The best novels of 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010; 1:57 PM

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF FIDEL CASTRO , by Norberto Fuentes (Norton, $27.95). The fake memoirs of the Cuban leader. Fidel couldn't have written it better. -Tom Miller

BROKEN , by Karin Fossum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25). The protagonist of this haunting psychological suspense novel doesn't just rattle around inside the Norwegian author's head; he shows up at her doorstep and pleads with her to treat him sensitively. -Richard Lipez

THE CONFESSION , by John Grisham (Doubleday, $28.95). This suspense story demands to be inhaled as quickly as possible, but it's also a superb work of social criticism about the death penalty and its casualties. -Maureen Corrigan

DAY FOR NIGHT , by Frederick Reiken (Reagan Arthur, $24.99). Using a different first-person point of view in every section, Reiken creates an emotionally acute, complex story about a woman whose father may have died in the Holocaust. -Julie Orringer

DEEP CREEK , by Dana Hand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25). Chinese miners are brutally massacred on the Idaho border, and a disaffected lawman with more than enough troubles of his own finds himself hunting down the killers. -Carolyn See

DRIVING ON THE RIM , by Thomas McGuane (Knopf, $26.95). Berl Pickett, feckless doctor and accused murderer, is a splendid addition to the gallery of semi-cracked eccentrics who populate the literature of the American West. -Michael Lindgren

FATHER OF THE RAIN , by Lily King (Atlantic Monthly, $24). A devoted daughter struggles for years to save her emotionally controlling father from alcohol. -Ron Charles

A FIERCE RADIANCE , by Lauren Belfer (Harper, $25.99). Sex, spies, murder, big money, doomed romance and exotic travel are smoothly braided into this story about the wartime race to make large quantities of penicillin. -M.C.

A GEOGRAPHY OF SECRETS , by Frederick Reuss (Unbridled, $25.95). The interlocking stories of a defense analyst and a mapmaker examine the collateral damage of a lifetime of keeping secrets, raising provocative questions about Washington's culture of deception. -Daniel Stashower

THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY , by Heidi W. Durrow (Algonquin, $22.95). When several family members fall off the roof of a Chicago apartment building, the sole survivor is biracial Rachel, who goes to live with her grandmother in an African American neighborhood. -Lisa Page

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST , by Stieg Larsson (Knopf, $27.95). The conclusion to the Millennium Trilogy is an ambitious panorama that encompasses the worlds of journalism, corporations, medicine, organized crime and government. -Patrick Anderson

THE GIRL WITH GLASS FEET , by Ali Shaw (Henry Holt, $24). Returning from a strange, shadow-haunted island, a young tourist finds herself turning into crystal. -Elizabeth Hand

GO, MUTANTS! by Larry Doyle (Ecco, $23.99). Not even interstellar intervention can change the cruel social dynamics of high school, not when the resident fat boy is the Blob, your sex-ed teacher is the Deadly Mantis, and the star of the football team is an 800-pound gorilla. -E.H.

HOUSE RULES , by Jodi Picoult (Atria, $28). Jacob has Asperger's syndrome, and when his tutor is found dead, the police suspect that his obsession with crime scenes may have led him to stage one of his own. -M.C.

HUMAN CHAIN , by Seamus Heaney (Farrar Straus Giroux, $24). The Nobel laureate's new collection of poetry is pervaded by an awareness of mortality and encroaching darkness, and yet it is a joy on every level. -Troy Jollimore

I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE , by Laura Lippman (Morrow, $25.99). This mystery transcends the thriller genre, thanks to Lippman's ability to take us into the lives and hearts of women who have been wronged and of the families that suffer with them. -P.A.

