Fall Fiction: Great American Novels, Dragon Tattoos & More

This season's new fiction comes with a lot of hype — some deserved, and some not so much. In Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire, the literati say they've found the next Great American Novel. Jonathan Franzen may have written his heaviest (literally, you can easily replace your arm weights with it) book yet. And, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo franchise gets a new installment — despite Stieg Larsson's death in 2004.

And, just in case you're having flashbacks of guilt over The Goldfinch, trying to reason how and when you'll get through the collective 1,520 paqes of Franzen and Hallberg's must-reads, there are equally compelling works by Amy Stewart, Mary Gaitskill, and Jojo Moyes to curl up with on your couch. Plus, your favorite Pretty Little Liar wrote a book. (And it's pretty good!)

Dive in and prepare to discover some new worlds. Make sure to check out the rest of our Fall Entertainment preview here.
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Photo: Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin.
Girl Waits With Gun (Houghton Mifflin)
By Amy Stewart
September 1

Amy Stewart is primarily known for her best-selling nonfiction (particularly 2013’s The Drunken Botanist), so it’s no surprise that her first novel is based on a real-life figure, one of the country’s first female deputy sheriffs, Constance Kopp. It’s New Jersey, 1914, and Kopp is driving along in her buggy with her sisters, when the car gets busted up by a loutish businessman who refuses to pay for the damages. Things spiral out of control, and the result is a wry, exciting period novel starring a kick-ass heroine.
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Photo: Courtesy of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Purity (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
By Jonathan Franzen
September 1

Jonathan Franzen has courted a reputation for being curmudgeonly — and more than a tad arrogant — over the years. Has he earned it? Purity marks a slight shift in style for Franzen: The tale of a young woman struggling under the weight of student debt and family secrets has all of the usual Franzen gravity, with a delightful dose of levity and a hint of absurdism.
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Photo: Courtesy of Knopf.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel (Knopf)
By David Lagercrantz
September 1

No, Stieg Larsson did not rise from the grave, nor did his estate uncover a fourth manuscript in the Millennium Series. The new book was written by David Lagercrantz, a fellow Swedish novelist who, judging from early reviews, has successfully continued the sordid Scandinavian saga starring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. This time, the petite punk hacker and her middle-aged journalist pal (who’s kind of a bore, let’s be honest) take on a case involving AI, tech spies, and the NSA.
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Photo: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.
Did You Ever Have a Family (Simon and Schuster)
By Bill Clegg
September 1

Literary agent-turned-author Bill Clegg made the Man Booker Prize long list with this debut, a book that will surely sink you into a funk if you let yourself read it for more than an hour at a time. Did You Ever Have a Family opens on the eve of a wedding, before plummeting the reader into a tragedy that kills the groom, the bride, her father, and her mother’s boyfriend. The family is left to pick up the pieces, knowing full well the picture will never be whole again. This isn’t just a book about loss; it’s a blueprint for how to heal and live with our scars. And for all its sadness, it’s beautifully hopeful.
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Photo: Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin.
Under the Udala Trees (Houghton Mifflin)
By Chinelo Okparanta
September 22

You may already be familiar with Chinelo Okparanta’s exceptional writing from her acclaimed first collection, Happiness, Like Water, which came out in 2013. Her novel is even better: courageous and heartbreaking and multifaceted. Ijeoma, a young Nigerian girl, is sent away from home to protect her from the war that has crippled her country. As her mother struggles with the violence and terror of war, Ijeoma falls in love with another girl who is also far from home. But homosexuality is punishable by death in Nigeria, and when the girls are discovered, Ijeoma is sent back to her mother. She grows up questioning her country, her identity, and how best to love with war raging both without and within.
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Photo: Courtesy of Pamela Dorman Books.
After You (Pamela Dorman Books)
By Jojo Moyes
September 29

The sequel to Jojo Moyes’ best-selling 2012 novel Me Before You picks up with Louisa Clark learning to adapt to life after Will Traynor. After an accident, she moves back home and finds a new community (and possibly a new love) in a support group. But, then things change.

