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Even if you aren’t heading back to school, there’s no better season than fall to cozy up to a stack of good books. And, as luck would have it, the new novels hitting shelves right now are intelligent, intriguing page-turners.
Don’t be put off by the fact that so many are considered literary fiction; these novels are every bit as entertaining and addictive as last season’s typical soapy beach reads—they’re just a bit more thought-provoking. Here, the seven novels that are getting the most buzz this fall.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
Whether you adore him or abhor him, if you’re a reader, you’ll agree that a new Jonathan Franzen novel is an event. Five years after Freedom, and almost 15 after The Corrections, we have Purity, which centers around Purity—Pip—Tyler, a twentysomething post-grad bogged down with college loans, a dead-end job, and tangible ennui.
Pip is aimless, both professionally and personally. When the novel opens, she’s squatting with anarchists in Northern California and has a complicated relationship with her mother, who refuses to share anything with Pip about her past—including the identity of Pip’s father. A chance meeting with a German peace activist leads Pip to Bolivia for an internship with The Sunlight Project, a Wikileaks-like organization, where she hopes to uncover secrets about who she really is.
As with all Franzen novels, you can expect plenty of commentary on parenting, the Internet, sex, politics, and pop culture.
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Clocking in around 900 pages, City on Fire can fairly be described as epic. The debut novel made headlines last spring for bagging an unheard-of $2 million advance.
It’s a sprawling story, set in New York City during the 1970s. While its central question is who shot a teenage girl in Central Park on New Year’s Eve in 1976, the novel weaves together a panoramic view of disparate characters that make up the city’s landscape at the time, from East Village punk rockers and bankers to Upper East Side rich kids and journalists, leading them (and us) to the city’s infamous 1977 blackout.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
A story about marriage told from alternating perspectives, Fates and Furies introduces us to Lotto and Mathilde, an attractive married couple madly in love at age 22. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but we come to understand that things are more complicated—and shocking—than they seem. Themes include love, art, creativity, and power as the tale traces the life of a couple over 24 years.
Paulina and Fran by Rachel B. Glaser
At their New England art school, Paulina and Fran are both a little different: Paulina is striking, sexually adventurous, and a queen bee, while Fran is curly-haired, quirky, and innocent. The two form a bond while on a school trip to Norway, and the novel follows a relationship that’s strong but complex—especially when Fran starts dating one of her friend’s ex-boyfriends, and Paulina becomes determined to destroy the couple, creating a rift that will shape the women’s lives way past the days of art school.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
A parody of the dystopian fiction she helped popularize, Atwood’s novel follows married couple Charmaine and Stan, who are forced to sleep in their car after a financial and social collapse. When they see an ad for a social experiment that offers jobs and a clean home, they sign up. There’s a catch, though: Every other month, they have to leave their idyllic suburban home and act as inmates in the local prison system.
While things start off OK for the couple, they both develop obsessions with the couple that occupy their house when they’re in prison, resulting in a mess of lies, sex, guilt, and conformity.
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Clegg’s debut novel starts with a heartbreaking bang: The night before her daughter’s wedding, June Reid is devastated when a tragedy kills her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend—with June the only survivor. June drives cross-country alone, away from her small Connecticut town, and a surprising web of connections are formed through heartbreak.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
Watkins clearly has a thing for the desert: After setting her 2012 collection of stories, Battleborn, in Las Vegas, she’s back with a new dystopian novel set in a post-drought Southern California of the near future. We meet Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, who are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion and hoping to find a better future by heading eastward after meeting a mysterious child.