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Best fiction 2013

Miguel Porlan

“The Isle of Youth” by Laura van den Berg (FSG)

If the decade-long wait between Lorrie Moore collections is causing hives, here’s your cure. Teenage bank robbers, lovers on the lam, and head cases of all types speak hilariously to the losses that make them lonely in this tremendous second collection by van den Berg.

“Claire of the Sea Light” by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)

A girl goes missing in a tiny island village at the beginning of this moving novel. From one chapter to the next, Danticat paces the limits of this disappearance, conjuring a lost, innocent world, and the family ties that keep it alive.

“The Story of a New Name” by Elena Ferrante (Europa)

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Imagine an angry Jane Austen, and you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to plunge into Ferrante’s ongoing tale about Lila and Elena, two Neapolitan women in the 1960s who marry, fall in love, and slowly suffocate from the pressure of it all.

“The Hired Man” by Aminatta Forna (Grove/Atlantic)

The secrets of a war-torn Croatian hamlet come back to haunt the hero of Forna’s fabulously controlled third novel, which reads like a Balkan “Remains of the Day.” Instead of a butler, there’s a silent handyman telling the tale here.

“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead)

Hamid demolishes all the clichés of the South Asian economic miracle in this barbed, political fable about a young man from a village who makes it big, but loses his heart along the way.

“My Struggle, Book Two: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knaussgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Archipelago)

Karl is a writer and bored and struggling with his family. Yes, it sounds suspiciously like Proust, but if you think more of Woody Allen while reading this mesmerizing second of the six-volume epic, its digressive intensity becomes also comic.

“The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride (Riverhead)

Four decades later, “The Confessions of Nat Turner” finally gets a proper response in this ecstatically narrated novel, which recreates John Brown’s fatal revolution through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl.

“The Woman Upstairs” by Claire Messud (Knopf)

“How angry am I? You don’t want to know,” says the narrator of Messud’s ferocious fifth novel as the curtain rises. Here’s what happens when dreams dry up.

“Bleeding Edge” by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin)

In this barbed love letter to Gotham, Pynchon peers into millennial New York and finds, amid the tinkling Zima bottles and dot-com burnouts, a city on the verge of erasing its past.

“Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell (Knopf)

Russell lets her nocturnal imagination get its full freak on in her second collection. Bloodsuckers, human larvae, talking horses all testify about their heartache with spooky clarity.

“The Tenth of December” by George Saunders (Random House)

No American writer has turned the emptiness of our language into such profound art since John Ashbery began writing poems. These stories of people on the edge of danger are deep, but, like, awesome?

John Freeman is the former editor of Granta. His latest book is “How to Read a Novelist.”
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