Here are EW's top 10 fiction books of the decade

Post-apocalyptic tales, revelatory romances, and epic family sagas are just some of the books that rank among EW's favorites.
November 25, 2019 at 12:00 PM EST

To celebrate the end of the 2010s, Entertainment Weekly’s Must List is looking back at the best pop culture of the decade that changed movies, TV, music, and more (catch up on our list so far, which includes the MCU’s big Snap, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s history-making hit Hamilton, and Beyonce’s iconic Coachella set). Today, we look back on our favorite fiction books of the past 10 years.

1. A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

Philandering fathers, washed-up rock stars, bipolar celebrity profilers, slumming rich kids, and kleptomaniacs: There’s a sliding scale of human frailties in Goon Squad (one character is actually being paid to whitewash a murderous dictator’s reputation, but who’s keeping score?). Jennifer Egan’s 2010 masterwork — which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award — remains a sui generis achievement, even almost a decade after its release. If her playfully postmodern catalog of delinquents, kooks, and schemers seemed at first merely eccentric for its own sake, the telling of it proved otherwise: a book as rich and resonant as any linear classic in the canon. —Leah Greenblatt

[Read more: EW staffers on why A Visit From the Goon Squad is the best book of the decade]

2. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson’s best book to date seamlessly executes an idiosyncratic premise — following the various lives of one Ursula Todd, imagining many scenarios for her death as well as the different paths survival takes her on — and contains a seemingly endless capacity to surprise. It’s also a showcase for Atkinson’s singular strengths as a novelist. Sure, there’s a twisty, original conceit here to help it stand apart, but Life After Life will stand the test of time for its in-between moments — its portraits of wartime, its glimpses into small domestic worlds, its understanding of one woman’s life as filled with infinite possibilities. It’s a feat of storytelling on levels both epic and intimate. —David Canfield

3. Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid’s spare parable — boy meets girl in unspecified Middle Eastern city under siege; boy and girl discover supernatural door to safer lands, but find that struggle still waits on the other side — took the sobering reality of a global refugee crisis to the most fantastical realm of fiction, and somehow made it all feel even more true. —LG

4. The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner’s dazzling second novel moves fast — across the American desert on the back of a speeding motorcycle; throughout the dark, seedy world of ‘70s New York City; all the way to Italy, raging among its rioting students. And yet it also stays in one place — the perceptive mind of its protagonist, Reno (so nicknamed after her hometown). Her wild view of the world makes for an unforgettable story of art, revolution, loneliness, innocence, and what it means to be a woman moving — however quickly — through a man’s world. —Mary Sollosi

5. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward

Few writers had as impressive a decade as Jesmyn Ward: She won two National Book Awards for Fiction (becoming the first woman ever to do so), the latter of which came for this haunting, evocative family saga set in the Deep South. Writing in arresting first-person prose, Ward effortlessly blends conventions of the road novel and the ghost story for a timeless tale of family bonds, generational trauma, and national tragedy. —DC

6. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

On paper, Patchett’s family saga is nothing wildly out of the ordinary: It follows the children of the Cousins and Keating families — permanently interwoven thanks to an early act of infidelity — as they grow up in the aftermath of a, for lack of a better term, wife swap. But these characters get under your skin in the best way possible. Patchett writes them so vividly that you feel you know them intimately, instantly — especially the vivacious Franny Keating, whose affair with a famous author airs the whole extended family’s dirty laundry. —Seija Rankin

7. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel’s gorgeous 2014 novel offers an entirely new kind of post-apocalyptic tale, unfolding events before and after a pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population. After the Georgia Flu does its deadly work, a group of actors and musicians rove a desolate and often dangerous landscape to perform music and Shakespeare in the settlements that remain. Their caravan is emblazoned with a Star Trek quote, “Because survival is insufficient,” and the book tenderly examines that ethos by looking at what we hold onto — art, culture, humanity — after civilization as we know it breaks down. —Jessica Derschowitz

8. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

The story of the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde exists somewhere between what their friends observe and what they experience — the latter of which can be found within the stories Lotto tells anyone who will listen and the memories Mathilde keeps to herself. In Fates and Furies (which was President Obama’s favorite book of 2015), Lauren Groff creates a portrait of a marriage and a rumination on love from both players’ perspectives, to devastating effect. —MS

9. A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James

A nightmare symphony of crime that begins in 1970s Jamaica and never really leaves, even as the semi-historical plot leaves a surreal blood trail from a Bob Marley assassination attempt to crack-addled New York City. James’ intoxicating prose is relentless, feverishly up-close inside his characters’ rattled nerves even as the narrative scope widens into an evocative portrait of the author’s native Kingston. —Darren Franich

10. Normal People, by Sally Rooney

Both of Sally Rooney’s novels capture the millennial ethos with raw honesty and impeccable insight. But what she broke ground with in Conversations With Friends, she perfected in Normal People. It’s a love story that feels both conventional and brand-new, hopping back and forth between two narrators as they fall in and out (and in and out) of love. Regardless of whether you root for Marianne and Connell to get together for good, you’ll be emotionally wrecked by all their narrow misses. —SR

The Next 10

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
Tenth of December, by George Saunders

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