Fun fact: Moyes wasn’t planning on writing this book, but, as she explains in the preface, readers begged for a follow-up. “[They] kept asking, and I kept wondering what Lou did with her life. In the end the idea came, as they sometimes do, at 5:30 in the morning, leaving me sitting bolt upright in my bed and scrambling for my pen. It has been such a pleasure revisiting Lou and her family, and the Traynors, and confronting them with a whole new set of issues. As ever, they have made me laugh, and cry. I hope readers feel the same way at meeting them — especially Lou — again. And I'm hoping that those who love Will will find plenty to enjoy.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Kensington Books.
The Bollywood Bride (Kensington)
By Sonali Dev
September 29

Last year, romance fans couldn’t stop talking about Sonali Dev’s debut, a modern Indian love story. Now, Dev is back with another tale of time spent away and love lost (and rekindled). In her rich new novel, Bollywood actress Ria returns to her Aunt Uma’s for her cousin’s wedding, where she must face her teenage love, whom she turned away from 10 years ago. Deep secrets and even deeper longings abound, as well as the complex tensions of a family far from home, and all the facades we hide behind.
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Photo: Courtesy of SixOneSeven Books.
Today Is Not Your Day (SixOneSeven Books)
By Marian Thurm
October 1

The title of Marian Thurm’s long-awaited story collection comes from a moment in which a character named Lauren — who shatters her kneecap while sprinting for a cigarette, after her fiancée tells her he doesn’t love her anymore — sees a stranger wearing a t-shirt on the subway that bears the phrase: “I can only be nice to one person a day and today is not your day.” That should give you a sense of what a reader is getting into with this book: painful, relatable ironies and vulnerable moments. You’ll giggle and cringe.
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Photo: Courtesy of St. Martin's Press.
Bliss (St. Martin's Press)
By Shay Mitchell, Michaela Blaney, and Valerie Frankel
October 6

Talk about bliss: Shay Mitchell, who plays Emily Fields on Pretty Little Liars, co-wrote this novel with her actual best friend, Michaela Blaney, which sounds like a perfect way to spend some quality time together. The book follows a fictional set of three best friends in their early 20s as they explore the world (Vancouver, Hollywood, Thailand, London) and experience the many ups and downs of their grown-up lives. As Taylor Swift might say, they’re “happy, free, confused, and lonely — in the best way.” Sugary reading, perhaps, but there’s always room for more books about female friendship.
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Photo: Courtesy of Crown Publishing.
The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories (Hogarth/Crown)
By Anthony Marra
October 6

Anthony Marra’s first novel, the best-selling, prizewinning, exquisite A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, should have landed him on your radar in 2013. If it did, you already know about his gorgeous, graceful prose and storytelling, and you’ll no doubt be rushing to pick up his first collection, as infused with life and history as his novel. If not, well, you should rush anyway to treat yourself to these wise works of art set in Siberia, the USSR, and the heart.
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Photo: Courtesy of Grove Atlantic.
Erratic Facts (Grove)
By Kay Ryan
October 6

Kay Ryan is an essential American poet. Case in point: Her last collection, The Best of It, won a Pulitzer Prize and earned her a MacArthur “Genius” grant. She’s been the U.S. Poet Laureate. Plus, President Obama gave her a National Humanities Medal, so it’s fair to say that we should be paying attention. Her newest collection brings more of her lucid, efficient poetry. Her poems are like little keys to experience, and reading them feels like discovering something that’s already a classic.
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Photo: Courtesy of Knopf.
City On Fire (Knopf)
By Garth Risk Hallberg
October 13

Beware: This book is a major undertaking, full of mixed media and scattered story lines that tangle and twist away from one another before everything combusts in the final third of its 900-plus pages. But it’s worth every word. Garth Hallberg has written what might be the next Great American Novel, unpacking the Big Apple in the grimy 1970s and telling the stories ground into the pavement of New York’s history.

