Mircobrew will return in its usual form in early February with 2017’s first batch of new books. For now, here are my ten favorites from 2016, in no particular order, along with a favorite chosen by each of the authors I selected.

I have to admit, looking at this list gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I read a lot of great books in 2016, many of which I wasn’t able to include in this top 10. More than that, I’m amazed at the variety of contemporary American fiction, a range I think is well represented in this list.

Though some people suggest American fiction is cookie-cutter–especially that produced by MFA programs–I just don’t see it. From the experimental to the starkly realistic, from ornate prose to the sparest of minimalism, from comedy to drama, this list is a representation of what I wanted to do with this column. I wanted Microbrew to demonstrate the incredible range of contemporary American literature, and I like to think the column and this list both serve that end.

December, the end of the Julian calendar year. For critics, it’s time to get listy, to go all effusive, doe-eyed, and misty over what we’ve read during the prior three-hundred-and-something days. For authors, it’s time to hunker down in our metaphorical emotional foxholes, to employ one of four battle-proven strategies:

1.  Get depressed, drink heavily, get more depressed, and jag-cry. (You were left off the holy lists but can’t for the life of you figure out why.);

2.  Get pissed, drink heavily, scream, and stamp your feet. (You know exactly why you were left off the holy lists. A vast right-, left-, and middle-wing conspiracy against your genius, obvis.);

3.  Get deliriously happy, drink slightly less heavily, and do freestyle “ballet” moves in the living room (You made it for once!); or

4.  As in 3, but let it go to your head. And for God’s sake, make sure you slop that confidence all over Facebook before sobering up. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to remember.

I thought about doing some sort of list here—longest books of the year starring an author’s ego in a supporting role, best works of Middle High German-to-English translation my cat vomited on, worst sestina collections I feel uncomfortable criticizing. But for obvious reasons (see above), we’re going with the uzhe, a Microbrewed literary six-pack of new books.

P.S. I may still do a list. Or two. Or six. Stay tuned.

In many ways, the greatest praise we can bestow on a piece of art is to say it inhabits its world so fully as to define it. Whether we’re talking about Flannery O’Connor or Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway, the writers we come back to, the ones who maintain readership and critical attention, often capture their environments to such an extent that their claim on the territory comes to supplant the reality they once sought to depict.

What would 19th century England mean to us without David Copperfield and Oliver Twist? What would 20th century Paris be without The Sun Also Rises? Even though film’s more overt, incandescent iconography has overtaken the literary in the popular consciousness, one of the written word’s chief uses remains its role as historical document and anthropological source, a record of the things that animate geographies and eras, nations and civilizations. And let’s be clear: Even today, there would be no cinema without writing. Whether in the form of novels and stories that provide jumping-off points for screenwriting or the scripts themselves, the production of the images that become our shared memories could never happen without the written word.

The Nervous Breakdown’s inaugural Microbrew showcases the diversity of American letters. Realist and fabulist, lyrical and metafictional, novels and stories, novellas and poetry. Drawn from small and big presses alike, this is a group of writers engaged in the work of claiming their territory, defining their worlds with such linguistic precision and clarity of vision that those worlds, if we’re lucky, begin to feel like our own.

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Answers to Interview Questions about The Unfinished World,

Taken from Yelp Reviews of Famous Museums around the World

 

Why should people read your book?

“It’s pretty interesting and is not a long-winded affair…Many people enjoy lunch here and it’s open to the public. Truly amazing and massive collection of mammals, historic artifacts, dinosaurs, etc… Dedicated to both ecclesiastical and secular topics.”

 

How long did it take you to write the book?

“After I got my ticket, I didn’t waste much time, started to explore. I could have spent weeks here. But I got it done in a day, though we rushed through a lot of it.”

51IKDORqGrL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Curiosity #84: Aztec volcanic rock sculpture, circa fifteenth century A.D., probably made for the temple of Tenochtitlan. An example of a traditional demon princess, or Cihuateteo, who escorts the sun from the underworld each morning, she wears a simple skirt, breasts bared, hair long and over her shoulders.

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The truth about Set is the truth about all ghosts: there is a weightlessness that keeps them fluttering, light as leaves—and in turn they are drawn down to instability, to the volatile, to cracks that open and can split whole mountains. To the volcanoes. Specifically, in Set’s case, to Lana Volcana.

That wasn’t her real name, of course, or even her screen name. But it was what they all called her after her breakout picture, Vera and the Volcano—a two-reeler about an island girl that sent her star up and up. LANA VOLCANA! the picture magazines screeched, with accompanying photographs of a dark-haired vamp in a grass skirt and clamshell top. The IT GIRL, the papers called her, a new kind of girl for these daring times. Filmstar Rag said she was the girl you don’t bring home to mama.

 

What kinds of things would you like me to ask you? Since you’re me, I mean.

Why don’t you ask all the things that I wish people would ask me just in my everyday life?

 

Sweet. Good idea. You have two cats, and they are absolutely gorgeous. What are their names and why are they so awesome?

Thank you! They are very beautiful, I know. Their names are Vesta and Ilsa. Vesta for the Roman goddess of the hearth, and Ilsa after Ingrid Bergman’s character in Casablanca. They’re awesome because they’re mine, of course.

Lay your life out flat before us. We never could spot you before, halfway round the earth and tied to land so small. But now we possess the science and vision. Now you can speak to us down the telephone cords of time and terrain.

Use scissors to slice off the right scenes; no need to reveal everything. Edit brutally. Soak the naked film in dye and roll it over the drum to dry it out. It is important that you get the tint exactly right. It is important that you show us exactly what you mean.

You have grown up and grown old in the shadow of the great technologies; here is another to tell your story. We will stop up all that leaking light, filter it through until it burns clean and true. We will bottle you and keep you. We will sell your warnings like wishes.

As its title suggests, May We Shed These Human Bodies (Curbside Splendor) by Amber Sparks is a collection of stories that is grounded in reality, but often has a hint of the surreal, the supernatural, woven into its fabric. The power in these stories comes from the awareness that a life is at a tipping point, and the assignment of emotional weight to everyday events we typically ignore. Just out of sight, behind the curtain, in the shadows, strange things are happening—dark moments that echo our secrets and lies.