Best Literary Fiction of 2023

The best literary fiction titles of 2023 probe human nature, celebrate creativity, depict history, and investigate the stories we tell ourselves.


Cole, Teju. Tremor. Random. ISBN 9780812997118.

In a work both intellectually rigorous and remarkably absorbing, a Nigerian American man teaching photography at Harvard reflects deeply on the past brutality of white Westerners, its continuing resonance and enactment, cultural theft and the need for restitution, the artist’s responsibility not to objectify, and music as his shield in a white-centered world.

Deb, Siddhartha. The Light at the End of the World. Soho. ISBN 9781641294669.

Moving from a pollution-ridden near-future to the Bhopal chemical plant catastrophe, the building of Vedic-inspired aircraft at the time of Partition, and the British tracking of a fugitive leader in the wake of Sepoy rebellion, Deb expertly compresses two centuries of India’s history—and its future possibilities—into a richly and abundantly detailed work with flashes of fantasy.

Enright, Anne. The Wren, the Wren. Norton. ISBN 9781324005681.

Nell McDaragh is inspired by the Irish poet grandfather she never met to leave home and find her own voice, even as her mother wrestles with the ongoing pain his desertion caused the family. As she scene-shifts throughout the novel, Enright boasts her own distinctive voice, varied, generous, moving, and spiked with surprising verse.

Harding, Paul. This Other Eden. Norton. ISBN 9781324036296.

Introducing readers to the descendants of a formerly enslaved Black man and his white Irish wife, plus a Black Union Army veteran, a fair-skinned young artist, and more, Harding persuasively reimagines Maine’s Malaga Island, which supported a racially integrated community until its eviction by the state in the early 1900s. A perfectly knit narrative delivering a sober understanding of human nature and racial hatred.

Hill, Nathan. Wellness. Knopf. ISBN 9780593536117.

A smart, expansively written portrait of a marriage that also captures the social landscape of the last two decades, Hill’s heady narrative investigates the stories we tell ourselves, the persuasiveness of believing, the burdens of family and class, the meaning of art, the dangers of social media, the very possibility of truth, how we change over time, and so much more.

Krivak, Andrew. Like the Appearance of Horses. Bellevue Literary. ISBN 9781954276130.

Moving from a half-Roma boy fleeing fascist Hungary for Darden, PA, where he seeks a man who saved his mother’s life during World War I, to a Vietnam vet struggling with addiction while seeing his own son off to battle, Krivak arcs gracefully through several generations of a single family in a narrative that remains tenderly intimate while revealing how human history is shaped by war.

Mason, Daniel. North Woods. Random. ISBN 9780593597033.

Built by two lovers who escaped the Massachusetts Colony in the 1600s, the little house in the north woods has attracted everyone from an orchard-happy loyalist to a wealthy early-1900s lodge builder to a contemporary doctoral student passionate about trees, gracefully showing human history and natural history as two halves of the same whole. An acutely written, page-turning novel of ideas.

McBride, James. The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. Riverhead. ISBN 9780593422946.

A skeleton is discovered when foundations are dug in 1970s Chicken Hill, a Black and immigrant Jewish neighborhood in Pottstown, PA, and a story unfolds of the struggle and triumph of a community that bonded together, particularly to help a child with disabilities whom the state wanted to remove. Sharp, exuberant, and heartfelt reading.

Smith, Zadie. The Fraud. Penguin Pr. ISBN 9780525558965.

At the notorious Tichborne trial in 1873 London, a butcher from Australia argues that he is the rightful heir to the estate and title claimed by Sir Roger Tichborne, carefully observed by both Scottish housekeeper Eliza Touchet and an anxious Andrew Bogle, who grew up enslaved in Jamaica and is a star witness at the trial. Elegant, eloquent, one-of-a-kind writing.

Verghese, Abraham. The Covenant of Water. Grove. ISBN 9780802162175.

In the Christian community of Kerala on southern India’s Malabar Coast, a family suffers successive tragedies, with at least one person in each generation dying by drowning. Yet this rich, skillfully narrated tale portrays not just suffering and the rough rub of human failings but kindness, love, and art, while capturing India’s transformation during the 20th century.

Ward, Jesmyn. Let Us Descend. Scribner. ISBN 9781982104498.

As she is marched south to her new owner in Louisiana, having been sold by the white enslaver who fathered her, Annis finds solace in memories of her mother, the stories of her African warrior grandmother, and her sense of connection to the spirits of the earth. Another breathtaking work from Ward, with gorgeous language, memorable detail, and extraordinary scope.

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