HQ's Best Fiction 2021 List

Behold, our staff's favorite fiction releases of 2021!

Pity the Beast, by Robin McLean
With stunning, gothic prose, Pity the Beast is a suspenseful feminist western and story of revenge that oscillates between a broad worldview of civilization, and the minutiae of a harsh environment. A ranching community in the mountains of Nevada comes together to help Ginny and Dan as their mare undergoes an arduous, days-long birth. Word travels fast of Ginny's infidelity, and leads to a violent reckoning. Ginny escapes into the mountains, followed by a posse led by her sister, hell-bent on preventing their actions from ever becoming known.
Recommended for fans of: Jennifer Kent's Australian western The Nightingale, Charles Portis, Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, William Faulkner.
 
Open Water, by Caleb Azumah Nelson
A tender, immediate love story of two young Black creatives in London. Open Water follows their relationship over a year, as they attempt to overcome the obstacles and acts of violence that society throws their way. A photographer and a dancer in contemporary London deal with contentious friendships, jealousy, and the trauma from violent encounters, to keep their relationship afloat. Nelson writes lyrical, intimate prose and incorporates the writing of James Baldwin, Zadie Smith, and Hanif Abdurraqib, in a way that lends this slim novel the weight of a classic.
Recommended for fans of: James Baldwin, the movie Waves, the movie Queen & Slim.
 
Twilight Zone, by Nona Fernandez, translated by Natasha Wimmer
A finalist for a National Book Award this year, Twilight Zone is a celebrated Chilean novel that grapples with the effects and traumatization of the Pinochet regime. The story opens with a former member of the Chilean secret police, who one day dictates his crimes to a journalist. A national magazine publishes the story under the headline "I Tortured People," alerting the world to the brutality of the Pinochet dictatorship. The author was in grade school at the time, and interweaves personal reflection of her classmates and cultural touchstones from the 1980s (like the Space Invaders videogame and Twilight Zone T.V. show) alongside present-day cultural remembrances. This is a mesmerizing hybrid novel that incorporates reportage, memoir, and a fictionalized rendering of events. It feels like an epic.
Recommended for fans of: The new Showtimes series Yellowjackets, The History Channel.
 
Rabbit Island, by Elivira Navarro, translated by Christina MacSweeney
Rabbit Island is a collection of exuberant, quirky stories by one of Granta's "Best Young Spanish Language Novelists." In the title story, a so-called “non-inventor” conducts an experiment on an island inhabited exclusively by birds and is horrified by what the results portend. “Myotragus” bears witness to a man of privilege’s understanding of the world being violently disrupted by the sight of a creature long thought extinct. An unsightly “paw” grows from a writer’s earlobe; an obese grandmother floats silently in the corner of a room.
Recommended for fans of: Clarice Lispector, Yelena Moskovich, the Hulu series Nine Perfect Strangers.
 
The Things We've Seen, by Agustin Fernandez Mallo, translated by Thomas Bunstead
Our minds are full of things that are dead and yet that we live for and couldn’t live without…”  This book travels from a deserted island used as a concentration camp during the Spanish Civil War to remote Uruguayan beach shanties to explore the interconnectness of the mysteries that exist in the world. Dali as a disgruntled New Yorker who philosophizes about trash, cookies shaped like pregnant dogs, the 4th (forgotten) astronaut who accompanied Neil Armstrong to the moon, war, a subversive gardener at The Cloister’s who once possessed a poem by Garcia Lorca that formed a walking map of New York City. This book is out there, and I loved it.
Recommended for fans of: Roberto Bolano's 2666, Jorge Luis Borges, late-night television.

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