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Books of 2011: Fiction
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/16/11
Last updated on: 12/16/11
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The Great Night by Chris Adrian

Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child, Colm Tóibín's The Empty Family, and Nina Revoyr's Wingshooters are among the most acclaimed glbtq fiction of 2011, but books by Paul Russell, Justin Torres, Zoë Strachan, Bob Smith, Summer Wood, Lauren Myracle, and Chris Adrian are also notable. These works explore gay and lesbian history and confront issues of race, class, poverty, hatred, and family.

Hollinghurst's novel is a moving social history of gay life in Britain over the twentieth century. A large sprawling book filled with literary gossip, it traces the legacy of a closeted gay poet who, like Rupert Brooke, died in World War I and gained posthumous fame. In the process, it explores the changes and continuities in English attitudes toward sex and class over the past century.

Tóibín's collection of short stories, The Empty Family, confirms the author's mastery of his craft. The stories, set mostly in Ireland and Spain, explore with empathy and understanding lives of longing and need. The novella-length final story in the collection, "The Street," is an extraordinarily moving account of an affair between two men, conducted against great obstacles, in the claustrophobic and exploitative conditions of Barcelona's immigrant community.

Nina Revoyr's Wingshooters has been described as a Northern variation on To Kill a Mockingbird. It tells the coming-of-age story of Michelle, a ten-year-old tomboy who has been abandoned by her parents, a Japanese mother and a white father, and is being raised by her paternal grandparents in a small Wisconsin town in the 1970s. The town's racism comes to a boil when an African-American couple moves there, and Michelle learns painful lessons about ignorance and hatred.

Paul Russell's The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is a fictional autobiography of the younger brother of Vladimir Nabokov. The autobiography is composed in Berlin during World War II, and is haunted by the rise of Nazism in the 1930s as well as by memories of the 1920s. The book recounts Sergey's discovery as a teenager that his "most cherished emotions . . . constitute a defect" to his father and brother, as well as to the medical and legal professions. The most vivid sections of the book are set in Paris during the 1920s, where the protagonist rubs shoulders with the likes of Diaghilev, Cocteau, Picasso, Stein, and Stravinsky, among others. At the heart of the book, however, is the relationship of Sergey with his famous brother, in whose shadow he has lived.

The most acclaimed debut novel of the year is We the Animals, Justin Torres's powerful, often harrowing and, finally, heartbreaking account of three brothers growing up in a turbulent and profoundly troubled family. Narrated by the youngest of the brothers in an incantatory style through loosely connected but vivid vignettes, the novel conveys both the need to belong and the dawning of alienation.

Ever Fall in Love is the Scottish writer Zoë Strachan's third novel. It tells the story of a tragic affair between two young men at university and its repercussions in the life of one of them. It recounts the pain of unrequited obsession and the persistence (and distortions) of memory.

Bob Smith's Remembrance of Things I Forgot has won raves as the funniest book of 2011. The stand-up comedian's second novel is a tale of time travel in which a gay man accidentally transports himself back to 1986. Not surprisingly, the book features Smith's sharp wit and comic perspectives on a wide range of topics, including relationships and politics.

Here is a trailer promoting Smith's book:

Summer Wood's second novel, Wrecker, is the story of a boy and his mothers. When a three-year-old child's biological mother is sent to prison, he finds nurture in an unconventional family. Spanning some 17 years, the novel traces the boy's development into adulthood and in the process helps define the meaning of family.

Learn more in this video from Wood:

Lauren Myracle's young adult mystery novel Shine is narrated by sixteen-year-old Cat, whose best friend, Patrick, has fallen victim to a vicious hate crime. As she determines to solve a crime that the local police seem less than eager to solve, she struggles with her own feelings of guilt for not having been a better friend and anger at the abuse Patrick suffered, both the night he was beaten almost to death and the many times he was bullied at school. The mystery probes the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and confronts issues of drug use, class, and homophobia.

Chris Adrian, a medical doctor with a divinity degree, has written one of the most unusual novels of the year in The Great Night, a loose retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream set in contemporary San Francisco. At the heart of the story are three San Franciscans struggling with heartbreak: a tree surgeon whose wife has left him; a woman coping with the loss of her boyfriend; and a gay man who has recently been rejected by his boyfriend. The novel presents parallel worlds that intersect with potentially catastrophic consequences.

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