These are my favorite fiction reads from 2022 in no particular order, regardless of when they were published. I hope you find something to enjoy here, and please share your favorite fiction reads. (I'll cover nonfiction later.)
A Month in the Country (1980) J. L. Carr
I knew nothing of this book before I heard it discussed on the podcast Backlisted. Tom Birkin, a young WWI veteran, travels to the Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is hired to restore a local church’s recently discovered medieval mural. This is such a beautiful little book where seemingly little happens, but its power seeps into your bones. And it’s only 135 pages long.
Hawk Mountain (2022) Conner Habib
An English teacher named Todd is having a relaxing day at the beach with his young son Anthony when along comes a man Todd hasn’t seen since high school. Even from a distance he knows that it’s Jack, the kid who bullied Todd mercilessly in school. But Jack seems different, more mature. Then Jack invites himself over to Todd’s house. This creepy thriller is not for the faint of heart.
The Sympathizer (2016) Viet Thanh Nguyen
It’s rare for me to even pick up any book that’s been lauded to the stratosphere, but The Sympathizer is worthy of all the praise it has received. This is a Vietnam War novel filled with satire, humor, love, friendship, espionage, and more.
The Sea, the Sea (1978) Iris Murdoch
I was absolutely spellbound by this, my first experience with the work of Iris Murdoch. After a career in the theatre, Charles Arrowby retires to a remote coastal town, hoping to write a memoir. Dwelling upon lost loves and decisions he should have made as a youth, Arrowby begins to notice strange things going on by the sea. My second favorite work of fiction this year.
Devil House (2022) John Darnielle
Anyone expecting a traditional horror novel may be disappointed in Devil House. The book isn't even a traditional novel. Although it's not technically difficult to read (with one chapter being an exception), it's a complex, layered work that may not behave in the way you think it should. Darnielle probably isn't all that interested in reader expectations. The power of the novel - the way it conveys information and reveals its revelations - grows on you incrementally. In some cases, it may take a while to feel the full force of the story. This is one of those books that stays with you for a long, long time if you give it your full attention.
Devil House is probably best read in as few sittings as possible. If available, I would not recommend an audiobook version as it may make it too clear who is narrating, and that's part of the mystery of the novel in written form. I look forward to reading this book again in a year or two. There's definite treasure here if you're looking in the right place.
Stoner (1965) John Williams
From my Goodreads review: “A stunning book. I doubt I'll read a better novel this year.”
And I was right. Who would’ve thought a novel about the son of a Missouri farming family seeking to become a literature professor would be so moving and powerful? Yet it is. My favorite work of fiction I read this year.
The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories (2020) James D. Jenkins, Ryan Cagle, editors
Not your typical book of horror short stories. Read this book and you’ll probably have your concept of horror redefined for you, especially if most of your horror reading comes from the U.S. or Great Britain. Here you’ll find works from Spain, Romania, Sweden, Peru, Norway, South Africa, Senegal, Catalonia, and more. I need to pick up Volume 2. And 3.
The Lottery and Other Stories (1949) Shirley Jackson
There’s so much more to Shirley Jackson than the title story and The Haunting of Hill House. Good gracious, this woman could write.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) George V. Higgins
It doesn’t get much better than this crime fiction masterpiece. I liked it so much made a video review:
A Feast of Snakes (1976) Harry Crews
Hawk Mountain is not recommended for the faint of heart, but it’s a day at the playground compared to A Feast of Snakes. Brutally violent and dark, yet not without some equally dark humor. This one certainly won't be for everyone. What am I saying? I think I only know three or four people who would even finish the book. But I'll never forget it. I think I want to thank Jeff D. for recommending it to me, but I'm not sure...
The Count of Monte Cristo (1884) Alexandre Dumas
Okay, the unabridged edition is 1276 pages long, but what a fun ride!
Don’t Look Now (2008 reprint) Daphne du Maurier, Patrick McGrath, ed.
If you’ve only read Rebecca, you’re not getting anything even close to the whole picture of Daphne du Maurier. Yes, this collection contains the title story and “The Birds,” but so much more.
I read lots of other good books this year (and some turkeys), which you can find here.
Next time I hope to cover nonfiction and maybe a video review of my favorite books on film. Please let me know what you enjoyed reading this year.