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This was Chicagoan Chris Schahfer's first full year as a reviewer here at CCLaP, where among his general duties he also wrote the essay collection Stalking the Behemoth, coming in paperback form in 2016. Here's his personally favorite six reads of this year.
Best Otherwise Solid Book Spoiled By a Forced Ending: God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison (Albert A. Knopf, Inc.)
Morrison's first book set in the contemporary period. This one expands her range a little, switching between first and third person narration effectively, and boasts typically spellbinding storytelling, some great character development, and Morrison's will to put her characters through hell. Then she decides that we need a happy ending that puts much too neat of a bow on the story, and I get off the boat. Come on, Toni Morrison. You can do better than this.
Best Book I Can't Review Because of Conflicts of Interest But Had a Good Time With Anyway: Toughlahoma, by Christian Tebordo (Rescue Press)
Christian Tebordo's one of my professors, so I didn't feel comfortable reviewing this book. Still, it's a great read for any fans of strange fiction, full of puns, surreal Biblical references, dark humor, and as many storytelling modes as the guy could fit into a hundred pages. It might seem like a satire on Christianity, but I guarantee you it's a lot more nuanced and interesting than that. Suzanne Scanlon's fragmentary novel Her Thirty-Seventh Year: An Index also deserves mention in this category.
Best Book of Music Criticism That's Also a Memoir: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, by Jessica Hopper (Featherproof Books)
Like a lot of rock bands, a lot of rock criticism is better in theory than in practice. Not even the better stuff, like some of Lester Bangs' wild '70s writing, qualifies as literature. So why am I throwing this in the mix? Literature is about transferring an experience, and some of the best pieces in this collection, like Hopper's account of pretending to be a grunge fan in high school to get a boy's attention, transfer her experience of being a music fan to us readers. So I guess we can call it a memoir in the form of rock criticism.
Book That Would Make for a Good Movie: Morning and Evening, by Jon Fosse (Dalkey Archive)
I wasn't as into this book as a few of the others, but I'm pitching it in here anyway. Fosse is often compared to Beckett, but this novel's meditations on age, morality and metaphysics remind me more of Ingmar Bergman. It's one of those books that might translate better as a film. A good enough actor and a strong setting could bring this to life. I'm imagining a not-quite-right version of the real world, lots of fog and water, a slow rolling pace, and plenty of weird circular dialog with a comedic/philosophical bent. Someone get Max Von Sydow on the phone, because I think I've found his next starring role.
Best Book About Famous Authors' Teeth: The Story of My Teeth, by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)
Luiselli's had a big couple of years lately. How better to keep that train rolling than with a comic novel about the teeth of the famous and a hilariously inflated auctioneer? This one was serialized, written in collaboration with workers at a juice factory, and it has a terrifying but hilarious sequence with clowns and a protagonist who's oddly likable despite his obvious narcissism. I like her ghostly 2013 novel Faces in the Crowd a little bit more, but this is one of those rare books that's as hilarious on the page as it is in theory.
Best Comedy About Soul-Crushing Lack of Fulfillment: Jillian, by Halle Butler (Curbside Splendor)
Two main characters here: Megan, a 24-year-old who feels her friends are more successful than she is, and Jillian, an optimist despite her sad life. The two of them work at the same office and hate each other. You don't need me here to tell you that there's a lot of sadness under this book's surface, or that there are moments where it comes out in huge and almost unbearable rushes. Still, Butler's deadpan dialog and eye for the absurd makes it one of the funnier depictions of two people in crisis I've read.