Spackler’s Hackles by E. Whittington Ashley ($22.95, Scribner)

Undeniably one of the blockbuster hits of the year, full of disparate yet wonderfully rendered characters like Cambodian refugees and the Hungarian Mafia, evangelicals and gay rehab counselors, not to mention evangelicals in gay rehab, cheesy boyfriends and drunk bookworms. Dmitri Spackler is a protagonist for the new millennium: a savvy mix of Leopold Bloom and Jay Gatsby, with a touch of Hank Chinaski thrown in for good measure. The prose is incisive, contemporary, and full of wisdom, while simultaneously confronting the near-future with an ironic and heuristic eye. Simply put, this wonderful book stretches the boundaries of the imagination way past boundaries I had previously imagined.

 

 

Kiss My Fist by James Hadley Chase ($19.95, Pantheon)

This sublime word-drunk novel from the Caine Prize–winning author J.H. Chase is a coming-of-age story imbued with a tour-de-force love affair with language. The caretaker of a mountain lodge, Lou F. (we never learn his last name, for–spoiler alert!–reasons that will become apparent), has his isolated existence irrevocably altered when he is charged with the care of his niece and nephew, children rendered mute by the trauma of recently seeing their mother murdered by her carny ex-husband. Meanwhile, an unsuccessful prosecution of the husband leaves Lou F. and the children in mortal danger. It’s a tense, brutal, evocative thriller that I didn’t put down until I did, while also being a beautifully rendered and deeply touching meditation on pain—physical and otherwise. It’s about our connectedness, and our humanity, and the meaning of suffering, and learning to suffer to acquire that meaning. A meaning for which there is no cure. And a suffering that’s eternal. Absolutely stunning.

 

 

 

Sandra, if by The Sea by Cleve Lever (14.50, Picador) The eponymous Sandra, a leggy research scientist, spends sixty-six delightful chapters sidelining her own intellectual and botanical pursuits in favor of riding along with her manic depressive boyfriend’s quixotic roller-coaster vision quest for the meaning of apathy as they traipse through the dark heart of the (only metaphorical?) Amazonian jungle. Not to mention through the dawn of semiotics, post-structuralism, identity politics, and psychopharmacology. A coming-of-age novel that is as unapologetically erudite as it is funny, fun, and profound. You’ll wish you were right there with Sandra, squatting in the mud, alternately batting her boyfriend’s groping hand off her knee, as well as watching her watch him weep depressive tears into the nylon lining of his sleeping bag well into the mosquito-buzzing night. Invest in Kleenex and pour another whiskey, because this skull-hammer of a book will drown you in its inexorable tide of genius.

 

 

 

The Assault on Meursault by Sandip Peshwar ($34.99, Grove Press)

The Assault on Meursault is a glimmering tale of class hatred and suppressed violence, while also being a prose poem that resurrects the unexpected joy of finding love after having long since given up the possibility of it. This brave and uncompromising novel maps the geography of grief and loss in searing detail utilizing wickedly insightful narrators: a group of French tourists suddenly finding themselves stranded outside greater Cleveland. Peshwar follows his unlikely, wise-cracking, all-male troupe as they stumble into a dying city amid a heady swirl of nostalgia and fantasy, sex and suspicion, never quite shaking the priestly impact of their collective childhood abuse. The reader is quickly sucked into the men’s consciousness as the telling shifts between the collective “we” and moments when the speaker sounds distinctly personal—Meursault himself–culminates in a heart-wrenching voice rising high above the madding Midwestern crowd. The penultimate scene, which takes place in a rush of lapidary prose, on the steps of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is truly unforgettable.

