Spring 2020 Fiction Picks

From Silicon Valley to Butthole Surfer, buried mystery to a reinvention of the West, Alexandra Chang, Gibby Haynes, C Pam Zhang, and Sara Sligar author spring’s must-read fiction.


Days of Distraction: A Novel by Alexandra Chang


• By Alexandra Chang
• Ecco, 320 pages, $26.99

This tender and candid first novel is narrated by a Chinese American woman named Jing Jing. She plays multiple roles here: grown daughter in a broken immigrant family, technology reporter in Silicon Valley, and supportive girlfriend in an interracial relationship who moves across the country to support her partner’s career. Jing Jing’s most poignant observations come as she examines her parents’ pasts. The narrative unfolds in fragments, one memory conjuring other, distant ones. Not all the details are revelatory or remarkable, but the author establishes a profound intimacy with the reader. The writing aches with sincerity, and we are moved by Jing Jing’s voyage of empathy, her impulse to understand her parents as a way to make sense of her own life.

—Xuan Juliana Wang

Me & Mr. Cigar: A Novel by Gibby Haynes


• By Gibby Haynes
• Soho Teen, 256 pages, $18.99

Me & Mr. Cigar is the first novel by Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes, who set out to write the kind of story he would have liked to read when he was 13. The result is a gonzo YA escapade chock-full of bad decisions, surreal creatures, and futuristic tech. With his best friend, Lytle, and his immortal, wanted-by-the-feds dog, Mr. Cigar, rich kid G. Oscar Lester III takes a road trip from Texas to New York to deliver a ransom for his allegedly kidnapped sister. Their adventures—which include robbing a bank, naked under the protection of an invisibility spray—are the stuff of teenage fantasy.

—Chris Daley

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang


• By C Pam Zhang
• Riverhead Books, 288 pages, $26

American westerns are often limited by particular assumptions about race and gender, as well as about history itself. C Pam Zhang’s debut novel fearlessly rearranges such tropes into new shapes, discarding and recontextualizing even the most steadfast of ideas. Zhang’s gold rush–era setting is peppered with coal mines; buffalo bones bleach in the sun, and tiger prints appear in dry soil. What it adds up to is a reinvention of the Old West—near-apocalyptic in its despair and longing—in which Zhang’s protagonist, Lucy, must find a way to make a home. Her journey back and forth across topography and circumstance makes for a superb and moving work.

Christian Kiefer

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar


• By Sara Sligar
• Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MCD, 368 pages, $27

Blood spatter made photographer Miranda Brand’s career; it also marked her suicide in the bohemia of Callinas, California. Twenty-five years later, ex-journalist Kate Aitken is hired to organize Brand’s archives, which are guarded by the photographer’s adult son, Theo. Only 11 when his mother shot herself, Theo frustrates Kate’s archival work with his secrecy, but he reawakens her investigative and sexual appetites. Part queasy love story, part art-world thriller, Take Me Apart comes into focus with the languor of a developing photograph. Sara Sligar steeps her debut novel in a chemical bath of idiosyncratic characters and atmospheric prose. As the outlines of mental illness, motherhood, and artistry take shape, a shocking picture is revealed.

—Julia Ingalls

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