HERE WE GO.
I feel like this year more than ever I’ve seen so much ‘worst books of the year lists are pointless and mean-spirited’ discourse so friendly reminder that if you don’t like this kind of content you are more than welcome to simply keep scrolling!
But for all my pointless and mean-spirited followers, let’s do this:
8. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey
This book was the disaster women subgenre at its most generic and forgettable. I wish I had more to say about it but I honestly cannot remember this well enough to complain about it, I just remember feeling like I was wasting my time. Isolated things I remember from this book: a pool, sex, Italy, bad writing, California? The end.
7. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This book had a good, important, and topical conceit, and it proceeded to bash the reader over the head with it for 300 pages without the slightest bit of finesse. It’s a perfectly serviceable bookclub book but its literary merit… eludes me (something that would bother me less had it not been longlisted for the Booker). Also, I have never in all my days encountered a child–real or fictional–more annoying than the one in this book, my god.
6. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
This book had all the potential in the world to be a fun, mindless, salacious drama; instead it took itself so seriously despite having nothing of any consequence to say. There is no character development in this novel, no insight, no nuance–AND IT GOES ON FOR OVER 500 PAGES. It’s just one-note characters arguing with each other about their one character flaw and it’s executed with the most embarrassing sincerity that I just have to think about this book and I cringe.
5. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen are two of my favorite books but this is the second year in a row that Moshfegh made it onto my most disappointing list; last year with her collection Homesick for Another World–which at the time led me to conclude that Moshfegh only works for me when she writes novels, but Death in her Hands was a novel and it was a hot mess, so, Moshfegh and I are on rocky footing going forward. The fact that it took me about 5 months to read this under-300 page book should say it all; it’s dull, meandering, repetitive, and not half as insightful or revelatory as it thinks it is. I also found the narrative voice thoroughly unconvincing. Plus this book is so similar to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and it has nothing to recommend itself over Tokarczuk’s, which is a stunning novel.
4. The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
Generic, anemic, and unsatisfying, The Illness Lesson is a book that had lofty ambitions that fell flat on their face. This book was all style and no substance and the style wasn’t even that good to begin with.
3. Girl by Edna O’Brien
I can’t believe the Women’s Prize had enough of a hold over me that I actually read this. What an utter mess. Tone deaf, unfocused, and shoddily constructed. It’s well-researched (though I remain unconvinced that it was appropriate in any way for a white Irish woman to publish a novel like this), but it exposes the horrors experienced by the women abducted by the Boko Haram at the expense of good writing or storytelling or character development or… anything that could have recommended it. Terrible all around.
2. Dominicana by Angie Cruz
In this book–a bizarrely flat and uninspired melodrama–the main character, having just been choked by her husband to the point of losing consciousness, flees, terrified, and runs into her cute brother-in-law. This is the dialogue that follows:
“He pulls out a cigarette from his jacket pocket. You leaving without saying good-bye?
It’s not like you’re ever around, busy with all your girls. I say it in a voice I don’t recognize. Why am I flirting? Now? And with César!”
It’s a no from me.
1. Saltwater by Jessica Andrews
I read this book on January 1, 2020, and in doing so I fear that I cursed us all. Sorry.
I hated this book… so much. The prose was labored, overwrought, and trite; the characters were paper-thin; and the whole novel was disgustingly anti-Irish, despite the narrator having grown up in Donegal. Quoting from my review:
Regarding the narrator’s grandfather’s childhood in Ireland, after establishing that he slept in his aunt’s barn, this paragraph is, quite literally, the only information we receive about that period in his life:
“Auntie Kitty rationed the hot water and made anyone who entered the house throw holy sand over their left shoulder, To Keep Away The Devil. Her husband was in the IRA and they housed radical members of Sinn Féin in their attic.”
Poverty, religious fanaticism, and the IRA – there’s only one stereotype missing here; oh, wait:
“I have noticed that many of the young men in Donegal have shaking hands. […] I ask my mother what it is that makes them shake. ‘It’ll be the drink,’ she says, sagely.”
Anyway if that’s not enough to convince you, the writing was just… so weird, so contrived, so bad, I promise if you open the book to literally any page there will be a passage this awful and perplexing:
“Redness cracking. Fissures forming. You are falling towards us, rich and syrup-soft. Flesh roiling. Bones shifting. Tongues over bellies and fingers in wet places.”
So that’s that! What was your worst book of 2020? I promise I’ll actually start reading your end of year lists this week.