This dazzling fiction debut by poet Ian Williams won Canada’s major fiction prize in 2019. Set in the suburbs of Toronto, Reproduction follows the grief-borne, bickering, near- non-relationship between a German heir and a Caribbean student in the 1970s, to the next generation in the 1990s, and finally to the present. Touching and funny, this stylistically inventive novel moves quickly because of its lively prose and the voices of its flawed, lovable characters. Like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth — a comic, multicultural novel of our times.
Part juicy biography, (most) parts intellectual history, Bakewell’s story of the intertwining lives of Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, and their circle is enthralling. Loaded with lore, such as Beauvoir wearing black turtlenecks because the Second World War meant heating in Paris was difficult to come by, this surprisingly breezy book of the history of ideas brings those ideas to complicated life. She covers heartbreaks and betrayals, Heidegger’s descent into Nazi affiliation, and broken friendships. Existentialism was a philosophy of life, of living and how to live, and this book heightened my interest in it.
In Choi’s National Book Award-winning novel, theatre students in an art school in the ‘80s fall in love and break each other’s hearts while their teachers look on, push buttons, and cross boundaries. A masterful depiction of the cruelties, embarrassments, and anguishes of the human heart, Trust Exercise throws all of its own narratives into doubt by jumping ahead in time and through several characters’ and their depictions. Intelligent and affecting, this unflinching novel was one of my favorites of 2020.