New year, new list of must-read books—so if you’re still trying to finish off last year’s list, get cracking, because time waits for no reader. 2016 promises to be a great year for clever novels with great premises, the sort of “elevator pitches” that convince you to read them after just a brief description. That means if you’re pressed for time, you can discover 10 books you’ll want to put on your must-read list in just a few minutes. Take the Elevator Pitch Challenge right here, right now, with these 10 forthcoming novels whose premises are irresistible.
The Gun, by Fuminori Nakamura (January 5)
Nakamura’s literary crime fiction novel takes one of the most famous storytelling principles, Chekhov’s Gun, and writes it large in a story about a lonely college student who stumbles on a crime scene and impulsively takes the loaded gun lying next to a body. The gun becomes an obsession as he slowly convinces himself it’s not enough to possess the gun—he must fire it. The tension of that premise alone is enough to keep us awake at night.
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, by Sunil Yapa (January 12)
Set during the 1990 Seattle WTO protests, Yapa offers seven characters from both sides of the conflict, telling seven stories and weaving them together in a tense, deeply considered story that breaks hearts and offers insights into the modern world. This is one of those books whose elevator pitch—seven people’s lives intertwine during the protests—is both thrillingly simple and wonderfully deceptive, as the story is much more than the sum of its parts.
And Again, by Jessica Chiarella (January 12)
Four terminally ill patients are given new bodies that are perfect copies of their old ones, except without all the imperfections—wrinkles, illnesses, scars, all gone. But while that sounds like a dream, the four discover there’s a terrible price, as decades of learning and training have also vanished, while compulsions, addictions, and other problems persist. That’s a deep-dive premise that promises to make for an absorbing, thought-provoking story.
The Heart, by Maylis de Kerangal (February 9)
de Kerangal’s awesome concept is so clean and powerful it takes just one sentence to get you to click the BUY button: The story literally follows a beating heart over a twenty-four hour period, from the moments before a car accident that renders its young owner brain dead, through the surgery that transplants it into a dying woman. Simple, powerful, and evocative.
Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett (March 1)
Many young writers have written a treatment of the central premise of Kafka’s Metamorphosis at some point, but few do so with such a pitch-perfect twist: A young Nigerian man wakes up one morning to discover he has become a white man overnight—except for his titular black bottom. While the transformation causes him some pain and strained relationships, he also discovers being light-skinned in Nigeria has significant benefits.
Gone with the Mind, by Mark Leyner (March 8)
Mark Leyner, once discussed in the same breath as David Foster Wallace and other heroes of postmodernism, is back with a typically bizarre premise: an author named Mark Leyner is scheduled to read from his autobiography at an event organized by his mother at the local shopping mall’s food court, where precisely no one has shown up to hear him. That’s essentially the whole plot, and yet, as always with Leyner, plenty of hilarity ensues.
The Throwback Special, by Chris Bachelder (March 14)
How’s this for a clever idea: Every year, 22 men gather to reenact the infamous football play that saw star quarterback Joe Theisman suffer one of the most horrific injuries in professional sports history, a play known as the Throwback Special, with every role assigned via lottery and labyrinthine rules evoking the super-serious world of fantasy sports. From this rich idea a moving and smart examination of male bonding, behavior, and ritual emerges.
Zero K, by Don DeLillo (May 3)
Normally claiming a DeLillo novel can be summed up in an elevator pitch gets you laughed out of the room, but this one actually can: a billionaire has built a compound where death is studied and people are frozen in the hopes that it can one day be conquered. His son joins him as his terminally ill second wife chooses to sidestep her fate; as he says in the novel, “We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?” Sure, undoubtedly things will get crazy from there—but that’s as killer a premise as we’ve seen.
The Girls, by Emma Cline (June 14)
How does someone like Charles Manson collect a following of beautiful young women and convince them to do horrifying things? Cline’s new novel explores a possible vector as a bored young girl becomes enthralled by the freedom and glamour of a group of older girls who effortlessly seduce her into what is essentially a cult, creeping slowly toward some unspeakable violence. Anyone who has ever had a girl crush knows how easy it is to lose yourself, making this one an irresistible exploration of a common experience turned uncommon.
Heartless, by Marissa Meyer (November 8)
Taking a famous character from classic literature and revealing a heretofore secret back story isn’t a new idea—but when the choice of character is as clever as the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, it doesn’t have to be. As always with these tales, the joy is in the inevitable—we know how she ends up, we just want to know the How. One of a handful of 2016 novels that can be summed up in one sentence, making it a natural for this list.