A confession: I very nearly quit putting this list together.
Throughout the year I keep a running list, adding new names whenever I learn about an upcoming queer book—from Tweets, publicist pitches, endless NetGalley scrolls—and I usually start writing the blurbs for each book a few months before the list is due. Let me also add that, because I am a novelist myself, someone who works very hard to put words on the page in a good-enough order for someone to respond to them, I try and read at least a little of each book featured. And here’s an incredible truth that’s both deeply satisfying and makes my job surprisingly difficult: there are more and more queer books published every year. There was a time when I could complete a list like this in an afternoon; I was lucky to find a dozen explicitly queer titles. Now there’s a pretty solid chance I miss a good number of them.
In mid-December—at the half-way point, and a couple days after my birthday—I looked at the list, halfway done then, and thought, “There’s no way I can do this. There’s no way I can finish putting together this list in a way that does each book justice.” Partly it was the volume, yes, and partly it was the ambient dread of being alive in 2023. Partly it was also because of the lingering emotional hangover from publishing my debut novel and the approaching completion of my second—experiences that have left me excited, enervated, vulnerable, and protective of my own mental health. Partly I’ve become wary—weary?—of continuing to delineate LGBTQ stories from cis-straight ones, as if our identity is a genre, as if I’m daring hetero readers to overlook these books because of who the protagonists and authors choose to fuck. Partly—maybe superficially—I felt a crippling nihilism at the idea of putting so much time into this list only to have to promote it on the hollowed-out shell of an app whose home screen now serves as a violent reminder of how much we’ve lost at the whims of idiotic wannabe despots.
Here’s how I finally finished this list: I read all the other ones. I went through most of the “best of” lists from last year, the “anticipated” lists for this one. And while we’re thrown a couple bones every now and then, given some gestures at progressive appeasement, our stories are still routinely passed over. Queer culture—our fashion, our humor, our art—has always moved everyone forward, toward a better, freer, more-fun world; we are and have been the tide that lifts, so our stories deserve not only to be included but centered.
Here are 42 works of literature that will lift us all this year—bold new books by Judith Butler, Carlos Maurice Ruffin, Brontez Purnell, Lucas Rijneveld, Garrard Conley, R.O. Kwon, and Miranda July; and auspicious debuts from Daniel Lefferts, Emma Copley Eisenberg, and Ursula Villarreal-Moura.
You Only Call When You’re In Trouble by Stephen McCauley (Jan. 9)
Tom is an architect in his sixties, constructing what he hopes will be his “masterpiece.” But his longtime boyfriend has recently broken up with him, and both his sister and his niece—the latter of whom is the center of his life—are soliciting his help in solving crises of their own. Less author Andrew Sean Greer says McCauley’s “poignant, joyous, explosive” latest is one to cherish: “A book that loves you back. What more could you want, my gosh? Read it!”
City of Laughter by Temim Fruchter (Jan. 16)
Grieving the dual losses of both her father and the end of her first queer relationship, Shiva Margolin, a student of Jewish folklore, embarks on a sojourn to Poland, her family’s ancestral homeland. Danielle Evans calls Fruchter’s debut “a gorgeous and full-hearted exploration of inheritance, grief, desire, and connection, at once a story about what it means to go looking for the ghosts we always knew were there and what it means to be in the right place to encounter the unexpected things we didn’t know we were waiting for.”
Portrait of a Body by Julie Delporte (Jan. 16)
The newest from French-Canadian cartoonist Delporte is a beautiful, moving look at coming out later in life, a diary-style graphic memoir about the queer liberation of both the body and mind.
Dead in Long Beach, California by Venita Blackburn (Jan. 23)
How To Wrestle a Girl, Blackburn’s 2021 story collection, was a revelation, barbed and bold. She writes so well about the weirdness of grief and the grief of being weird. Her new novel centers on a successful speculative fiction author who discovers her brother dead by suicide and carries on pretending he’s still alive, a reality-shattering charade with far-reaching consequences.
How We Named the Stars by Andrés N. Ordorica (Jan. 30)
Ordorica, a poet, weaves a tapestry of love in loss in his fiction debut, a tenderhearted coming-of-age story about a closeted college student who falls in love with his also-closeted roommate. Fellow poet Eduardo C. Corral calls the novel “majestic.”
Interesting Facts About Space by Emily Austin (Jan. 30)
The bestselling author of BookTok fave Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead returns with a novel about a partially deaf lesbian obsessed with black holes and true crime podcasts struggling to balance new connections—both with her formerly estranged half-sisters and her first serious relationship.
