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The 17 Best Fiction Books of 2013

January 17, 2014  |  4:35pm
The 17 Best Fiction Books of 2013

The world of books experienced a momentous year in 2013. Famous authors released long-awaited novels, awards season highlighted the rise of the short story collection and classic books were adapted for film. So when it came time to choose the “best” fiction titles of the year, Paste was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of incredible books published in 2013.

We decided to choose the books we’d loved reading over the year. Books that made us snort in hilarity, books that made us weep over injustice, books that made us reevaluate our perceptions. Some of these books won international awards; others were crammed on the bottom shelves of bookstore obscurity. But all of them reminded us why
we love reading.


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17. Unfettered: Tales by Masters of Fantasy edited by Shawn Speakman
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A treasure chest for any fan of fantasy fiction, this anthology boasts fresh stories and rare outtakes from such heavy hitters as Terry Brooks and R.A. Salvatore, while also introducing such rising stars as Todd Lockwood. The collection doubles as a fund-raiser for author/editor Speakman’s cancer treatment bills, and the beginnings of a foundation he will run to aid other self-employed artists who fall ill with insufficient health insurance, even in the Affordable Care Act era. Call it Tolkiencare. And call it the year’s best fantasy collection. — John Ruch


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16. Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash
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Over the course of fourteen stories, Ron Rash presents a complex and nuanced view of Appalachia traversing time and emotional scope with ease and uncertainty. From the Civil War to the present day, his characters all have one thing in common: they are united in the spaces they inhabit. While there are plenty of memorable characters—farmers, modern day meth heads and British academics searching for history—the lands of Western North Carolina come alive just as much as any individual. — Jessica Gentile


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15. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
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Even if Edwidge Danticat sounds like the kind of name a professor at Hogwarts would sport, the magic of her book arises more out of the mundane happenstances of everyday life than from anything fantastic. For that matter, the book’s structure alone has all the illusive glory of a kaleidoscope. The vanishing of a young Haitian girl is Danticat’s starting gun, but you won’t feel like you’re racing at any time. Instead, the book is a jaunt through the lives of the Haitians who knew young Claire and the life of Haiti itself. Claire of the Sea Light is the kind of book whose beauty comes across nearly as reparative to that nation’s spirit as it does to our own souls. — Mack Hayden


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14. Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
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Barnhardt’s Lookaway, Lookaway is a Southern tale of familial mishaps and mismatched morality. It doesn’t have time for the Hallmark sentimentalism of Fried Green Tomatoes and instead heads for the funniest moments of Faulkner. The literary South is a landscape peopled by an Atticus Finch for every hundred Flannery O’Connor grotesques. In other words, it’s a lot like real life down here, especially in Barnhardt’s novel. A good man and/or woman is hard to find. But Barnhardt knows his territory and is hyper-aware of how easy it is to find men and women pretending to be good. It’s ironic how deep of a look he gives us into such hysterically hypocritical behavior when we’re being told to lookaway, lookway. — Mack Hayden


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13. The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly
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Husband-and-wife Mississippi writers Franklin, a crime novelist, and Fennelly, a poet and essayist, team up on this blend of historical thriller and romance. During the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, a federal agent tracking bootleggers discovers an abandoned child. His quest to find the boy’s home ultimately leads to a dangerous love affair. The Tilted World is part Southern Gothic, part historical noir, and one of the year’s most unusual and surprising thrillers. — John Ruch


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12. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
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Three momentous voyages to and from Ireland anchor McCann’s epic historical novel: the 1845 Ireland visit by former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass; the first nonstop, transatlantic airplane flight in 1919; and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell’s 1998 trip to broker Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace agreement. McCann weaves these real events together with the fictional lives of four generations of women in a powerful tale of history’s weight. TransAtlantic was one of only 13 books nominated for this year’s prestigious Booker Prize and establishes the Dublin-born McCann as another outstanding keeper of Ireland’s great literary tradition. — John Ruch


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11. Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
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Even prior to the publication of Red Moon, Benjamin Percy occupied a shady region in the wilds between “literary” and “genre” fiction. His stories of rural Oregon borrowed from the lexicon of cowboy literature; shades of the mystery and horror genres cropped up in his tales of telemarketers and water bureau employees. Red Moon leans hard on these genre tendencies, resulting in a novel that not only takes a respectable stab at Big Themes, but also beats most of its contemporaries in terms of sheer entertainment value. Set in a world where werewolves (“lycans” in Percy’s argot) form a repressed lower class, the book investigates contemporary political tensions through a sprawling, careening epic. It’s a love story, a political allegory, an adventure and a not-too-shabby specimen of all the aforementioned. — Shane Danaher


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10. Pickett’s Charge by Charles McNair
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It’s fair to say we’re a bit biased when it comes to our love of Pickett’s Charge (Paste’s Books Editor Charles McNair wrote it after all). The premise: Threadgill Pickett, the last living Confederate soldier, learns that only one Yankee soldier still lives. So Threadgill does what any “rational,” 114-year-old man would do—he breaks out of an Alabama old folks home and sets out for Maine to murder the Yankee and end the Civil War once and for all. Part tall tale, part comedy, part tragedy, Pickett’s Charge is a rollicking journey through a century of Southern history. — Frannie Jackson

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