After summer’s glut of relaxing reads and hot-weather thrillers, autumn is the perfect time to welcome more piquant stuff, including brand-new voices you just might fall in love with. Here are 10 recent debuts worth adding to your stack.
The Glamshack, by Paul Cohen
Cohen’s novel comes to us from 7.13 Publishing, which only publishes debut novels. The Glamshack is a deep dive into the character of Henry Folsom, a celebrity journalist sick and tired of his career, mourning a failed romance to a woman he refers to as She with a capital “S” as if she was some sort of deity; a man obsessed with the Plains Indian Wars of the 1800s. Cohen subtly puts a layer between Harry and everything he experiences—Harry doesn’t actually do any research on the wars, but reads a book about them, for example, so that when he makes connections it’s not with the actual events but with someone else’s interpretation of those events. The end result of these layered abstractions is a story that fits together like a beautiful puzzle without losing any sense of urgent personal anguish.
See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt
Lizzie Borden remains a famous, ghoulish figure in American history more than a century after the brutal murder of her father and stepmother. Schmidt isn’t content to simply re-tell the story in which Lizzie Borden grabbed an axe, or to rely on a simple subversion or inversion to sell the story. Instead she imagines a deeply-detailed fictional world, offering the perspectives of four people—including Lizzie—that swirl together to form a complex mystery. You might think you know how the story ends, but Schmidt will surprise you in this impressive debut.
The End We Start From, by Megan Hunter
Hunter tells the story of a woman who has a baby just as London is swamped by floodwaters. As the city is submerged, she and her partner take the baby, referred to only as Z, and flee northward. The waters drown society, and chaos spreads as everything goes under—but Hunter brilliantly keeps her focus on Z. As the world sinks, Z thrives, and his parents focus on his thrilling good health and quick, cheerful development. The apocalypse happens in the margins while new life gurgles and giggles and smiles, and it might be the most interesting work of climate fiction (“cli-fi”) published so far.
The City Always Wins, by Omar Hamilton
Set in the midst of Egypt’s revolution of 2011 and subsequent, ongoing reinvention and evolution, Hamilton focuses on Khalil, a podcaster who records the protests in Tahrir Square and tells the stories of those martyred. These sequences are breathless and breathtaking, and slowly give way to the inevitable aftermath as General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi takes power and restores something resembling order—an order Khalil turns a caustic eye towards, wondering if the people who protested and risked and died got what they were paying for.
Barbary Station, by R.E. Stearns
For the sci-fi fan, Stearns roars into the genre bookshelf with a crackling adventure set in a solar system decimated by economic collapse and war, leaving engineers Adda and Iridian jobless and desperate. Their idea is simple: hijack a colony ship and deliver it to the legendary pirates living in luxury at Barbary Station in deep space. But when they arrive, they discover they’ve got it wrong: the pirates (and now, Adda and Iridian) are prisoners of a crazed AI thats seeks to murder all living things—and won’t let any ships leave the area. In order to earn their place with the pirates (and live long enough to enjoy it), Adda and Iridian have to do what ever previous engineer has failed to do: defeat the artificial intelligence and live to tell the tale.
Goodbye, Vitamin, by Rachel Khong
Ruth Young is having a very bad, no-good kind of year: her fiance Joel broke their engagement and has a new girlfriend, and she’s just quit her job in order to move home and help her mother take care of her father, who is declining rapidly into Alzheimer’s. At home Ruth works to handle her father’s increasingly bizarre behavior while organizing long cons to convince him he’s still teaching, but at the same time her unfettered access to his office and private papers leads her to investigate the hidden corners of his life—and she’s not sure she’s going to like what she finds. The story floats along on the fading tension between father and daughter—their relationship is so strong and unique you share Ruth’s distress and confusion as her father slowly becomes less and less. That’s writing magic.
Final Girls, by Riley Sager
The “Final Girl” is the girl in a slasher movie who survives to tell the tale. Quincy survives a mass murder, but refuses to play the role of Final Girl, getting on with her life seemingly without a hitch. But her memory is murky, she’s popping pills, and when another survivor of mass violence who served as her mentor commits suicide, things start to slide off the rails. The media attention and the arrival of another survivor, Sam, whose habits and flaws may be the worst possible combination for Quincy begin to push Quincy into uncharted territory. As Quincy begins to doubt Sam and to question her own memory and sense of reality, the truth of what’s going on begins to take on an increasingly horrifying tone—leading to a climax that might not spare Quincy a second time.
When the English Fall, by David Williams
Williams isn’t the first to imagine the end of society via technological failure—this time through a freak solar storm that renders all modern tech and machinery useless—but he is the first to ask what will forever after be an obvious question in all apocalyptic fiction: what about the Amish? Without any reliance on modern technology, living on working farms with food supplies and a strong community, Williams imagines them surviving quite nicely, actually, while the English—the word the Amish use to describe all outsiders—slide into terror and chaos. Written as the diary of a young Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, it depicts the idyllic survival of the Amish community under threat as the English beyond their borders become increasingly desperate—and begin to plunder Amish farms. The questions this raises, about whether the Amish should abandon their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves, are just one aspect of a fascinating debut.
Unraveling Oliver, by Liz Nugent
A sprawling puzzle of a book, this is the story of Oliver Ryan, a successful children’s author with a seemingly happy home life who one evening assaults his wife Alice, nearly killing her. But it’s also the story of everyone in Oliver’s life, past and present, who offer their stories about the man, weaving in and out of his own recollections. Bit by bit Oliver is exposed and the cause of his moment of violence is pieced together. Nugent brilliantly offers up stories that at first seem entertaining but unnecessary, then slowly links them more and more deeply until they click into place as essential clues. Dark and twisty, Nugent’s debut novel is urgent and violent and reminds us that we can walk away from our traumas, but we can never escape them.
Stay with Me, by Ayobami Adebayo
An operatic, tragic story set against the backdrop of a Nigeria being shaken by societal and political change, Adebayo introduces Akin and Yejide, a loving married couple. Childless, Akin feels social pressure to prove his masculinity by producing a son, and one day brings home the solution: a second wife. Yejide is thrown into a panic by this, and as Akin plots further to ensure a child, she loses her hold on her sanity and reality as the gears of misery are set in motion. The story unfolds in alternating chapters from Akin and Yejide’s points of view, offering a look into a culture in the midst of violent change, and a lesson in the cruelty of the law of unintended consequences.
What debuts are you excited for this fall?