The Best Novels of 2013

Bookforum contributor Christian Lorentzen picks his favorite novels of the year, from Coetzee's "deep joke" to Pynchon's portrayal of the "deep Web."

The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

In its own terms “a deep joke” of a novel about refugees, a middle-aged man and a precocious parentless boy, arriving in a quasi-socialist land, where freighters are unloaded by hand, everybody speaks Spanish, and nobody is much interested in sex. It’s a philosophical affair, and Coetzee is probably the only living Nobel laureate whose characters would spend pages contemplating “the pooness of poo.”

Taipei by Tao Lin

A year, more or less, in the life of a Brooklyn writer called Paul who falls in love, marries, takes rigorously quantified amounts of pills and powders, and starts to realize his own powers. There’s a sort of pinhole effect to the narration: On one side minimalist descriptions of the bleak world he moves through giving readings, going to parties, and dropping Xanaxes; on the other the maximalist workings of his mind as he lies on his back, tries to cheer himself up, thinks about technology and the future, and repeatedly drops his phone on his face. (A complementary work to Lin’s Asperger’s realism also appeared this year: What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life? by Marie Calloway.)

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

Critics wrote that this book, which deftly and very comically renders contemporary litty Brooklyn according to the rules of the nineteenth-century novel, exposed New York males who write book reviews as a breed of cowards threatened by women who might be smarter than them. I used to live in Brooklyn and write book reviews and thought the moral of the story was that mutual adoration is a firmer basis for love than converging CVs. Go figure.

A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal

A romance of the West, an Oklahoma of glass skyscrapers, oil fortunes, and dive bars. Lytal’s first novel is a love story and a tragedy and a stunning work of lyricism.

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

It’s tempting to say that this novel, set in the months before and after 9/11, is as bursting with gorgeous writing as the Fresh Kills landfill is . . . well, Fresh Kills is the subject of one of the more gorgeous passages. Pynchon in 2001: you come to read him on the internet and stay for the Zima.

Christian Lorentzen is an editor at the London Review of Books.