 

 

 

Cupidity Jones by Roderrick Spencer ($12.95, St. Martins)

Mr. Spencer dazzles in his sophomore effort with this pulsating, mesmerizing fever dream of a novel. Here’s the set up: Dr. Cupidity Jones’ best friend Letitia has just been murdered and found with four toes surgically removed from her foot, and she–a retired surgeon who specialized in podiatry, and whose living room is soaked in blood–is now the prime suspect. Cupidity also has a dark secret: she retired the day she began hearing the voice of her dead grandmother, who is now confessing to the crime. Through frequent flashbacks to her grandmother’s lusty Belle Epoque affairs, you are introduced to a flesh-sodden subplot that might just be a figment of Cupidity’s imagination. Or the key to solving the crime. Spencer is a prose magician, and this book is a delicious slice of nostalgia wrapped in a scatological murder mystery that delivers down to the last digit. At turns lustily provocative, harrowing, and harrowingly lusty, this is a reader’s read.

 

 

 

Suckle, Nuzzle, Canoodle, Crimp by Elizabet Gibbet (17.99, Knopf)

In this, a “novel told in stories,” we are treated to a collection suffused with subtle but pointed commentary that’s both neatly and convincingly informed by Gibbet’s feminist identity. Suckle Nuzzle is more than a thinking woman’s beach book; it is an emotionally rich examination of family and the landscape of relationships that readers male and female alike will find applicable and appealing. It’s one of those books that makes you wonder, “How did she come up with this?” And then make you think the answer is probably “with a laptop and an outline.” Miss Gibbet’s playful, breathlessly ebullient style makes this a true bath-and-glass-of-wine gem, even for people who, like me, hate short stories. As daring and unrelentingly unrelenting as it is brilliant and savagely savage.

 

 

 

The Art of Naming by Danny Stoke ($27.99, Little, Brown)

To be truly vulgar one must immerse themselves in the genius of vulgarity, and in this haunting novella, the author delivers in a way that has rarely been so brazenly attempted. For that alone, kudos to Mr. Stoke. In play is a terrifying cast of rural characters: the haunted WWII veteran, the husband and wife serial killers who target young men along the Interstate, the predatory revival preacher and his wheelchair-bound grifter cousin, the irritable computer coder, the heavy metal bass player, all tied together with violence, sin, and gorgeous prose into a hypnotic slice of low-rent Americana. The story is rich with contradiction, and so raw and immediate you can smell the iron tang of blood, cordite, salt air, and excrement all the way across the room. This is an explosive novel in which indelible characters from priests to prostitutes are caught up in the search for a possibly mythical book that documents all human history, including the future. Culture-spanning. A damning portrait of excess veiled in a clear-eyed view of all that’s grim lying ahead.


 

 

A Man So Pusillanimous by Hideki Shingo ($18.50, Penguin)

Just this side of brilliant, but not quite, Shingo’s elegiac novel is a story of withering isolation and crushing loneliness. And metric foot-tons of obsessively described snow. Danny Pussal, born of humble genetics, is charged with nurturing the troubled genius of the young son of one of Des Moines’ most influential families. He must also navigate the social machinations of the boy’s sisters and various other farm stock as he strives to rise in agronomical society armed only with a quick wit, an irresistible charm, and looks that catch the eye of men and women alike. This is a sensuously described tale of long cold nights and frigid dawns, full of larger-than-life creations and scintillating turns of picaresque phraseology. Wonderfully, coldly, and pitch-perfectly crafted and honed and conceived and explicated and wrought.

 

 

 

The Hedgerow Bustler by Lorrie Dash ($8.95, Judith Regan Books)

This stunning novel is so lovingly intimate in the way it recreates the churning thought processes of a man struggling to come to terms with where he’s going, what’s happened to him, why it happened, where his life has left him, and the universal understanding of how major political issues have repercussions at an individual level for even the most ordinary and apolitical–even stupid–people. Ricky Bustler is a former hustler who has left behind the rural Dakotan community where his family has ignored and let deteriorate the same land for generations, to study for a doctorate in Little Rock, a vibrant, contemporary city full of possibility. And meth. His bright new relationship with a junior public defender, Joanne, survives unexpected complications until a sudden tragedy involving a bus full of children and certain departments of Homeland Security makes Ricky look afresh at the life he thought he had long left behind. A major triumph. A minor secular exegesis. One long, hard earned, hip-bucking prosegasm.

