Bookmarked

Joe O’Connell’s Top Reads of 2017

These three novels and one memoir are all memorable for the ways they plumb the depths and mysteries of memory

Bookmarked

Memories are "no more solid than dreams," Dan Chaon writes in his novel Ill Will (Ballan­tine), my favorite book of 2017. I sent Chaon a gushy fan email years ago after reading his short story "Big Me," which links together three worlds inhabited by one troubled and very unreliable character. Ill Will follows the same path with its tale of a family murder muddled by a satanic hysteria bubbling in the late Eighties. Who is the bad guy? What is the truth? Chaon doesn't so much write a novel as piece together a beautiful collage.

Another favorite is Fresh Complaint (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the first-ever story collection from Pulitzer-winning novelist Jeffrey Eugenides. The American dream, its allure and its grinding failures, slithers through the book like a tendril choking its aging yet vaguely hopeful characters. In the story "Great Experiment," a poet turned publishing-house worker rationalizes embezzlement. In Houston-set "Find the Bad Guy," an estranged husband lurks outside his family home trying to figure out why everything fell apart. In my favorite story, "Complainers," a longtime much-younger friend rescues a woman disappearing into dementia.

My favorite Texas book of the year is Carolyn Osborn's memoir Durations (Wings Press). She writes of a Tennessee childhood cut short when her mother is institutionalized after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. World War II then necessitated frequent moves for her soldier father. Osborn landed in Gatesville with a new Texas life and a powerful, loving stepmother, but a longing remained. The experience tied her to the Texas land and its people and proved a source for her long, successful career as a fiction writer.

In Jeff Abbott's Austin-set thriller Blame (Grand Central Publishing), a woman suffers amnesia after a car crash that kills her friend. In the taut novel, her search for the truth reveals she is not without blame.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Top 10s
Robert Faires' Top 10 Works That Spoke to Me About 2020
Robert Faires' Top 10 Works That Spoke to Me About 2020
Throughout 2020, performances and books seemed to contain messages about the year – its trials, its traumas, and its echoes in history

Robert Faires, Dec. 18, 2020

Top Nine in Visual Art of 2020, Plus One Exceptional Other
Top Nine in Visual Art of 2020, Plus One Exceptional Other
Wayne Alan Brenner chooses outstanding visual artistry that made this year a feast, save for one performative and culinary experience that was the cherry on top

Wayne Alan Brenner, Dec. 18, 2020

More Fiction
<i>Sex and Vanity</i> by Kevin Kwan
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
Kevin Kwan offers another gloriously satirical and sharp sociological take on the insular lives of the untouchably rich

Barbara Purcell, Nov. 6, 2020

<i>Good Citizens Need Not Fear</i> by Maria Reva
Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva
Anything can happen in the wonderfully weird Ukraine of this short story collection

Robert Faires, Sept. 4, 2020

More Arts Reviews
"Andy St. Martin: The Weight" at Prizer Arts & Letters
In his newest show, the artist is, as ever, nothing if not commitment incarnate

Wayne Alan Brenner, Feb. 26, 2021

<i>The Swallowed Man</i> by Edward Carey
The Swallowed Man
The Austin author's rich and strange take on Pinocchio has Geppetto tell the story from the belly of the giant fish

Robert Faires, Feb. 5, 2021

More by Joe O'Connell
Top Books to Read in 2020 As Everything Falls Apart
Top Books to Read in 2020 As Everything Falls Apart
In a COVID-strained year, tales of families repairing their lives and the caste system's effect of Black Americans made an impact

Dec. 18, 2020

Texas Book Festival 2019: Truth Worth Telling: A Conversation With Journalist Scott Pelley
Festival 2019: Truth Worth Telling With Scott Pelley
Newsman Scott Pelley had words of advice about media in the modern age

Oct. 28, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Top 10s, Fiction, Memoir, Ill Will, Dan Chaon, Fresh Complaints, Jeffrey Eugenides, Durations, Carolyn Osborn, Blame, Jeff Abbott

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle