The first 50 weeks of 2016 are now memories. We’re sharing lists of our best things from the past year. Here are my favorite novels from 2016.
”The Heavenly Table” by Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday, 365 pages, $27.95)
Donald Ray Pollock’s first book, “Knockemstiff,” was a story collection that announced: watch out, Donald Ray Pollock has arrived. His next book, “The Devil All the Time,” was his first novel. It took Pollock a while to wrestle that manuscript into submission. He was accustomed to writing short stories and the novel form presented challenges.
One of the story lines in “The Devil All the Time,” was that of a pair of serial killers, a husband and wife team who roamed our nation’s highways hunting for unlucky hitchhikers — young men mostly, who were then lured to their deaths by this sadistic duo. Pollock seems to have a thing for serial killers.
His new novel is “The Heavenly Table” and there’s a serial killer in it, too. But he’s only a minor character, a mere paperweight in the form of a bludgeon. The central characters in this devilish yarn are a trio of brothers who decide to become criminals. The only one who can read had been entertaining them with tales from a pulp novel and that book becomes the inspiration for their descent into lives of crime.
The characters in Pollock’s stories orbit around the Chillicothe area where Pollock grew up and where he still resides. The fictional city of “Mead” is named after the paper mill where he labored for years. This new novel is a fast-paced yarn set during World War I. It is rambunctious, darkly humorous and thoroughly entertaining.
“The Summer That Melted Everything” by Tiffany McDaniel (St. Martin’s Press, 310 pages, $25.99)
Tiffany McDaniel is another writer from southern Ohio. Her first published book, “The Summer That Melted Everything,” is set in 1984 in the fictional town of Breathed, Ohio. This is the story of a family that welcomes the devil into their home. With the devil around, things start to heat up. McDaniel writes like an angel. Donald Ray Pollock has praised this book. He calls it “the first truly great gothic coming-of-age novel of the 21st century.”
“The Passenger” by Lisa Lutz (Simon and Schuster, 302 pages, $15.99)
A woman flees from her home after her husband takes a bad fall and dies. Why is she running? Did she kill him? She spends most of the book as a fugitive employing a string of false identities. Who is she? What is she trying to hide? Who is trying to find her? In “The Passenger,” Lisa Lutz has penned an exquisitely perfect mystery.
“Under the Harrow” by Flynn Berry (Penguin, 219 pages, $16).
For her debut novel, Flynn Berry has created a startling whodunnit. A woman named Nora travels by train from London to visit her sister at her country home. When Nora arrives she finds that her sister has been brutally murdered. Nora is determined to identify her sister’s killer. Before she can do that she has some personal issues to resolve. This story is haunting, atmospheric, and so very clever.
Next week, I’ll have my non-fiction faves.