Heller McAlpin

Kate Walbert's most powerful novel yet is a case study in the perversities of power imbalances. This slim but by no means slight novel continues Walbert's explorations of how society's sexual biases and constraints have hampered women, a theme that has driven all six of her books, including A Short History of Women (2009) and her most recent, The Sunken Cathedral (2015). But with a timeliness so acute it feels ripped-from-the-headlines, His Favorites amps up the outrage and packs a punch far greater than its weight class.

Meet the charmer of the summer, an epistolary novel about two strangers dismayed by where their lives have taken them. Dissatisfied farmer's wife Tina Hapgood and lonely museum curator Anders Larsen initially connect over a shared fascination with the miraculous Iron Age archaeological find known as the Tollund Man, but their relationship soon deepens as they begin to excavate their own chosen life paths in a series of letters.

Imagine taking a sabbatical, not just from your job, but from your life. How about going even further and taking a yearlong break from yourself and the world, courtesy of an extended nap? That's the desperate plan of the unnamed 24-year-old narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh's bizarrely fascinating second novel.

Here's one advantage to discussing Rachel Cusk's trilogy of conversational novels: Because they're essentially plotless, there's little need to worry about spoiler alerts. The surprises and rewards of reading these books comes not from finding out what happens, but from getting pulled deep into their labyrinthine tête-à-têtes.

When my brother, sister, and I were growing up, our dinner conversation would inevitably turn scatological at some point, the grosser the better: A kid puked on the teacher's desk, another tracked in dog poop. "Must we talk about this at dinner?" our mother would protest. To which we would answer, "When else are we supposed to talk about it?"

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