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The best novels of 2010
SKIPPY DIES , by Paul Murray (Faber & Faber, $28). A hilarious, moving and wise epic crafted around a pack of 14-year-old boys at a Dublin high school whose social dynamics make "Lord of the Flies" seem like "Gilligan's Island." -Jess Walter
THE SLAP , by Christos Tsiolkas (Penguin; paperback, $15). At a neighborhood barbecue in Melbourne, Australia, a 4-year-old throws a tantrum, kicks a bad-tempered man in the shins and is slapped. A feud among friends ensues, leaving us exhausted but gasping with admiration. -Brigitte Weeks
SO MUCH FOR THAT, by Lionel Shriver (Harper, $25.99). In this brutal novel about the cruelty of the American healthcare system, a businessman would like to retire early, but his wife needs his insurance. Finalist for the National Book Award. -R.C.
TAKE ONE CANDLE LIGHT A ROOM , by Susan Straight (Pantheon, $25.95). Layering the rich particulars of African American life into a classic tale of individual desires straining against collective constraints, Straight adds another compassionate achievement to her distinguished body of work. -Wendy Smith
THE THIEVES OF MANHATTAN , by Adam Langer (Spiegel & Grau; paperback, $15). An aspiring writer reworks a mysterious man's novel as a memoir to get revenge on the successful writer who stole his girlfriend and on the whole corrupt publishing world. -Frances Stead Sellers
36 ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD , by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (Pantheon, $27.95). A divinely witty novel about the world's best-selling atheist, who argues that the sense of spirituality persists even if God doesn't. -R.C.
THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET , by David Mitchell (Random House, $26). Set in feudal Japan, a rich historical romance about sacrificial love, clashing civilizations and enemies who won't rest until whole family lines have been snuffed out. -R.C.
TRESPASS , by Rose Tremain (Norton, $24.95). A Gothic novel, dark and eerie, set in the South of France. Tremain's happy ending is a realistic one for older characters - a correcting of accounts, a modicum of mercy. -Jane Smiley
UNDER HEAVEN , by Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc, $26.95). Not quite historical fiction, not quite fantasy, this novel depicts the unimaginable consequences of a single generous gift during a slightly reimagined Tang dynasty. -Michael Dirda
UNFINISHED DESIRES , by Gail Godwin (Random House, $26). Godwin renders a fictional order of Catholic nuns in a Southern girls' school with authority and ease, making their spiritual and corporeal concerns convincing, funny, moving. -Valerie Sayers