I HOTE L , by Karen Tei Yamashita (Coffee House; paperback, $19.95). Ten linked novellas about Asian American activists and workers living in the same hotel in San Francisco. National Book Award finalist. -Marcela Valdes

THE IMPERFECTIONISTS , by Tom Rachman (Dial, $25). Every individual, from the cuckolded news editor to the frozen-in-amber baroness, is treated with discretion and humanity in this witty portrait of a dying Italian newspaper. -Louis Bayard

THE INFINITIES , by John Banville (Knopf, $25.95). The real subject of this unforgettable, beautifully written book is nothing less than the enigma of mortal existence. And who better than a cast of lusty, bemused and mischievous immortals to cast a new light on that? -Troy Jollimore

THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE , by Julie Orringer (Knopf, $26.95). This account of the way Hungary's Jewish population was decimated by the Holocaust makes brilliant use of deliberately old-fashioned realism to define individual fates engulfed by history's deadly onrush. -Donna Rifkind

KINGS OF THE EARTH , by Jon Clinch (Random House, $26). Based on the true tale of the death of one of four reclusive brothers, this novel explores the complex and yearning American character. -Robert Goolrick

THE LAKE SHORE LIMITED , by Sue Miller (Knopf, 25.95). In this emotionally intricate novel, a playwright struggles to express her grief - or relief - after losing a lover in the 9/11 attacks. -R.C.

THE LONELY POLYGAMIST , by Brady Udall (Norton, $26.95). In this audacious novel, the polygamous Mormon patriarch is just a poor, henpecked schmo. -Wendy Smith

THE LONG SONG , by Andrea Levy (Farrar Straus Giroux, $26). Set in Jamaica during the 19th-century revolt, this is a book for those who understand that a slave woman's history is History. -Tayari Jones

LORD OF MISRULE , by Jaimy Gordon (McPherson, $25). This novel abounds with observations about horses, money and luck. Gordon has completely mastered the language of the racetrack and formed it into an evocative and idiosyncratic style. Winner of the National Book Award. -Jane Smiley

MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND , by Helen Simonson (Random House, $25). A smart romantic comedy about a refined British gentleman finding love and diversity late in life. -R.C.

MAN IN THE WOODS , by Scott Spencer (Ecco, $24.99). An agonizing question hovers over this thriller: Will two decent people have their happiness destroyed because of a senseless encounter with an unbalanced man? -P.A.

MATTERHORN , by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly, $24.95). This Vietnam War novel reads like adventure, and yet it makes even the toughest war stories seem a little pale by comparison. -David Masiel

THE OTHER FAMILY , by Joanna Trollope (Touchstone; paperback, $15). The story of two families firmly divided yet irrevocably connected by the man who was the biological father in both households. -Reeve Lindbergh

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR , by John le Carr (Viking, $27.95). A Russian moneylender presses a young British couple to help him retire from his dangerous profession. If a better thriller has been published this year, I'd like to see it. -Dennis Drabelle

THE PASSAGE , by Justin Cronin (Ballantine, $27). This spectacular vampire saga - first in a planned trilogy - stitches together scraps of classic horror and science fiction, techno thrillers and apocalyptic terror. -R.C.

PHANTOM NOISE , by Brian Turner (Alice James, $16.95). Turner's poetry shows us soldiers who are invincible and wounded, a nation noble and culpable, and a war by turns necessary and abominable. -Courtney Cook

PRIVATE LIFE , by Jane Smiley (Knopf, $26.95). In the course of this brilliantly imagined, carefully chiseled story, Smiley introduces a rich cast of characters, a virtual rush of Californian diversity. A quantum leap for this author. -Marie Arana

SAVAGE LANDS , by Clare Clark (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25). The struggling French colony of Louisiana provides a richly atmospheric backdrop for the intertwined lives of three settlers who are newcomers to this unwelcoming terrain. -Sybil Steinberg

SELECTED STORIES , by William Trevor (Viking, $35). Wry, wistful, slice-of-life stories that have been likened to those of Anton Chekhov because of their acute observations, limpid prose, and subtlety of presentation. -Ron Hansen

SHADOW TAG , by Louise Erdrich (Harper, $25.99) A tense little masterpiece of marital strife that recalls the novelist's tragic relationship with the late writer Michael Dorris. -R.C.

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

SNAKEWOMAN OF LITTLE EGYPT , by Robert Hellenga (Bloomsbury, $25). A darling anthropologist meets a lady convict who shot her snake-handling husband. - C.S.

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

UNION ATLANTIC , by Adam Haslett (Doubleday, $26). This strange, elegant story about a successful investment banker illuminates the financial and moral calamity of the young 21st century. -R.C.

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