Antiquity by Hanna Johansson, trans. by Kira Josefsson (Feb. 6)
Imagine a female-fronted version of Call Me by Your Name told from Oliver’s point of view and set on a Greek island and you’ll get something like Johansson’s award-winning novel. Translated from the Swedish, it follows a thirtysomething woman to Ermoupoli as she becomes entangled in a complex relationship between an elegant older artist and her teenage daughter.
Corey Fah Does Social Mobility by Isabel Waidner (Feb. 6)
Waidner’s last novel, the Kafkaesque Sterling Karat Gold, won the prestigious Goldsmiths Prize, and their latest surreal romp is about an author who wins a prestigious book prize. The catch? The trophy and monetary award are difficult to obtain, possibly impossible, and the quest for it sends the author back and forth through time.
Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly (Feb. 6)
The titular siblings of Reilly’s charming debut are lovelorn flatmates in New Zealand, navigating their own queer heartbreaks and learning what their place in the world is—both as individuals and as members of a multiracial family.
Ways and Means by Daniel Lefferts (Feb. 6)
Alistair McCabe, a young gay college student from the Rust Belt, dreams of a career in high finance, a fantasy turned nightmare when he finds himself entangled with an enigmatic billionaire whose nefarious ambition puts Alistair’s life at risk. Lefferts’s debut, an astute examination the complex intersection of money and intimacy, traces Alistair’s descent alongside the dissolution of the relationship between his paramours, an artistic couple with their own financial and existential woes.
Bugsy & Other Stories by Rafael Frumkin (Feb. 13)
The author of last year’s Highsmithian heist dramedy, Confidence, returns with a delirious, thrilling short fiction collection, including one story about a lonely college dropout who reinvents herself as a boom operator for porn shoots, and another about a Twitch streamer whose life is upended by the odd behavior of her best friend and the reply guy fan who’s come to declare his love.
I Heard Her Call My Name by Lucy Sante (Feb. 13)
Often it’s easier to think and write about others’ lives, easier to dig for the truth in someone else’s story than it is to search for one’s own. Such as it had been for Sante, an acclaimed chronicler of iconoclastic queer life who found it difficult to confront her own identity, a confrontation made even more difficult by society’s discouragement of gender fluidity. Sante’s achingly poignant memoir charts her late-in-life transition, the shock and euphoria of self-recognition.
Ten Bridges I’ve Burnt by Brontez Purnell (Feb. 13)
100 Boyfriends was a bawdy, brutal, and beautifully raw chronicle of queer Black life, and Purnell’s follow-up, a memoir-in-verse, promises even more of what made that book a must-read.
The Rain Artist by Claire Rudy Foster (Feb. 24)
When I was an editor at O Magazine, I had the pleasure and privilege of publishing the dizzyingly good short story upon which this novel is based. It centers on a woman named Celine who is one of the sole remaining umbrella makers in a world in which water (and rain) has become a rare commodity only available to the uber-wealthy. For such a short story, the world Foster built already felt expansive, and I’m excited to see it expanded further.
The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Feb. 27)
The always-inventive author of the Pen/Faulkner finalist We Cast a Shadow returns with an electrifying work of historical fiction centered on a gutsy former slave girl who joins a clandestine band of female spies working to undermine the Confederacy.
Green Dot by Madeleine Gray (Feb. 27)
Hera, the droll and extremely self-aware narrator of Gray’s debut, knows falling for a married man twice her age is an ill-fated cliche. And yet. Hera, who has only ever slept with women, works as a news outlet’s comment moderator, and it’s in the chilly, subterranean-seeming office she meets Arthur, a journalist who throws into disarray who she believes she is and who she wants to be. It’s Conversations with Friends meets Several People Are Typing.
My Heavenly Favorite by Lucas Rijneveld (Mar. 2)
From the author of The Discomfort of Evening, the first Dutch book to win the International Book Prize, comes a queer and profane take on the Lolita archetype, following a pervy veternarian who becomes infatuated with a fourteen-year-old daughter of a local farmer—a girl who dreams of inhabiting a boy’s body.
Ellipses by Vanessa Lawrence (Mar. 5)
Set amid the squalor and splendor of New York media, Lawrence’s debut follows Lily, a staff writer at a glossy fashion magazine who feels stalled both personally and professionally. Enter Billie, a cosmetics mogul who wants to mentor Lily…mostly from the distance of a phone screen. But what transpires in the digital realm seeps into real life until it’s all but impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
Thunder Song by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe (Mar. 5)
LaPointe follows up her award-winning memoir Red Paint with a collection of essays that explore the challenges and triumphs of proudly embracing a queer indigenous identity in the United States today, drawing on both personal experiences and the anthropological work of her great-grandmother. “Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe’s essays in Thunder Song are loud, bold, and startlingly majestic,” says Night of the Living Rez author Morgan Talty.
