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5 of the best books from the 21st Century that you might have missed

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The 21st Century has produced some incredible literature, with some incredibly talented and prevalent writers.  

The following books have been well-received, but have also been somewhat overlooked or overshadowed, either by the author’s other novels or by other circumstances.

Nevertheless, they deserve attention and will make great reads for anyone looking to read a recent book that is just as good as many of the classics.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, 2010

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel  consists of 13 stories that intertwine together to make a larger plot arc, all somehow connected to Bennie Salazar, a record executive, and his assistant, Sasha.

Each chapter has a different character it focuses on, but because each character is connected to each other, they often show up in multiple chapters. A full story comes together with an ensemble of characters, spanning over 55 years.

Each chapter is capable of standing on its own, many of which were actually previously published as short stories in The New Yorker. However, by reading it as novel, the reader will experience this world of characters created by Egan as a whole and become more engaged with these characters than their singular chapters allow for.

Many connections and references are made about details from both past and future chapters, as well as jumping around within the timeline — anywhere from the 1970s to into the future 2020s — making it fun and interesting for readers to put together all the pieces.

 

Remainder by Tom McCarthy, 2005

Remainder tells the story of an unnamed narrator, who comes into a large sum of money after an accident.

He decides to use his money to hire actors and build sets to re-enact vague “memories” of his. The origin of these memories remains elusive, as the focus remains on the unnamed narrator and his obsession with finding authenticity through these fabricated scenarios.

His re-enactments evolve further and further away from humanity, as the narrator spirals deeper into the madness that has been building up since his accident.

The plot is complex and hard to put into words and is much better represented by merely diving into the novel with few expectations.

The reader is immersed into the mind of this unnamed narrator, a place that is entirely fascinating and disturbing all at once. The plot arc is exciting and surprising, leaving you wondering how it can possibly come to any sort of conclusion.

You may begin to question everything the narrator is telling you, yet have no choice but to experience the captivating events through his eyes.

 

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, 2011

The Marriage Plot centres around Madeleine Hanna, a Brown University student writing her thesis on the marriage plot of literature, the storyline basis for many of the novels from Jane Austen and George Eliot.

While working on this thesis, her life starts to mirror many of the marriage plot elements, particularly with the two men in her life, Leonard Bankhead and Mitchell Grammaticus.

Set in 1982, the book follows the three of them through their last year of college and  the first few years following graduation.

This novel is probably the least known by Eugenides, with The Virgin Suicides and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex often gaining more attention, yet should not be overlooked.

The Marriage Plot offers three captivating and vibrant characters that you come to care about immensely. Each character is vastly different from each other, yet all offer relatable qualities and allows readers to sympathize with them.

Eugenides manages to capture the emotions and the relationships between these young graduates in a way that pulls you into their lives and makes you feel as if you are catching up with people you knew from college, rather than reading about characters on a page.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist presents Changez, a Pakistani man, who tells his story of his time in  America to an American stranger he meets in a cafe in his native city, Lahore.

Changez’s time in America is really split into two parts: before and after 9/11. He has a degree from Princeton University, has landed a prestigious job, and is falling in love with a beautiful American girl, all of which begin to shift after 9/11 occurs.

As Changez recounts his story to this stranger, his complicated feelings for America as a country are laid out for the reader to decipher.

Hamid has written a mysterious and engaging novel with an expertly laid out use of symbolism, and an extremely thought-provoking open ending.

The topic of immigration is as relevant today as it was following 9/11 and readers will be compelled by Hamid’s exploration of the topic through the perfectly complex character of Changez.  

Zone One by Colson Whitehead, 2011

Set in New York City, Zone One presents a world in which a virus has taken over and most of humanity has been taken out, leaving only a small amount of survivors — “sweepers” — including the protagonist, Mark Spitz.

While the zombies — “skels” and “stragglers” — are still present, the sweepers are trying to rebuild, working toward the goal of making the city habitable again.

It takes place over the course of three days, but the highly frequent use of flashbacks gives way for the overarching story of the apocalypse and of Mark Spitz to slowly come together.

Whitehead has received significant attention lately for The Underground Railroad, which just recently won the Pulitzer Prize, but Zone One deserves just as much attention, as it is an apocalypse novel like no other.

Readers are given the character of Mark Spitz, who is a self-described “average” person — always a B student — but who is much more complex and represents much more than it may initially seem.

Through Whitehead’s often complex but descriptive and beautiful prose, surprising humour and a subtly hopeful tone play out within the narrative.

With underlying themes of race and gender, this story offers a lot more than just an action-filled zombie novel. And with an extremely fitting ending, readers will be left satisfied with the story of Mark Spitz.




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