 

 

 

1919: The Year When it All Fell Apart and The Man Who Fixed it and The People Who Helped That Man and The Discovery That Made Them Famous Right Before it Made Them Rich. And, Also, The Women Who Loved Them by C.R. Throckmorton ($44.99, HarperCollins)

In a clever twist, 1919 is not only the year the book is set in, but also its page count. This is a mammoth project that is at once a non-fiction look at the vagaries and tragedies and blasphemies of the fateful year in question, but also an almost fictional and incredibly compelling and immersive story of the startling discovery of a now long-forgotten machine that, with its intricate and almost alien gears and mechanisms, tracked the “production measurables” of dozens of factory and slaughterhouse workers on Chicago’s fabled east side during the Golden Age of Beef. Throckmorton’s book is a painstaking documentation of how this machine, and the invaluable data it provided, has forever changed the way we think about food processing, shift allocation, payroll management, and the intricacies of  high-level human resources. It’s a startling insight that may well be at the core of the next wave of modern management technique and personnel oversight. What was the nature of this incredible machine, and is it–as some have questioned–truly from this world? There’s only one way to find out. A must-buy, must-own, and must-display work of incredible power and rich cover glossiness.

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SEAN BEAUDOIN's latest novel is Wise Young Fool. His stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications including the Onion, the San Francisco Chronicle and Spirit, the in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines. www.seanbeaudoin.com.

97 responses to “The REAL Ten Best Books of 2011”

  1. Don Mitchell says:

    Dude! This is the list I’ve been waiting for. Thanks.

    • Don, I added Sandra, if by Sea to the list, even though there were perhaps worthier titles, specifically with you in mind. Grab a copy now before it’s out of print!

      • Don Mitchell says:

        Yep. That was the one that interested me the most. Well, Hideki Shingo’s title did also, because I read The Remains of the Day years ago, and so I thought, “OK, another one set in the West but written by a Japanese guy, definitely one to read.”

  2. Greg Olear says:

    I think “A Man So Pusillanimous” is my favorite title.

    And I love that you included Franzen in the tags.

    Brilliant.

    • Might be mine as well. Incidentally, Fathermucker would be on there, except that I no longer approve of Fathermucker given its unseemly association with Penthouse.

      • Greg Olear says:

        It would have been nice to be on a year-end list. I would have been honored to appear alongside the great C. R. Throckmorton (who wouldn’t give me a blurb even though we share a publisher, the twat).

        • Sean Beaudoin says:

          It’s true, Throckmorton can be prickly. But there’s no denying that his last, In The Vegetable Patch of Madness is a work of true genius.

  3. Pete DeLorean says:

    This was awesome. I’m terrible at reading new stuff. Thanks for the list!

  4. Joe Daly says:

    You had me at “evangelicals in gay rehab.”

    Not only did you re-stoke my appetite for fiction, but this is a decent primer on how to deliver a concise, entertaining book review. Thanks for the tips.

  5. I’ve read all these books, most of them several times of course. And from now on, I’ll peruse all year-end lists to the sound of Dolly covering Shine.

    Looking forward to the reaction to this.

    Sean Beaudoin remains my Lord and Savior.

    • Please, Nat, don’t you think “Lord and Savior” is a bit much? Can we stick to something a little more self-effacing? “Exalted and Most-high” perhaps? In any case, I understand that The Assault on Meursault has just been translated into French, so you can read it in the mother tongue. Peshwar makes Camus looks like some old kick bag who writes novels about ladies’ sewing group detectives who cleverly follow the threads of murder cases even the cops won’t touch.

  6. Gloria says:

    Like your music lists, these are all books I’ve never heard of. And, of course, I now want to check every single one of them out.

    I really wish you’d’ve included “criminally incestuous” in the tags. Also, is there a time when that isn’t criminal?

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Um, Gloria…

      • Gloria says:

        Um…Duke? (what? WHAT? now you have me paranoid.)

        • D.R. Haney says:

          You can order these books, you know. Sean has thoughtfully provided hyperlinks.

          • Gloria says:

            Okay. I’m a dumb dumb.

            I’ve just revealed myself as the lady who never clicks links.

            **sigh**

            Nicely done, Sean.

