Which writers are taking us to "vertiginous heights"?
February 24, 2018 4:04 AM   Subscribe

Writers like David Foster Wallace, or Hunter S Thompson, go so hard with their writing. Italo Calvino, maybe. (FWIW, I am not a white male). I haven't kept abreast of the best writing in the last, say, decade, maybe more, whether fiction or non-fiction. The last book I remember that felt a little like that might have been House of Leaves. Which recent books or writers have really been trying to strain beyond what can normally done on the page?
posted by surenoproblem to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is the book I've read most recently that blew my mind not only with the story but with the storytelling.
posted by spindrifter at 4:56 AM on February 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

I recently finished reading last year's Booker winner, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, and I thought the writing was wonderful. The format looks disjointed at first, but it reads roughly like a play. Apparently the audiobook is a "blockbuster."
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:15 AM on February 24, 2018 [11 favorites]

Roberto Bolano
posted by thelonius at 5:51 AM on February 24, 2018

Roberto Bolano is highly thought of - By Night In Chile is a short starting point. I really like Moya's Senselessness.

I found Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel to be a very intense book - no obvious tricks on the page, but quite the cumulative effect.

If you like Calvino, you might like Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer

Also, have you considered the past? Don Quixote is full of surprisingly metafictional weirdness. Bleak House also is startlingly effective - obviously it helps to like Dickens in the first place, but BH is the most intense of his novels, also he is a way weirder writer than people who've not read him are aware. There are some scenes late in the book that have simply tremendous eeriness and force.
posted by Frowner at 6:25 AM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm not 100% sure what you're after, but Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings might be up your alley. Anne Enright's work, maybe? John Banville certainly goes "all out" in his English. Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries has a more workshopped feel but it's an incredibly ambitious and successful and excellent piece of writing. If you're less concerned about contemporary writers, then John Barth (esp., The Sot-Weed Factor) and Robert Coover.
posted by dis_integration at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I don't know why I couldn't think of her right away, but: absolutely everything by Jeanette Winterson. I'd start with Gut Symmetries
posted by dis_integration at 6:42 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Eimar McBride's two novels: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians
posted by bebrogued at 6:46 AM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding David Mitchell, especially The Bone Clocks.
posted by merejane at 7:09 AM on February 24, 2018

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is just over 10 years old, right? I'm not sure what it is about this book. Something about the the combination of genre elements, and the way the voice makes me feel like I am encountering someone in real life. I know there's so much more there than I can understand, and it's not just partially obscured literary references. (A friend from Puerto Rico told me: "Read that book if you want to understand my life.")
posted by BibiRose at 7:29 AM on February 24, 2018

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Coming here to say this. I also felt that way about the short but sort of allegorical The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley in terms of pacing and framing. Blake Crouch's Dark Matter did this for me. A thriller in a genre sense, but so much more than that as far as how the story was set up and executed.
posted by jessamyn at 7:39 AM on February 24, 2018

2nding The Fifth Season. Jemisin is a powerful and evocative author.

And it’s getting a bit old at this point, but I would put Perdido Street Station by China Mieville on this list. That book goes hard and does not pull punches.
posted by gnutron at 8:12 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

David Mitchell’s lesser-known Number9dream is by far the most ambitious of his books, IMHO. Written mostly in the voice of a 19-year old Japanese boy, this is gorgeous, beautiful, noisy, kaleidoscopic piece of art.

If you like Calvino, you might also like Kobe Abe’s books. Weird philosophical introspections of life and its conditions. But it was written in the 70s.
posted by moiraine at 10:32 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I thought of David Mitchell immediately as well, but also Michel Faber. The Book of Strange New Things is incredible.
posted by hazyjane at 10:40 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Paul Auster has been doing this for a while, but I think he's pushed it even further with his new novel, 4 3 2 1. It's got great style and a challenging structure. And he's pretty fearless with his plot...at one point I actually put the book down and shouted "I CAN'T BELIEVE HE DID THAT!"

And Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is inventive, beautifully written, and very moving. I still think about it, even though I read it several years ago.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:31 AM on February 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

Inherent Vice by Pynchon.

Check out the Lists on Goodreads. You can search by book and see what lists the book is on
posted by tiburon at 3:32 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not at all sure what you're looking for, but I've read and loved a lot of DFW and Thompson, so given that, take this recommendation for whatever you think it might be worth: John Jeremiah Sullivan.
posted by she's not there at 4:05 PM on February 24, 2018

Not sure exactly what you're getting at with the question, but I'll throw Cormac McCarthy in here. His books tend to be almost nihilist in their darkness, but his language approaches poetic.
posted by cnc at 4:06 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh, yes, McCarthy, for sure. And Wallace Stegner.
posted by she's not there at 4:08 PM on February 24, 2018

Philip K Dick has an excellent knack for surprise.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:47 PM on February 24, 2018

Older than 10 years, but Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red is similar in its exuberance to anything by Mitchell, Foster Wallace, or Calvino.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:50 PM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just chiming in to second Lincoln at the Bardo. I have been reading for a long time - this was the first time in decades that I had to stay up all night devouring the pages, with sheer awe at the linguistic magic unfolding in front of me. It reminded me of James Joyce (meant as a compliment), with the clever playfulness of the language mixed with such heartwrenching emotion.
I cried.
posted by bookgirl18 at 4:27 AM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just finished Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy which is-- I think-- as much a love letter to the English language as a memoir about a really fucked up family.
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:16 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's older than ten years ago but The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus is astonishing.
posted by coleboptera at 9:52 PM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's older than ten years ago but The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus is astonishing.

His The Flame Alphabet came out in 2012, and feels very much like a development of the same ideas. It's not a nice book. Much of it seemed like it was angry at the reader for reading it. But if the attitude doesn't put you off it is rather singular.
posted by solarion at 9:19 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Insane writing, blew my mind plus he talks about a little-discussed issue: the lives and fate of migrant workers in the Gulf.
posted by dostoevskygirl at 2:57 PM on March 5, 2018

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