The Tower by Flora Carr (Mar. 5)
Set in sixteenth century Scotland, Carr’s fascinating work of historical fiction portrays the year-long imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots in a remote loch-surrounded castle, her only company a pair of inconspicuous-seeming chambermaids. Together, these three women—and later, a fourth, Mary’s lady-in-waiting—plot a daring path to freedom.
Rainbow Black by Maggie Thrash (Mar. 19)
If you haven’t read Honor Girl, Thrash’s heartrending graphic memoir about queer summer camp love, then stop reading this and pick up a copy. Here, the author makes her first foray into prose, a murder mystery set against the backdrop of the 1990s Satanic Panic.
Who’s Afraid of Gender? by Judith Butler (Mar. 19)
It’s hard to imagine a more important moment for a new Judith Butler book, though their mountain-moving work has always and forever been significant and necessary. Here, Butler examines how authoritarians tie together and blame ideas like “gender theory” and “critical race theory” for the disorienting fear people have about the future of their ways of life, addressing what has become the cornerstone of conservative politics and culture wars: the notion that the very concept of gender—and the questioning of that concept—is a denial of nature and danger to civilization.
All The World Beside by Garrard Conley (Mar. 26)
Many of you might know Conley as the bestselling memoirist and activist behind Boy Erased, a beautifully written and important book about survival and identity and a complicated family. Get ready now for Conley the novelist. His full-length fiction debut is a lush, epic love story set in Puritan New England. Every one of his sentences is a heaven-sent spectacle.
Like Happiness by Ursula Villarreal-Moura (Mar. 26)
In this debut novel, Tatum Vega, living a fulfilling life in Chile with her partner Vera, finds her past resurfacing when a reporter contacts her about allegations of abuse against the renowned author M. Domínguez, with whom she had an incredibly complicated relationship.
Firebugs by Nino Bulling (Apr. 2)
How can it be true that the world we inhabit so often feels both plagued by stasis and altered by constant, irreversible transformation? And what does this mean for individuals hoping to find and understand their own identities? These are the big questions of fiction, questions Bulling illustrates in this graphic novel about a couple navigating intimacy and transition in an environment ablaze from climate change.
A Good Happy Girl by Marissa Higgins (Apr. 2)
Higgins’s visceral and vivacious debut is about a young, anxiety-ridden, compellingly prickly lawyer who becomes the lover of a married lesbian couple, an arrangement that rearranges her sense of self and her place in the world. I got the chance to blurb this one early, but I’m just going to co-sign Halle Butler’s blurb here: “Sometimes I could not believe how easily this book moved from gross-out sadism into genuine sympathy. Totally surprising, totally compelling.”
Women! In! Peril! by Jessie Ren Marshall (Apr. 2)
An early contender for best title/cover combo. An award-winning playwright makes her prose debut with this collection of short stories, including one in which a lesbian’s wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, and another about an ambitious sexbot.
The Long Hallway by Richard Scott Larson (Apr. 16)
I first came upon Larson’s work in the queer horror anthology It Came from the Closet, in which he wrote about how John Carpenter’s Halloween—about a boy triggered by heterosexual desire becoming a monstrous masked voyeur—was actually a gay coming out story. I was thrilled, then, to discover the author’s upcoming memoir is a sequel of sorts, exploring how terror on screen sometimes mirrors the terror of queer interiority.
So Long, Sad Love by Mirion Malle (Apr. 30)
In this graphic novel from the author-illustrator of This is How I Disappear, a French woman who has moved to Montreal to be with her boyfriend begins to uncover dark truths about his past, which forces her to confront who he might be—and who she could become without him.
First Love by Lilly Dancyger (May 7)
Two summers ago, at the Sewanee Writers Conference, I had the chance to hear Lilly Dancyger read part of an early version of this book, and I was totally stunned. As soon as the reading was over, I started counting down the days until I—and everyone else—could read the whole thing. And now here it is: a soul-stirring compilation of essays about how our earliest intimacies—sisterly, friendly—so often resemble the intensity of romance, how the delineations between different kinds of relationships can blur, how if and when those relationships change or end it can feel like the most devastating heartbreak.
How It Works Out by Myriam LaCroix (May 7)
An early contender for Best Premise: when Myriam and Alison fall in love at a local punk show, their relationship begins to play out as different hypotheticals in different realities. What if the two of them became bestselling lifestyle celesbians? What if they embraced motherhood upon finding an abandoned baby in alley? What if one was a CEO and the other was her lowly employee?