            *skulks off in embarrassment”

            • D.R. Haney says:

              Oh, come on. Who hasn’t been tripped at least once by a skilled satirist? Can you imagine the emails received by The Onion?

              • Gloria says:

                It’s pretty brilliant, I admit it.

                But, it’s like if all of a sudden Henry Rollins suddenly started doing Weird Al. Because no one would expect it, you wouldn’t necessarily know what you were seeing at first. And lots of people would fall for it as a genuine political statement. Probably get all serious about it. Start a cult. When, all along, Rollins was just being goofy.

                I was tricked! TRICKED, I TELL YOU!

                • Don Mitchell says:

                  Herewith the email I sent Sean about 10 nanoseconds after I realized I’d been had, Gloria.
                  ——–
                  You fuck! You totally own me now.

                  But I’ll never admit it on TNB.

                  Teach me to get excited before checking even one title. Well, “Kiss My Fist” appears to be real, and from 1942.

                  Very very very good job, Sean.
                  ——–

                  I so wanted to believe. And I started looking via Kindle, so I wasn’t surprised when they weren’t popping up. In fact I worked my way through the entire list in the Kindle Store. I saw the links were youtube but I thought, “Oh yeah, youtube book trailer, who cares, I’m not looking at it,” and thus missed that sign.

                  I’m totally in awe of Sean’s effort.

            • Gloria, the last line of the first paragraph is “Simply put, this wonderful book stretches the boundaries of the imagination way past boundaries I had previously imagined.”…..I thought that right there was too much of a giveaway.

              But don’t feel bad. Your willingness to trust is a highly endearing quality.

              While also making me feel somewhat abashed.

              • Gloria says:

                Just make sure you continue to use your powers for good, Sean. We gullible-types rely on all impishness from friends to be benevolent.

          • pixy says:

            i was reading through too quickly to catch this. well played sir.

            • I guess the main point being that we are all too inured to “review language” bullshit that the utterly banal end of the second paragraph could be glossed over without outrage, or at least a cowbell-clanging suspicion:

              “It’s a tense, brutal, evocative thriller that I didn’t put down until I did, while also being a beautifully rendered and deeply touching meditation on pain—physical and otherwise. It’s about our connectedness, and our humanity, and the meaning of suffering, and learning to suffer to acquire that meaning. A meaning for which there is no cure. And a suffering that’s eternal.”

              I didn’t put it down until I did.

              • Dana says:

                “I didn’t put it down until I did.” I caught that on the 2nd read. D’oh.

              • pixy says:

                i think that last line is what tipped me off – “i didn’t put it down until i did”.

                this is also the reason i tend to not read reviews. i do get into trouble for it sometimes though. i still cut myself (a little) for the hours i will never get back when i read this. horrifying. at least i got it at the library and didn’t buy it.
                it’s stuff like that that makes me pissed off that i’m one of those people who can’t leave a book unfinished.

  7. D.R. Haney says:

    I see definite possibilities for you as a book designer, Sean. You clearly know that novel covers are NEVER supposed to feature the faces of the characters, which might interfere with the reader’s imagination. Anyone who does that, denying a reader the God-given right to imagine the characters for him- or herself, should be flayed.

    Seriously, though, Stacy & Buddy freak me out a little. Like, I think they may have an altogether different kind of shotgun in mind than did Junior Walker. And did Graham Central Station appear in “Star Wars”? I would think they would’ve felt distinctly at home there.

    • I appreciate that, Duke. Even though I outright lifted most of the art from old editions. It was WAY too much work, but after I’d done three it was too late to quit. Not that I didn’t repeatedly consider it.

      I agree with character pics in cover art. I even refuse to buy editions of books with movie tie-in covers because I never want to be saddled with the image of one of Jim Harrison’s characters as, say, a grinning Matt Damon. It’s stupid, and a losing cause, but I’ve spent way too much money buying out of print editions just to avoid Anthony Hopkins’ face.

      As far as Stacy & Buddy, yessir. Watch their moves again more closely. One in particular is fairly astonishing.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Jeez, Sean, I was being sarcastic! C’mn! “…God-given right…”? “…flayed…”? Wasn’t that sufficiently over the top as to provide a clue or seven?

