The Best Fiction of 2009

By STEFAN BECK

Lowboy

John Wray

This tale of a schizophrenic youth going mad in the New York subway system is a gem of empathy and ventriloquism. Lowboy would have been a gimmicky shock treatment in the hands of a lesser talent, but Wray delivers a tightly wound, linguistically audacious thiller about the fragility of consciousness.

Sag Harbor

By Colson Whitehead

In a sea of trauma-fetishizing memoirs, Sag Harbor stands out, beacon-like, as a pleasant, dreamy, and frequently comical Bildungsroman about that most unlikely character: the privileged African-American nerd who lives to tell about it. This “Autobiographical Fourth Novel” is a welcome reminder than childhood can be bizarre without being brutal.

Nocturnes

By Kazuo Ishiguro

In five discomfiting new stories “of music and nightfall,” Ishiguro contemplates a theme on many minds in a time of economic uncertainty: the nature of genuine success. Using spare, taut language and stripped-down plots, he dazzles readers with how much a master can do with the bare necessities of storytelling.

The Anthologist

Nicholson Baker

Baker, the controversial author of Vox and Human Smoke, returns with a gentle, richly (and hilariously) observed story of poetry and failure. Paul Chowder, a hapless poet and anthologist, finds salvation by the simplest means: keeping his eyes peeled and his words at the ready. Baker inspires as he entertains.

The Best of Frank O’Connor

Frank O’Connor

The year’s most rewarding fiction release is Julian Barnes’s anthology of work by Frank O’Connor, the Irish short story writer, translator, and critic. Classic tales like “First Confession” and “Guests of the Nation” are collected at last with stunning selections from O’Connor’s memoirs and literary criticism. Not to be missed.