All Fours by Miranda July (May 14)
For me, July’s 2007 short story collection No One Belongs Here More than You was a formative reading experience, a book about weirdo women that fundamentally altered my ideas of what kinds of stories were possible—something Sally Rooney and I have in common. In her second novel, July brings her singular brand of sardonic melancholia and wide-eyed wisdom to bear on this tale of a semi-famous middle-aged artist who decides to take a left turn from the left turn she had already planned.
Oye by Melissa Mogollon (May 14)
Told through several one-sided telephone conversations between protagonist Luciana and her sister Mari, Mogollon’s inventive debut novel is a unique coming of age story about uncovering family secrets and the secrets of the self.
We Were the Universe by Kimberly King Parsons (May 14)
Parsons’s first book, the wonderful story collection Black Light, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and brimmed with world-weary wit, queer yearning, and Hempel-esque sentences so deftly crafted. Her first novel is just as much a marvel, following a horny housewife and young mother who desperately needs time away for and from herself.
Cactus Country by Zoë Bossiere (May 21)
Like the landscape depicted within, Bossiere’s memoir about growing up genderfluid in a Tucson trailer park and navigating the challenges of identity in the American Southwest promises to be both raw and beautiful. Fairest author Meredith Talusan likens the book to This Boy’s Life, “an indelible portrait of American boyhood that is at once typical and extraordinary.”
Exhibit by R. O. Kwon (May 21)
A few months ago, novelist R.O. Kwon made waves when she read aloud an excerpt from her long-awaited follow-up to The Incendiaries at the Vulture Festival; what better enticement to read something than hearing the author herself warn her own parents against reading it? But if you’ve read The Incendiaries, then you don’t need any further enticement. Kwon’s prose is unlike any other, sensuous and sumptuous and yet razor-sharp. Here, she captures the quick–developing intimacy between a photographer named Jin and a ballerina, to whom Jin spills a family secret—a confession with unforeseen consequences.
The Guncle Abroad by Steven Rowley (May 21)
Few authors possess the infectious mix of light- and heavy-heartedness that makes every Steven Rowley novel an experience; his gift is to make the reader laugh out loud one minute and clutch their chest the next. Following the success of The Celebrants (a Read with Jenna pick), Rowley returns to the world of the eponymous gay uncle of 2021’s The Guncle, this time sending sitcom star Patrick to Lake Como for his brother’s wedding.
In Tongues by Thomas Grattan (May 21)
Grattan’s Pen/Hemingway-longlisted first novel, 2021’s The Recent East, was sublime, a book about family and the mundane magic and messiness of everyday life. His second follows a Midwesterner-turned-Brooklynite at the dawn of the new millennium who takes a job as a dog walker for the wealthy, a gig that places him in the orbit of an older couple.
Perfume and Pain by Anna Dorn (May 21)
In the new novel from LA Times Book Prize finalist, a “lightly” canceled mid-list author named Astrid attempts to resurrect her fledgling career when an influencer options her previous novel for TV. What seems like manna from heaven turns into a source of tension, assuaged only by a cocktail of Adderall, alcohol, and cigarettes—the Patricia Highsmith special—that also causes blackouts. On top of all that, Astrid just wants to love and be loved—mostly with Ivy, a grad student she meets on Zoom who’s studying lesbian pulp fiction form the 1950s.
Shae by Mesha Maren (May 21)
Maren’s debut Sugar Run remains one of my favorite novels of the past five years. She is an astute and indispensable chronicler of Appalachian queerness. Her latest centers on two young women in West Virginia—one a teen mother and the other coming to terms with what it means to be trans in rural America.
Trust and Safety by Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman (May 21)
Rosie is jonesing for a cottagecore life right out of a meticulously curated Instagram feed, a rural fantasy she hopes to turn into a reality when she and her husband purchase a Hudson Valley fixer-upper. When her husband loses his job, they have to rent out part of the property. Their new tenants? An attractive pair of Home Depot queers whose presence throws the house into disarray—even as they help repair it.
Housemates by Emma Copley Eisenberg (May 28)
There’s something about road trip stories that feel inherently queer: the freedom and desire to be someone else and/or somewhere else, maybe, or the exhilaration of being part of the world while being apart from it. Eisenberg, the acclaimed author of The Third Rainbow Girl, delivers a debut novel that’s part The Price of Salt and part Just Kids, in which two friends journey across America in pursuit of art and love.
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2024-01-09 22:48:41 , Los Angeles Weekly Times