I read far fewer new releases this year, due mostly to the fact that I had less money to spend on books. It happens. Libraries? My local library still mostly moves popular commercial fiction and nonfiction, copies of Sports Illustrated. Things like that. It is what it is.
That said, let me add I'm still reading a few books that would have made this list had I finished them before sharing my top ten. Those are:
Ryan W. Bradley's NOTHING BUT THE DEAD AND DYING
Michael Seidlinger's THE STRANGEST
Lincoln Michel's UPRIGHT BEASTS
That said, let's get right to it. Here's my top ten in no particular order:
THE WAY THE WORLD IS by Michael Henson
I knew this collection was said to be strong and that it dealt with a character named Maggie Boylan, a drug addict who Henson gives humanity. I gave it a try and found that it was some of the best work to date that redeemed what would appear to be an "unworthy" person. Henson gets it right. He just does.
The was the first of Gray's work I read, and it was a good one to start with. Powerful stories that cemented my determination to now read everything written by her. Best moment in the entire collection, for my money was: "...the house, which had begun to smell like a hot scalp." It doesn't really get much better than that.
This novel should be on every "best of" list this year, but it won't be, and that is a flat-out crime. Gipe created the most fully developed character since maybe Sherlock Holmes in 15-year-old Dawn Jewell The language is simple but original and fresh. Damn that is so hard to do. It's not something I really even try with my own work, but I love reading it. And Dawn is a splendid creation. I've read blurbs and reviews comparing her to Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, Holden Caulfield from Catcher In the Rye, and I get it. But, here's the beautiful part...Dawn is ours. Dawn belongs to us, the mountain people.
Another author on this list - David Joy - recommended this collection and I'm glad he did. I didn't fall in love with every story, but the ones that did hit my heart just right hit bullseye. I mean what's not to like about a collection that includes a story about a TV show host who pawns off a cloned woolly mammoth on his mother? Yes, that's how Pierce rolls. Read it and read it soon.
I posted a review of this beautiful and sad collection yesterday here at Bent Country. It deserves for you to read my full thoughts. It should immediately become part of the canon of flash fiction. Like, this second.
Full disclosure: An essay of mine was included in this anthology. However, that doesn't mean I'm about to leave it off this list. Too much amazing work. My favorite by far was Pinckney Benedict's graphic comic offering. There's a ton of amazing writers in this one, though, including Dorothy Allison, Chris Offutt, Ann Pancake, Tennessee Jones, Charles Dodd White, and tons of others. Each piece is a play on the forbidden and shows a rare contemporary view of Appalachian literature, something I hope becomes less and less rare as time goes by.
Colin Winnette knows how to write a western. And Colin Winnette knows how to write a novel that absolutely no one else could have written. I can't say how much I love the trend of wildly original western novels and stories. The western novel or story is a perfect place for a writer to deal in the light and dark sides of humanity without murdering the idea of entertainment, that ugly old word I love.
I wrote a review of Taylor's newest book this past summer that will eventually be published in American Book Review sometime this coming year. I've been a big fan of Taylor's short fiction and wasn't let down with this novel in seeing his longer work is just as strong. The Kentucky-native spends a great deal of time exploring some familiar tropes present in many Appalachian and Southern novels – the strong pull of home and family, the generational disconnect, and the hardness of both men and women struggling to get by. But in the true sense of exploration, Taylor does so by the very definition of the word, turning over old stones to find fresh dirt and things moving newly beneath.
THE BEST SMALL FICTIONS 2015 edited by Tara L. Masih and Robert Olen Butler
Without question, the most important book published this past year. It's amazing to me how flash fiction can still be seeking legitimacy from the literary community at this point, but I truly believe this anthology may put most of that talk to bed. Nominations are underway now for TBSF 2016 with Stuart Dybek guest editing. I'll have a full review of this stellar book in the next couple weeks up here at Bent Country. Until then, by the book. See the future of flash.
David Joy's debut novel is one that's close to my heart as a writer and an Appalachian. With its main character, Jacob McNeely, Joy has done what I'm always trying to do with my own work: make what seems to be the unlovable lovable, the unlikable likable, the stereotype transformed into a fully realized human being. Joy will make you root for the underdog and then some. He's a true artist and packed with as much talent as anyone writing today.