Best Chicago Fiction of 2011

NOVEL IDEAS: Our completely subjective, wholly enthusiastic picks for the year—four books we love

Big Questions by Anders NilsenBig Questions
by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly, $70)

“We are all very small pieces of the whole story—important, but small,” a ghostly finch tells his living counterpart in Nilsen’s breakthrough graphic novel, which, at 600 pages, took this talented Chicago illustrator more than a decade to complete. Even his most spartan panels are artistically striking, and moments of profundity resonate from his motley cast of characters as well. Nilsen’s chatty snake, vengeful squirrels, and orphaned idiot are as preoccupied with burning philosophical matters (Are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?) as they are with the strange plane (or is it a bird?) that has crashed into their otherwise mundane midst. Ideal for: Chris Ware fans craving something a little more upbeat; hard-to-buy-for teens

 

The Borrower by Rebecca MakkaiThe Borrower
by Rebecca Makkai (Viking, $25.95)

Russian refugees and the Mafia, evangelicals and gay rehab, cheesy boyfriends and drunk bookworms: Layers of delightfully sophisticated subplot weave through this debut novel about a children’s librarian and the troubled ten-year-old patron she rescues. For each of the past four years, Makkai’s work has been tapped for the Best American Short Stories series. It’s her remarkably unsentimental characters that propel her fiction to life (we love the fiery but gentle Russian father whose unwitting slaughter of American colloquialisms lends a comic note). The novel nods at everything from Goodnight Moon to Ulysses. No surprise: Makkai, a Montessori teacher in Lake Bluff, worked two summers in a college library while researching her tale. Ideal for: Literati looking for a treasure hunt; readers seeking tidy endings

 

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hanna PittardThe Fates Will Find Their Way
by Hannah Pittard (Ecco, $22.99)

At its start, this haunting and evocative novel about a teenage girl gone missing may evoke Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. But this debut effort from Pittard, a DePaul fiction professor, shines with a light all its own, beginning with its wickedly insightful narrators: a group of teen boys. Pittard follows her characters as they stumble into adulthood amid a heady swirl of nostalgia and fantasy, sex and suspicion, never quite shaking the impact of a childhood tragedy. The reader is quickly sucked into the boys’ consciousness as the telling shifts between the collective “we” and moments when the speaker sounds distinctly personal—a heart-wrenching voice rising above the crowd. Ideal for: Book clubs unafraid to dive deep; Eugenides fans

 

The E***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel by Dan SinkerThe F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel
by Dan Sinker (Scribner, $12)

September 2010: What would soon become the most closely watched mayoral race in the country and its expletive-dropping front-runner inspire a parody Twitter feed starring a party-hopping, expletive-dropping doppelgänger. Cut to campaign won and author revealed: The epic tweets of @MayorEmanuel are now collected in this annotated volume by Sinker, the former Punk Planet editor and mystery tweeter whose quest was about “making fun with Emanuel.” With its irreverent but affable alter ego and 140-character F-bomb-laden bursts of fiction-meets-real-time-history, Sinker’s book proves a refreshingly light and seriously fun read—even for those who care diddly-squat about politics. Ideal for: Chicago culture gurus; conservatives who eschew profanity

 

Photography: Anna Knott

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3 years ago
Posted by shelley7

I'm flabbergasted that you haven't included Peter Orner's third book, LOVE AND SHAME AND LOVE (Little, Brown). It's the best work of fiction about Chicagoland published this year. Because it appeared in November 2011, there may still be time to add it to your list. I certainly hope you do so.

Please have a look at LOVE AND SHAME AND LOVE. Thanks!

Sincerely,

James Reiss
www.jamesreiss.com/

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