and terribly depressed, but she's determined to find out who killed her babies and why. -- CS

The Other Side of You, by Salley Vickers (FSG). A heartbreaking love story. Vickers is a novelist in the great English tradition of moral seriousness. -- MD

Past Perfect, by Susan Isaacs (Scribner). A funny, smart-alecky heroine and wit to burn. -- Claudia Deane

Peony in Love, by Lisa See (Random House). Years pass in a paragraph; realms are traversed in a line. This reader felt transported. -- Nicholas Delbanco

Pontoon, by Garrison Keillor (Viking). Evelyn sets in motion a circus of zany events when she dies. Abounds with good-humored satire. -- Howard Frank Mosher

Red Cat, by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf). He spent several memorable afternoons with her, but then she began threatening to tell his wife and boss. One of the most interesting crime novels of the year. -- PA

Red Rover, by Deirdre McNamer (Viking). Set in Montana from 1927 to the present day, this novel describes how four young boys live out their lives. -- CS

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid (Harcourt). A Pakistani man finds success in New York, but after 9/11 he abandons that life when he realizes America isn't what he had hoped. -- Laila Halaby

Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas, by Rick Moody (Little, Brown). "The Albertine Notes" is a spectacular near-future story that blows away recent post-apocalypse fiction. Moody is one of our best writers. -- Elizabeth Hand

Run, by Ann Patchett (Harper). An intimate domestic drama that deals with big issues touching us all: religion, race, class, politics and, above all else, family. -- JY

The Scandal of the Season, by Sophie Gee (Scribner). Imagines the events leading up to "The Rape of the Lock." An extravagant costume drama infused with the poet's incisive wit and moral insight. -- RC

The Shadow Catcher, by Marianne Wiggins (S&S). At the center is the real-life photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952). Bravura evocations of wide-open American spaces. -- Wendy Smith

Shakespeare's Kitchen: Stories, by Lore Segal (New Press). The power lies in Segal's dazzling ability to merge the mundane details of life with the arc of human emotions. -- Caroline Preston

The Shotgun Rule, by Charlie Huston (Ballantine). A dark but brilliant portrait of the way many teenage boys live in America, by one of the most original crime novelists at work today. -- PA

Spook Country, by William Gibson (Putnam). A world transformed by globalization, terrorist attacks and technology. Less a conventional thriller than a devastatingly precise reflection of the American zeitgeist. -- Bill Sheehan

Stalin's Ghost, by Martin Cruz Smith (S&S). The sixth installment about Moscow detective Arkady Renko. -- PA

Surveillance, by Jonathan Raban (Pantheon). Scarily beautiful. A gifted writer explores the human condition with tenderness, empathy and rueful wit. -- Wendy Smith

Symphony, by Jude Morgan (St. Martin's). A brilliant historical novel about Harriet Smithson, the Irish actress who inspired Hector Berlioz to compose "Symphonie Fantastique." -- Eugenia Zukerman

The Terror, by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown). The fate of Sir John Franklin's last expedition. Meticulously researched and brilliantly imagined. -- David Masiel

The Testament of Gideon Mack, by James Robertson (Viking). The minister in this Scottish town doesn't believe in God, until he meets the devil. A novel that will affirm your faith in the power of fiction -- RC

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (Ri verhead). Many of us learned much from The Kite Runner, and there is much more to be learned from this new novel. A brave, honorable, big-hearted book. -- JY

Time and Materials: Poems, by Robert Hass (HC). The former poet laureate and the first Poet's Choice columnist, Hass delivers brooding, inventive poems, deft variations on the passage of time. -- Robert Pinsky

A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Stories, by Primo Levi; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein and Alessandra Bastagli (Norton). The cumulative effect is to make one wonder about the philosophy that brought these many imagined worlds into a single mind. -- Dara Horn

Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster (Henry Holt). Mr. Blank begins to read a harrowing account of his doppelg¿nger. The reader is kept on edge, guessing until the very end. -- Howard Norman

Trespass, by Valerie Martin (Doubleday). The truth conveyed is all too familiar: the horridness of war. But this book is remarkable and absolutely surprising -- CS

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett (FSG). Imagines what might occur if Queen Elizabeth suddenly developed a ravenous passion for books. Delicious. -- MD

The Unknown Terrorist, by Richard Flanagan (Grove). Sydney, in the aftermath of a bomb scare. A disturbing gaze at the psychological mechanisms of terror.

-- David Masiel

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell (Harcourt). A modern feminist classic about a young woman who discovers her great aunt has been incarcerated for the past 60 years. -- RC

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy; translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Knopf). A fine new translation that offers an opportunity to see this great classic afresh. -- MD

The Water Cure, by Percival Everett (Graywolf). A man's 11-year-old daughter has been raped and killed. He is now in the process of torturing her murderer, but this is only the tip of the iceberg -- Jim Krusoe

The Water's Lovely, by Ruth Rendell (Crown). As suspenseful as any crime novel she has ever written. Rendell is in absolute top form here. -- Michael Sims

What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman (Morrow). A woman is involved in an auto accident outside Baltimore. When police demand identification, she has none. -- PA

World Without End, by Ken Follett (Dutton). This sequel to Pillars of the Earth is a rousing well-researched portrait of the late Middle Ages. -- Diana Gabaldon

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon (HC). The amazing adventures of a homicide detective in the Jewish state of Alaska. -- Elizabeth McCracken

Zeroville, by Steve Erickson (Europa). A violent ex-divinity student arrives in Hollywood to pursue his devotion to the movies. -- Jeff Vandermeer

Zoli, by Colum McCann (Random House). Loosely based on the life of the Polish Gypsy poet Papusza. Beautifully conceived, wonderfully told. -- Frances Itani

Zugzwang, by Ronan Bennett (Bloomsbury). A doctor in St. Petersburg in 1914 scorns politics, but the police believe he knows something about a dead poet who may have been a terrorist. -- PA

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