It’s been eons since the publishing world produced a year of such majestic proportions, and it seems absurd not to give friends novels for holiday presents. Though two of these books are available in paper, they are all available from bookstores — and of course online — in hardback, too.
The best American novel about America written in decades, Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk combines all the elements of our country’s epic, ignoble and amoral obsessions — foreign interventions, Dallas Cowboys football, sex, and the nightmares of the family romance — and puts them in a riveting package that gloriously observes the Aristotelian unity of place and time. The novel about a troop of Iraqi War vets back from the fray to see a Thanksgiving football game grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go ’til the last hurrah.
From America, we go to England, where Hilary Mantel won her second Man Booker Prize for her second installment (the first won, too) of her Thomas Cromwell/Henry VIII series: This one is called Bringing Up the Bodies and rarely has the historical novel lived up to a title so well. Nobody I know writes with the same elliptical precision.
Thomas Pynchon, who easily ranks among the greatest novelists our land has ever produced, has turned out another small book — as opposed to giant postmodern tomes like Gravity’s Rainbow — and despite the early critic reviews, this ranks among his finest. Clear with a complex cast of characters, Bleeding Edge is Pynchon’s bookend New York book. V takes place in the 1950s, while Edge plugs the Big Apple with millennial nostalgia until the great tragedy strikes. With surprising hipster wit, Pynchon lampoons the world of geek chic, taking us on a tour of the Deep Web yet pushing forward his own old intrigues, paranoia, dope humor, and the well-wrought last laughs we get before entropy plunges us into “thermodynamic night.”