By David Canfield
February 11, 2020 at 07:30 AM EST
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Knopf; Riverhead Books

EW reviews two of the best novels to hit shelves so far in 2020: a new book from award-winning author Jenny Offill and Brandon Taylor’s debut.

Weather, by Jenny Offill

Our looming climate disaster finds its witty, anxious, definitive poem in Weather, a slim but sharp novel thickly layered in post-Trump malaise. Young librarian Lizzie, juggling her dying mom and her addict brother, is enlisted by her mentor, a climate expert who hosts a hit podcast, to help sort through her mail. Inundated by the angry, fearful sentiments of a polarized country, her interior monologue veers toward our impending demise. Jenny Offill (Dept. of Speculation) embraces satirical current references, risking glibness, but doesn’t rely on sound bites. She writes with soul and pursues the truth, gearing up for the end of the world. A-

Real Life, by Brandon Taylor

Brandon Taylor writes under the weight of trauma in his debut novel, winding from despair toward something close to hope. His protagonist, Wallace, is reeling from family tragedy, not to mention encounters with homophobia, racism, assault, and poverty. A black graduate student in a largely white college town, he feels isolated but ready to tackle life on his own terms. He falls into a relationship with fellow student Miller, with whom he shares a volatile connection, and questions his academic future. Taylor’s vivid characterization is punishingly effective; his essayistic insights into cultural dynamics and their impact hold searing power. Erotic and ambiguous, Real Life is more provocative than thrilling, but hard to shake. B+

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