Ostensibly, “Townie” (W.W. Norton, 400 pp.) is the memoir of a boy raised by his divorced mother in an economically depressed Massachusetts mill town while nearby, his father, Andres Dubus Sr., a prominent author, taught on a picturesque college campus. Really, it’s one of the best and most penetrating explorations of violence in any medium. This story is brutal, painful, and utterly compelling. The revelations to be had (and there are plenty, albeit hard-earned) feel as though they were torn away from the author. No one has written about misery, fury, need, violence, responsibility, and compassion better, and no one has ever strung them up together in quite the same way. “Townie” practically throbs in your hands. No one with a pulse could fail to be moved – forcibly – by this book. (February)
3. House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer’s Journey Home, by Mark Richard.
Mark Richard is the greatest writer you’ve never read, and with the publication of “House of Prayer No. 2” (Nan A. Talese, 224 pp.) that will – thank heaven – change. Richard writes with an otherworldly grasp of voice and description and uses his prose to defamiliarize pretty much everything: in this case, his Southern Gothic coming-of-age. The result for the reader is a hypercolored world rendered with the senses turned up. You will be an outsider in his work until you relearn how to read prose; his writing not only demands that of the reader, but makes it possible – and effortless. Reading “House of Prayer No. 2” is like having a bucket of icy water poured over you: It forces your eyes open, sets you gasping for air, and leaves you utterly refreshed. Nobody alive writes like Mark Richard. (February)
4. You Know When the Men are Gone, by Siobhan Fallon