        Although I certainly agree with you about movie tie-ins, and under no circumstances should any book ever feature Matt Damon on the cover, as I expect will soon be the case with Zinn’s history of America.

        Now, hazard a guess: am I being sarcastic in the matter of Damon/Zinn?

        I’m waiting.

        Okay, am I being sarcastic now?

  8. Art Edwards says:

    Sean, what an amazing list. I’m thankful someone is digging past the obvious to uncover the special. I will peruse and apply liberally to my Powell’s cart.

  9. Dana says:

    I’m quite relieved that Gloria replied before I did. Heh.

    Also Sean, I had to look up TWO words just to understand your reviews. What a JERK*.

    Because you were so generous with the links, here’s one for you:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qyHS4met7c

    *An erudite, clever jerk, but still…

    • Gloria says:

      I’m just here to help, Dana.

      • Dana says:

        Well now that we have Don’s confession, I feel slightly less stupid. I don’t know why “The Art of Naming” didn’t tip me off.
        I was about to bitch about the price on the last tome. And I was annoyed that he left a spoiler in his “Kiss My Fist” review. I just knew that I’d remember what he let slip when I got around to reading it.

        I’m actually pretty pleased that I don’t have more books to add to my wishlist. My list runneth over already.

    • pixy says:

      i was kind of hoping for some kitten juggling with that link. but it works! 🙂

  10. pixy says:

    dear sean:

    this is cute: “Little Rock, a vibrant, contemporary city full of possibility”.
    also, i think we all need a photo of you in a bath, drinking wine and “reading” the nuzzle. please place bubbles accordingly.

    kudos,

    p

  11. Quenby Moone says:

    Sean. Please finish designing my book before I throw it out the window. Thank you.

  12. Joe Daly says:

    You fucking motherfucker.

    This is my favorite TNB post of 2011, hands down.

    Is it too late to sneak this into the year end voting? Write-in campaign?

    Holy shit. You got me. That rocks.

    • Ah, to have earned the coveted Fucka, MuthaFucka combo.

      Write in campaign! Write in campaign!

      Seriously, though, I’m sort of astonished by the veil of illusion. It really wasn’t what I had in mind when I first sat down…

  13. Great links!

    And Gloria, I’m a dumb-dumb too.

    Love Cupidity Jones.
    Definitely the name of my next cat.

  14. Tom Hansen says:

    Um. Okay. What the Hell’s going on here? I just woke up and I’m confused.

  15. Alanna says:

    I was puzzling those links for at least 15 seconds. And I wondered at some of these prices, geeze!! Plus the covers look suspiciously like they’re all from the same design house….
    Just when I was about to email for an explanation, saved by the comments!

  16. Ouch! I’ve been had!

    I’ll never wade into one of these comment boards until somebody else tests the waters first…

    If only your powers could be harnessed for the forces of good, Sean Beaudoin.

    • pixy says:

      dude. i can’t think of anything gooder than this.

      • To be honest, I’m sort of getting pissed that such a large percentage of people had no problem whatsoever believing that I’d straight up written those cliche-ridden, horseshit reviews. Maybe time for an extended self re-examination. Which, Pixy, would almost certainly happen in a sudsy tub.

        • pixy says:

          you’ll need rose petals too. for gloria. and a big beautiful copper tub. for everyone.

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Ah, don’t worry about that. I automatically discount nearly everything in a review except what the book’s about. It’s reviewer-slang/jargon that I slide over while trying to decide if the books’s worth reading, and you did it beautifully.

          I paid no attention to it (but the man behind the curtain now, that’s a different matter).

  17. Sean, this is great. I’m gonna try and work my way through these! Thanks for taking the time to help a brother out!

    • Hey, Matt. Thanks for checking it out. Should I do a YA one, you think? I had the first five titles in my head before I even finished typing that sentence. And all of them would, of course, be written by Pitticus Lore.

