2021 books: Best fiction of the year

Joy Delaney is missing, and her husband is the prime suspect. But, as always, the author of “Big Little Lies” has some twists in store.

A middle-class Black woman exhausted by the stressors of unfulfilling success decides to opt out of treatment for her recently diagnosed breast cancer.

The author of “Normal People” transforms a deceptively simple plot—four people struggling to define their relationships—into a nuanced study of power dynamics.

This effervescent debut about an ambitious African American man is an irresistible comic novel about the tenacity of racism in corporate America.

In this reimagined “Great Gatsby,” partygoers drink demon blood, sorcery twists the beams of reality, and Jay Gatsby is a bisexual vampire. Finally, the story makes sense.

The sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Sympathizer” continues the story of a Viet Cong spy, now retired and working in France for a Chinese drug lord.

In a mythological version of DC, a woman drives a haunted taxi while her murdered twin embarks on a posthumous revenge mission against the men who lynched him.

An experienced logger and his young wife in Northern California suspect a defoliant being used to clear brush is poisoning their community.

In 17th-century Germany, Johannes Kepler’s mother stands trial for witchcraft, and Galchen’s retelling is a magical brew of absurdity and brutality.

A Brooklyn blogger, full of intellectual superiority and self-loathing, discovers that her boyfriend is an online conspiracy theorist. But is she any more authentic?

A collage of voices tells the story of Opal Jewel (a “Black girl from Detroit”) and Nev Charles (“a goofy white English boy”), musicians who got their start as an unlikely 1970s duo.

Faced with starvation during the Depression, a Texas woman drives her two children to California, where her dreams of an oasis collide with reality.

The discovery of an old photo alongside her husband’s supposedly lost wedding ring prompts a woman to reassess her past and her marriage.

A soaring work of historical fiction about a “lady pilot” in the mid-20th century intertwines with the tale of a modern-day celebrity portraying the trailblazer in a biopic.

The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner has written a rolling crime novel about a furniture salesman who gets pulled into an ill-advised robbery scheme.

This National Book Award winner follows a Black author’s book tour that turns surreal when an imaginary friend materializes.

In rich detail, Bohjalian conjures 17th-century Massachusetts in this gripping tale of a woman determined to win independence and seek justice.

The new novel by the author of “Behold the Dreamers” is set in an unnamed African country where villagers fall prey to the false promises of an American oil company.

This lavish, cinematic debut, set mostly in Barbados during the summer of 1984, juxtaposes people at a tony resort with the local residents struggling to get by.

The “Annihilation” author’s latest thriller takes place in an environmentally ravaged near future, where a social outcast embarks on a deadly rescue mission to save the globe.

A new mother abandons her family and flies to Reno, Nev., setting in motion an audaciously candid story about the crush of conflicted feelings a baby can inspire.

A Colombian family living in the United States is divided by deportation, each member weathering the psychic pain of being “split as if by an ax.”

A woman working in The Hague as an interpreter becomes embroiled in a war crimes trial involving the former president of a war-torn African nation.

Chen, an American journalist once based in Beijing, crafts a story collection about an array of Chinese characters driven to take control of their fates.

A young Black woman from Reconstruction-era Brooklyn ponders the notion of freedom after she marries, moves to Haiti and realizes that neither the man nor her new home live up to expectations.

The author of “A Gentleman in Moscow” starts his new novel in 1954 Nebraska, as two brothers, headed to California to find their mother, get derailed by some juvenile delinquents.

After her French husband’s latest affair, an American woman ditches Europe for San Francisco to “prove, to herself if to no one else, that you can make a new life at any age.”

Though 500-plus pages, Tóibín’s novel about Nobel Prize-winning writer Thomas Mann canters along with graceful prose and delightful cameos.

The author of “Daisy Jones and the Six” serves up a mix of celebrity culture and family drama as four children, abandoned by their rock star dad, raise themselves.

The standout novella in this debut collection follows a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who takes shelter at Monticello from a white supremacist mob.

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Lockwood’s debut follows a social media star whose absurdist travails online come to a grinding halt when a gutting tragedy hits IRL.

Beginning in 19th-century Cuba, Garcia’s novel follows five generations of women as they flail against forces that are unmistakably patriarchal, capitalist and colonial.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Olive Kitteridge” revisits Lucy Barton as she accompanies her ex-husband on a journey to understand a grim puzzle from his past.

A workplace satire about a Black woman trying to make it in publishing transforms into a surreal thriller involving a covered brainwashing effort.

Blending the ludicrous and poignant, the “Absurdistan” author channels Chekhov with the tale of eight city-dwellers who relocate to Upstate New York to ride out the pandemic.

North puts a feminist twist on the Western in this alt-history about an on-the-run midwife who falls in with the Hole in the Wall Gang, a sapphic iteration of the Jesse James gang.

Two authors teamed up for this historical novel about JP Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, a Black woman who passed for White.

This remarkable debut, a finalist for a National Book Award, recounts a love story between two enslaved men who dare flout their owners’ intended use of them for breeding by choosing to love each other instead.

The debut collection, with stories about Indigenous characters in rural Oklahoma, portrays the aching, farcical nature of existence with stunning economy.

Every chapter in this novel spins to a new character, each looking for the secret to happiness. (Spoiler alert: They do not all find it.)

Erdrich’s first novel since winning a Pulitzer Prize takes place in a Minnesota bookstore where employees are haunted by the ghost of their most annoying customer.

In this exceptional debut — given the Oprah seal of approval — a grieving White landowner befriends two recently emancipated Black men amid the tension of post-Civil War Georgia.

Two women with the same name end up corresponding after one receives an email meant for the other. It’s all a random coincidence. Or is it?

The style-shifting author of “Mexican Gothic” (and a Book World columnist) goes noir with an adrenalized, darkly romantic tale of two people looking for the same mysterious woman.

Comedy and tragedy intermingle as a junior editor for a 1950s publishing house is tasked with making an erotic thriller — based on the life of convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg — “less bad.”

An underemployed woman, unhappy in marriage, despondent in her middle-aged body and rebuffed by her teenage daughter, decides to upend her life and flee the circumstances.

After a harrowing journey toward a supposedly better life, a 9-year-old Syrian refugee washes up on a small Mediterranean island and tries to evade capture.

This scathingly frank story of motherhood conjures up the disturbing mixture of devotion and alienation endured by anyone raising a child they don’t understand, don’t even like.

In the 1950s, a brilliant former UN interpreter, who gave up her career to raise children, comes alive when she accepts an undercover assignment from the FBI.

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