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The 5 best fiction books of 2022, according to Bethanne Patrick

Five book jacket covers on top of a colorful background of flowers, lightning bolts and other shapes
(Illustrations by Mel Cerri / For The Times. Book jackets from Avid Reader, MCD, Penguin Press, Viking and William Morrow)
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It was a good year for veteran authors and rookies alike, for pop fiction and experimental work, memoirs and works of history. We asked four critics to name the top five books published in 2022. Here are Bethanne Patrick’s favorite works of fiction.

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"All This Could Be Different" by Sarah Thankam Mathews
(Viking)

By Sarah Thankam Mathews
Viking: 320 pages, $27

Just when you think sentences must vary to make good style, along comes rapid-fire staccato writing that sings a different tune. Mathews’ protagonist, a young South Asian American woman named Sneha, moves to Milwaukee for a consulting job and confronts financial hardship, landlord games and a needy girlfriend. Crafting a coming-of-age story about a queer character enduring postcapitalism with a gimlet eye, the author is simultaneously hilarious, tender and meaningful.

"How High We Go in the Dark," by Sequoia Nagamatsu
(William Morrow)

By Sequoia Nagamatsu
Morrow: 304 pages, $28

Take a cupful of David Mitchell, a teaspoon of Banana Yoshimoto, several dashes of Emily St. John Mandel and a generous pour of Anthony Doerr ... and you still won’t have everything that makes up Nagamatsu’s glorious debut, a dystopian fantasy that follows the Earth’s transformation in the wake of an “Arctic plague.” As with the authors mentioned, Nagamatsu’s interest in scientific matters takes a back seat to the human stories that continue even as tragedy confronts every aspect of life; so relevant yet also surprising.

"Our Missing Hearts" by Celeste Ng
(Penguin Press)

By Celeste Ng
Penguin Press: 352 pages, $29

An adolescent boy confronts the absences in his life, including his mother’s, after receiving an encoded drawing. Nothing will be easy for Noah “Bird” Gardner in a near-future United States of America governed by the Preserving American Culture and Traditions (PACT) Act, which legislates conformity and ultimately separates BIPOC families. While Bird’s story keeps you riveted, the notion of what can happen in a society unmoored from pluralism will haunt you long after you turn the last page.

"Human Blues" by Elisa Albert
(Avid Reader)

by Elisa Albert
Avid Reader: 416 pages, $28

Ever read a novel structured around nine menstrual cycles, the length of an average human pregnancy? Aviva Rosner, folk-rock star, has everything: sweet husband, artistic success, an awesome house in the country. But what she really wants is a baby and as she grapples with fertility issues, Albert throws a curveball: Aviva’s fixation on her idol Amy Winehouse’s life and legacy. She befriends the late singer’s grieving mother and stepfather over tea and scones in London, setting in motion a tour de force about the power women can wield — which can be unstoppable but not always controllable.

"If I Survive You" by Jonathan Escoffery
(MCD)

By Jonathan Escoffery
MCD: 272 pages, $27

Trelawny, a first-generation Jamaican immigrant in Florida, learns he won’t be able to find a home of his own unless he separates from the one in which he was raised. Will that be easy? Of course not! In a series of interconnected stories, newcomer Escoffery follows Trelawny, his hapless brother Delano, their bereft cousin Cukie and Trelawny’s parents through run after run of disasters and bad luck; in the process he stakes a strong claim to being 2022’s most talented debut author.


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