  18. Hank Cherry says:

    Plus Paris 1919 is a rekkid by John Cale. And it has nothing to to with anything here. And it has a song on it titled Graham Greene, which leads me to this question, do you sometimes want to burn the New York Times Book Review to the ground, as I did last week? You’re very good at typing, to Sean! Keep at it.

  19. Gary Socquet says:

    I’d say the bar has officially been raised, and I shall respond as I always do when the bar is raised — by going to a bar. Sean, you personify the exalted title of Magnificent Bastard. Now go home and please write all those books.

  20. Henry says:

    hip-bucking prosegasm
    HAHAHAHAHA

  21. Tom Hansen says:

    I get it now. That’s a dirty trick. Haha. Is Seattle turning you into a cynical jokester buddy? Beware, it can make your life difficult. Exhibit A: Me

    • “Turning” me, Tom? Sadly, I think I arrived fully formed. And ankle-deep in difficulty. Next time I bump into you on the elevator we’ll know we had a lot more in common than we thought….

  22. Gloria says:

    It truly is a shame that you wrote this too late to qualify for the best of TNB 2011 award.

    • Sean Beaudoin says:

      It’s not too late! Petition Brad now!

      My prize-lust fails to diminish the basic unfairness of me stomping in at the last second and taking the award away from Duke.

  23. Oh, Sean. You totally got me. Awesome. It was fun clicking the links to see which song you’d attached to each one, too.

    I love this so hard. (:

    • Sean Beaudoin says:

      “I love this so hard”…..I am enamored with that phrase. It’s pretty much better than the rest of the post put together…

  24. This just gets better the more times I read it…

  25. Richard Cox says:

    Hahaha. Fuckface. This is brilliant. The cover art alone must have taken forever.

    I totally bought this at first, but my confidence in its reality began to waver at this line:

    “At turns lustily provocative, harrowing, and harrowingly lusty, this is a reader’s read.”

    2 kudos to you, sir.

    • Sean Beaudoin says:

      One man’s fuckface is another man’s…..fuckface.

      Thank you, Richard, for assuming I did not write all those crappy lines without intent.

      Bottom line: it’s a reader’s fucking read.

  26. Shelley says:

    Maybe it’s a sign of the age that I can’t feel totally sure whether this list is real or a parody. But it doesn’t matter, because the phrase “criminally incestuous” as applied to lists and lit crit is more than worth the price of admission.

  27. Excellent list! I couldn’t stop reading it until I did.

    Okay, you got me in as much as I thought these were real books you were making fun of (links and all), and I said a little prayer that you would never write a review of anything of mine.

    Those covers! So convincing. I mean, it has to be the covers that are throwing people because it can’t possibly be that they think you’d write the likes of this in all seriousness: “This stunning novel is so lovingly intimate in the way it recreates the churning thought processes of a man struggling to come to terms with where he’s going, what’s happened to him, why it happened, where his life has left him, and the universal understanding of how major political issues have repercussions at an individual level for even the most ordinary and apolitical–even stupid–people.” Cracks me up in its generalness. That could be The Unbearable Lightness of Being or Star Wars.

  28. Zara Potts says:

    It was the REAL in the title that gave it away.
    I couldn’t put this one down. It held me to the end.

    Sean, you are the best thing since sliced bread.
    Merry Christmas! xx

  29. Broche says:

    SO bummed Suckle, Nuzzle, Canoodle, Crimp doesn’t exist. Used just about every book source known to me (and I have 6 years in the book industry, so my resources were, I thought, vast) to try to find a copy, then thought, “hey, wait a minute…”, read the comments to confirm, and yup – ya got me. Nice job! Now can you please go write the rest of that book so I can read it? Thank you.

  30. Awesome list, man. You had me for a while. Longer than I should admit… Although I am devastated that I can’t actually buy a book called A Man So Pusillanimous. Sounds like a delightful read…

    • Perhaps you can pick up a copy of A Man So Pusillanimous soon, David. I’m thinking of using it as a title for my next self-published collection of meditations on bull fighting, fashion, whiskey, and how modern technology is ruining society.

  31. Theresa Atherton says:

    HWL

    (howling with laughter).

    You have restored my faith in

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