Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
At the center of Alexander Chee's intoxicating new novel Queen of the Night is an unforgettable woman — Lilliet Berne is a famed soprano in 19th century Paris's opera scene, but her rise to stardom didn't come without a complicated trail of secrets. When a writer approaches her with an original role in a new opera, she quickly realizes it is based on her own hidden past and must discover who betrayed her. Chee's lush writing takes us on a wild romp through circuses, brothels, and palaces, breathing life into the intrigue and decadence of the era while exposing the steep price of self-reinvention and being an artist. Bold, dramatic, and extravagant in all the right ways, Queen of the Night often itself feels like an operatic performance; it certainly deserves a standing ovation.
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray
John Wray's The Lost Time Accidents is both a family chronicle spanning from a turn-of-the-century Czech town to the New York City of today and an examination of two major interlinked themes of the 20th century: the horrors of totalitarianism and the great victories of modern science. The novel follows the descendants of a Czech pickle merchant who discovered a theory of relativity at the same time as Einstein. When his great-grandson, Waldemar "Waldy" Tolliver becomes "stuck" outside of time, he attempts to understand his family's past while trapped in the present, chronicling his father's work as an L. Ron Hubbard-like science fiction writer who inspired a cult and his grand-uncle's work as a Nazi scientist. The Lost Time Accidents is unapologetically ambitious, and works on a scale that reflects the magnitude of what it grapples with: history, family, and the nature of time itself.
Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
Mo Daviau's Every Anxious Wave is like The Time Traveler's Wife on speed — an exhilarating rollick across space and time, with some good old-fashioned romance and '90s indie rock thrown in along the way. Shortly after Chicago bar owner Karl Bender stumbles upon a wormhole in his closet, he inadvertently strands his closest friend Wayne in Manhattan circa 980 CE and must enlist the help of hot-and-edgy astrophysicist Lena Geduldig to get him back. Karl and Lena inevitably fall in love, which is when things get messy — they start wormholing around at whim, tangling and erasing and irreparably rewriting both their futures as a 2029 apocalypse fast approaches. Daviau alternates effortlessly between the absurdist mechanics of time travel and the tender emotional turns that such cosmic fuckery brings about. And her characters are just like her prose: sharp, wry, charming, and refreshingly real. Every Anxious Wave is a rip-roaring riot of a debut — I couldn't put this one down, and can't wait to see what Daviau does next.
Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue
Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue is disorienting in the very best way. Its characters are many (and familiar — Caravaggio, Anne Boleyn, Hernan Cortés, Galileo) and its scope is vast (just a few of the backdrops: Boleyn's beheading in England, the massacre of the Aztecs in Mexico, email exchanges between a writer and his editor in contemporary New York, and, of course, the 16th-century tennis match tying the whole thing together) but all of that makes for an exhilarating, funny, and surprisingly sexy read. Enrigue turns historical figures into real, flesh-and-blood people and really gets you thinking about art and history: what qualifies as either — and why?
Version Control by Dexter Palmer
The characters in Version Control, Dexter Palmer's second novel, exist uneasily in a world much like ours—that is, a world getting stranger by the minute. Rebecca Wright works in customer phone support for an online dating site and her husband Philip obsesses over a causality violation device (aka time machine), as they both mourn a terrible loss. Meanwhile, the roads teem with self-driving cars, and the President himself often pops up on various screens and devices to deliver personalized messages.
The just-left-of-normal technologies of Version Control are weird but all too convincing, making the reader wonder if they've perhaps missed a news story or three. Rebecca, too, is beset with an insistent feeling of wrongness, haunted by the feeling that the world has gone astray. To say much more would spoil the tricky, subtle surprises Palmer has in store for us. Deftly exploring a huge range of subjects from relationships to technology to race and much more, Version Control is brilliant and richly satisfying: a novel that is utterly true to the complicated and science fictional world we live in today.