This plot jumps from punk squats in the apocalyptic East Village and the dangerous avenues of Hell’s Kitchen, to glittering Uptown dynastic estates and Brooklyn brownstones. For all its heft, you might be tempted to pick up the Kindle edition. But — apart from the gorgeous cover — there's good reason to buy the physical edition of City On Fire. It's one you'll want to see on your bookshelf, just so you can take a look at all the pages you dog-eared.
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Photo: Courtesy of Random House.
Thirteen Ways of Looking (Random House)
By Colum McCann
October 13

McCann is being touted as a modern master of prose, and this novella won’t change that reputation. There's a beauty to the dark yarns he spins here, one thread of which features a disabled man who meets his son for lunch on the Upper East Side, and is brutally attacked as he leaves the restaurant. But Thirteen Ways of Looking is so much more than doom and gloom: It's a meditation on the wars within us all.
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Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins.
After Alice (HarperCollins)
By Gregory Maguire
October 27

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s iconic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and, of course, fairy-tale expert Gregory Maguire — who also wrote Wicked — wasn’t about to let that go by unacknowledged. After Alice illuminates the humming borders around the story we all know and love — following the sister Alice left behind in the real world of Oxford and the exploits of Alice’s friend Ada, who follows her down the rabbit hole.
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Photo: Courtesy of Pantheon.
The Mare (Pantheon)
By Mary Gaitskill
November 3

The Mary Gaitskill devotee will read anything she writes, having had their adolescence defined by Bad Behavior, their 20s validated by Because They Wanted to, and their first glimpse of what it's like to grow old in Veronica. Her characters are frequently reckless, damaged, peculiar, and deeply relatable. So, don't even worry for a second that her latest tome starts out in a very Precious environment: An 11-year-old named Velvet lives in Crown Heights with her abusive mom. In a leap of faith, Velvet goes to live with a very Gatiskill-ian (damaged, alcoholic) new mother figure in upstate New York, where she finds kinship with a very Gaitskill-ian (neglected, mocked) horse.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria.
The Japanese Lover: A Novel (Atria)
By Isabel Allende
November 3

A multigenerational epic love story by the author of The House of the Spirits, this novel follows the forbidden romance between a young woman, Alma, and the Japanese son of her family’s gardener during WWII, when Japanese-Americans were seen as the enemy. Then there’s the woman who will care for Alma in her final months, and who, alongside Alma’s grandson Seth, will unravel the secrets of her undying, decades-long affair. Non-romantics need not apply.
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Photo: Courtesy of Harper.
On the Moon: Stories From the Tortured Mind of Charlyne Yi (Harper)
By Charlyne Yi
November 3

This delightful little book contains a collection of fantastical short stories, written and illustrated by comedian, actress, musician, and writer Charlyne Yi. (You might remember her from Knocked Up. She’s genius in it.) One highlight is “She’s All Legs,” in which a woman whose body is made up of just a head and legs head-butts the lover she no longer cares for, and runs off to execute her plan: “to kill the devil and save the world.” During this adventure, she shoots at clouds with a gun held in her foot, teams up with an Elvis impersonator, and kicks the devil in the face. Unique, this definitely is.
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Photo: Courtesy of St. Martin's Press.
The Wild One: A Brooklyn Girls Novel (St. Martin's Press)
By Gemma Burgess
November 10

Between Girls and Broad City and every other Brooklyn-centric piece of pop culture about a group of twentysomething women struggling to find themselves, did the world really need another self-discovery narrative set in NYC’s most overhyped borough? Probably not. And Gemma Burgess has written three at this point. The Brooklyn Girls books are about the ups and downs of being young and how to get by with a little help from your friends. Groundbreaking? Not by half.
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