Fiction Picks for Winter 2020

These four fiction selections are worthy additions to your nightstand.

THE CAPTAIN AND THE GLORY

• By Dave Eggers
• Alfred A. Knopf, 128 pages, $15.95

The Captain and the Glory is a farce in the tradition of the great satirists. An unqualified leader rises to power on a ship once helmed by a great man. The boat’s passengers elect this “known moron” because he has promised to shake things up. The leader fires the experienced crew, surrounds himself with sycophants and criminals, and installs his daughter in a position of authority. You can see where this is headed. In this short novel, Dave Eggers takes aim at feckless commanders and their followers, but it is the Kindly Mutineers who come out worst: those who stand by wringing their hands as the captain bends his knee to despots and murders the innocent.

—Heather Scott Partington

THE LITTLE BLUE KITE

• By Mark Z. Danielewski
• Pantheon, 96 pages, $25.95

Mark Z. Danielewski’s parable The Little Blue Kite insists that the only way to escape fear is to soar into it. For Kai, this means unearthing the blue kite he’s kept buried in his closet. There’s only one problem: he is desperately afraid to fly it. Decades ago, a beloved teacher gave Kai the kite and then vanished, leaving him consumed by guilt and fear. Written in three different fonts, each of which, when read separately, makes for its own story, Danielewski’s book is, by turns, a children’s fable, a middle schooler’s epiphany, and an adult’s lament. Regardless of how we engage with it, the story urges transcending terror in favor of the possibilities of boundless sky.

—Julia Ingalls

CHIMERICA

• By Anita Felicelli
• WTAW Press, 296 pages, $18.95

At the beginning of Anita Felicelli’s first novel, Chimerica, Maya Ramesh is a down-on-her-luck attorney, cut loose after years of striving for her bosses and separated from her family after too many hours on the job. Then a giant talking lemur, which has escaped from an Oakland mural to become the subject of a legal case about intellectual property, gives Maya one last chance to salvage her career. Felicelli’s prose is gorgeous, and her nearly frictionless blending of satire, legal thriller, and domestic drama brings both Maya and her unlikely client to life. I didn’t think the best novel I can remember reading about the legal system and the way it intersects with women’s ambition and the so-called American dream would grow out of such a scenario, but here we are.

—Lydia Kiesling

FREEMAN’S: THE BEST NEW WRITING ON CALIFORNIA

• Edited by John Freeman
• Grove Press, 304 pages, $16

John Freeman is a California expat who has built a name for himself as a critic and editor amid the bright lights of Manhattan. But Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on California reveals where his heart remains. The deftly curated collection features an extraordinary range of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction from writers including Elaine Castillo, Manuel Muñoz, and Tommy Orange. Their work addresses issues such as identity, immigration, and love with urgency and intensity, rendering the line between life and art practically indistinguishable.

—Blaise Zerega

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