Every year brings new faces to the wide literary world: here are the ten best debuts of 2017 thus far!
1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
George Saunders has long been a master of the short story; but his first novel is quite the piece de resistance: it follows Abraham Lincoln as he grapples with heartbreak, grief and existential questions at a vulnerable point in his life after the funeral of his young son Willie. Blending good, bad and ugly with ghosts, death and loss with the sort of elegance and pathos only a National Book Award-winning novelist could, Lincoln in the Bardo is definitely worth reading.
2. The Futures by Anna Pitoniak
A coming of age tale set in the city that never sleeps, Pitoniak’s debut novel leads us through a rollercoaster of a relationship between small town boy Evan and silver-spooned Julia, who move from a sheltered Ivy League to the big bad Apple on the heels of the 2008 financial crisis. Called an ode to the millennials, Julia and Evan’s story is hauntingly relatable and bewitchingly narrated, weaving a spellbinding tale amidst the skyscrapers and suits as Wall Street begins its plangent descent into chaos.
3. Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
A psychological thriller that asks more questions than it answers, Idaho has been called a twisted love letter to a state, an eerie portrait of family life and so much more- Ruskovich masterfully tells the stories of Wade Mitchell, an unreliable narrator with a fractured memory, his new wife Ann, and his first wife Jenny-who has been imprisoned for the murder of their daughter. With a timeline that plays hopscotch with nearly a half century worth of memories set in the rugged backwoods of titular Idaho, the book- called “shatteringly original” by the San Francisco Chronicle- is a provocative mystery that’s certainly worth a try.
4. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter
Written by BuzzFeed editor Scaachi Koul, this book of essays on a number of topics- racism, the patriarchy, Indian society- speaks to the modern Indian on a personal level. Packed with raw humour and told with frank sardonicism, Koul’s experiences- at Indian weddings, which she truthfully explains “are longer than some prison sentences” to claustrophobic gender roles- are a clear, laugh-out-loud dispatch that is insanely relevant to these times.
5. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Fans of modern fiction and character-driven narrative will fall in love with the story of motorbike-riding insurance agent Nadia and the too-frank-for-his-own-good Saeed, who escape an unnamed, war-torn Middle Eastern country for the “West”, only to come face to face with their refugee status and all it entails to be an immigrant abroad as well as questions about their own relationship. Hamid’s voice is edgy and minimalist, and Exit West has been praised for its portrayal of wartime life- the book concedes that we are “all migrants through time”, after all, and if that moral isn't relevant to current events, I don’t know what is.
6. Sorry To Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell
South Korean author Cottrell gives us a lushy noir for the 2017 reader with her referential, existential storytelling that follows thirty-something New Yorker Helen on her journey home to Wisconsin after her adoptive brother commits suicide for reasons unknown. As Helen investigates, she tragicomically spirals deeper and deeper, with arising questions about her estranged parents, confusing childhood and convoluted present.
7. Startup by Doree Shafrir
Journalist Shafrir sets her feminist, addictive page-turner of a work in the cut-throat New York tech scene, where tech reporter Katya finds herself in an unprecedented alliance with social media manager Sabrina when Sabrina’s billionaire boss fires off an unfortunate text that could lead to a hefty sexual harassment lawsuit. On a quest to expose the quintessentially “boys-only” nature of their tech-boom fueled world, the women brave personal conflict, app valuations and job insecurity in this laugh-out-loud ride that, as Publisher’s Weekly put it, doesn’t take itself as seriously as its characters do themselves.
8. No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
A Great Gatsby retelling refurbished in the American South, it follows self-proclaimed lone wolf JJ as he returns to his hometown, after more than a decade, to prove his worth as an African-American man in a place still haunted by Jim Crow. To his dismal surprise, both Pinewood and its residents have drastically changed. His high-school sweetheart with whom he has long-nursed an obsession is a bank teller desperate for children, her overbearing mother corresponds with an imprisoned serial killer, and the town itself is in quite the state of economic decline. A less derivative retelling than could be expected, No One is Coming to Save Us is as rhythmic and enticing as the classic it pastiches.
9. The Leavers by Lisa Ko
When Deming undocumented mother Polly Gou disappears one day, he is adopted by a pair of Caucasian professors in a quiet suburb- as he becomes Daniel Wilkinson and struggles with his quintessential foreignness in a community that lacks diversity, dropping out of college and attempting to play guitar in a questionable band. The story branches out to include his mother, deported to China with nothing but the clothes on her back, and her search for as well as reunion with her son. More than a classical adoption/immigrant story that’s become omniscient in pop culture at the moment (Lion, Behold the Dreamers) The Leavers offers a refreshing lens upon a familiar theme.
10. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
An English language debut by a well-known Kannada author, it tells the story of millennial Bangalorean whose family suddenly finds themselves up an economic strata when they invest in their dubious uncle’s spice venture. The unnamed young man- who grew up as the son of a nearly-broke coffee salesman- finds himself with a shiny office, fancy title and comfortable couch but without any real work at this questionable enterprise grapples with changes in attitude, from those of the suddenly-welcoming high society to his own wife’s, the novel tangles with doubts of wealth, grandeur and whether the only way to go from a peak is downward.
- Devanshika Bajpai