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The best of books from the Indy's 2016 reviews


Most of the nearly 100 poems in Jim Harrison's Dead Man's Float are reflections on aging. That's not unusual for the writer, who died in March, but there is more of a sense of twilight about his musings this time. Barring fire or flood, this book will be in my library for the rest of my life. It's the last poetry collection we get from Harrison—and it is as fine an example of his efforts as any. (CLT)

Set in 1991, The Flood Girls centers on Rachel Flood, a newly sober alcoholic in her 20s returning to her hometown to make amends, and 13-year-old Jake Bailey, a fashion-obsessed boy with a collection of rosaries to rival Madonna's. Local author Richard Fifield renders his characters with crystalline vision, including the Flood Girls, a women's softball team chock-full of badass bitches who can't win a game to save their lives. (GP)


Annie Dillard, of course, is hardly hidden treasure. Even so, this new volume, having been selected, re-edited and arranged by Dillard herself, showcases one of Dillard's defining writerly traits: her ready engagement with the readerly desire for meaning and beauty both. The Abundance, drawing from seven Dillard books and including previously uncollected essays spanning the quarter century from 1974 to 1999, is designed specifically and well to encourage rediscovery by a new generation of readers. (BT)

The common thread tying The Immortal Irishman's three sections is Thomas Meagher's lifelong battle against the hatred that he found everywhere he went. In telling Meagher's story, Timothy Egan also delivers a cautionary tale for today's America—one that should help us reflect on what kind of people we really want to be. (CLT)

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, UM alumnus William Finnegan chronicles his youthful days as a surfer and his later years as a reporter exploring black markets and war. It's a fascinating book, heavy on jargon, but the language is so rich that even without a surfing background it's easy to get sucked into the essence. (EF)

Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer is not your typical immigrant book. Nguyen moves beyond fish-out-of-water tales and does what other Vietnamese-American writers have mostly avoided: He gets unabashedly cerebral about American and Vietnamese politics, injecting enough satirical shenanigans and catch-22s to appease even hardcore fans of "The Daily Show." (CT)


In his debut novel, Champion of the World, Missoula author Chad Dundas imagines a colorful cast of characters living at the turn of the 20th century, when professional wrestling was experiencing major changes. The story follows a former lightweight champion and his card-sharp wife in an unraveling universe of carnivals, bootleggers, gangsters and fixed fights. (EF)

Megan McNamer's greatest strength is capturing the import of small moments and passing sensations: a certain feeling, an odd smell, a moment of beauty in the weather. In Children and Lunatics, a heartbeat is physically moving, and the reader feels it just as deeply as the characters do. (SA)

Pete Fromm's The Names of the Stars: A Life in the Wild revolves around Fromm's return to the wilderness—the Bob Marshall—in the spring of 2004 to babysit a batch of fish eggs, much as he did in 1993's Indian Creek Chronicles. Told through flashbacks woven throughout the primary narrative is the story of Fromm's life, how he came to embrace wilderness, and all the points where fate seemed to intervene. (CLT)

Dana Fitz Gale's crisp, slightly strange debut collection of short stories, Spells for Victory and Courage, is interested in the kinds of ties that don't usually bind: the relationships between neighbors. Her superpower is writing gut-punching last lines, which create sudden and almost magical moments of understanding for readers, even if we're never quite sure how or why they work. (SA)

Reading Kim Heacox's Jimmy Bluefeather is an immersive experience. The descriptions of the landscape, while spare, are breathtaking. One smells the smoke of bonfires, tastes the salt of water and feels the damp of the air. (CLT)

Reviews by Sarah Aswell, Erika Fredrickson, Chris La Tray, Gaaby Patterson, Cab Tran and Brad Tyer.


The original print version of this article was headlined "Our back pages"

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