Forward Fives: 2012 in Fiction

In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of our favorite works of fiction of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

Jami Attenberg, “The Middlesteins”

Deeply sympathetic yet bitterly unforgiving, Attenberg’s suburban Chicago family saga suggests more than a passing familiarity with Saul Bellow as it presents the reader with the story of Edie Middlestein née Herzen, a woman slowly yet inexorably tumbling towards self-destruction.

Nathan Englander, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank”

Bouncing back from the mannered and self-consciously erudite prose of his first novel, “The Ministry of Special Cases,” Englander returns with this stunning collection that, particularly in the title story, shows the author to be a master of both empathy and ventriloquism.

Deborah Levy, “Swimming Home”

A finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, Levy’s compact novel of love and obsession in an anxious age hints at both Henry James and John Cheever while embodying a linguistic mastery that has become this author’s hallmark.

Ellen Ullman, “By Blood”

One of our most overlooked and yet consistently surprising and engaging authors, this time out, Ullman, a onetime computer programmer, offers a gripping novel of psychoanalysis and obsession that begins in 1970s San Francisco but delves far deeper into the darkest moments of Jewish history.

Benjamin Stein, “The Canvas”

Riffing on the notorious case of Benjamin Wilkomirski, author of the fraudulent Holocaust memoir “Fragments,” the German author Stein offers a dizzying tale of the elusiveness of identity — Jewish and otherwise.

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