Dustin Long is the author of Icelander (McSweeney’s). He’s currently working on his Ph.D. in 18th-century literature at Indiana University and recently completed a novel about Jesuits in 17th-century China.
This year, I read a good deal of “literary fantasy,” although as Gene Wolfe points out, “All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it.” I just finished Wolfe’s epistolary two-volume Wizard Knight, which manages to create something entirely fresh and vital out of the most familiar and overused of fantasy elements. It reminded me in some ways of the 1748 picaresque novel The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett, which I also read this year, and which I also recommend. The first two books of Edward Whittemore’s Jerusalem Quartet (brought to my attention by the writer Jeff VanderMeer, whose hallucinatory City of Saints and Madmen I did not read this year, but nonetheless recommend) were a lot of fun: fabulist Middle Eastern history and all the variety of old-fashioned tale cycles woven into character-driven novels. And finally, Darconville’s Cat, by Alexander Theroux, was infinitely impressive: Theroux’s daunting vocabulary and classical erudition are balanced out by his broad humor (southern stereotypes abound) and his emotional acuity.