The latest from modern lit's biggest names — including Celeste Ng, Cormac McCarthy, and Elizabeth Strout — and fresh talent too.
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September will never not mean back to school, and back to the stacks of serious literary fiction. Which is not to say that the books on offer this season are the eat-your-vegetables answer to summer's sunny beach-tote rush: Starting this month, bold new works from familiar superstars (Elizabeth Strout, Celeste Ng, even a twofer from Cormac McCarthy) will share shelf space with a spate of exciting next-gen voices (Jonathan Escoffery, S.E. Boyd).

Read on for 17 of the most intriguing novels and short stories we can't wait to crack open as the mercury falls.

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If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

Escoffery's already much-lauded novel-in-stories traces the turns and tribulations of a Jamaican American family in Miami — multifaceted tales of identity, displacement, and odd jobs (what happens on Craigslist does not stay on Craigslist) interwoven into a loose, vibrant whole. (Sept. 6)

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Credit: Simon and Schuster

People Person by Candice Carty Williams

Carty-Williams single-girl-in-the-city debut Queenie, released to heavy fanfare in 2019, transcended its "Black Bridget Jones" tagline for more trenchant explorations of race, sex, and mental health. Now she returns with the tale of 30-year-old Dimple, an aspiring London influencer whose four estranged half-siblings crash-land back in her life. (Sept. 13)

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Bliss Montage by Ling Ma

Four years ago, Ma's fevered sci-fi debut Severance explored a surreal workplace narrative (though it was not, in fact, the source material for the hit HBO show of the same name) set in the midst of a fictional pandemic. The eight equally far-out stories here — each one its own deadpan flight of fancy, sly and strange — explore everything from a house filled with 100 ex-boyfriends to a drug that turns the user ecstatically invisible. (Sept. 13)

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Credit: Random House

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

After giving a beloved secondary character from her 2016 bestseller I Am Lucy Barton his own standalone with last year's Oh William!, Strout (Olive Kitteridge) returns to the source, packing her recently widowed heroine off to Maine from Manhattan during lockdown — and exploring, in her clean inimitable prose, no less than love, loneliness, and what it means to be alive. (Sept. 20)

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Credit: Little, Brown

Less Is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer

What more can you do, when your Less wins a surprise Pulitzer Prize? Coming off the unexpected win for his bittersweet 2017 coming-of-middle-age smash, Greer (The Confessions of Max Tivoli) brings back that book's hapless, lovable hero Arthur Less —  moderately accomplished novelist, "bad gay," man in the cerulean blue suit — for yet another fizzy existential road trip. (Sept. 20)

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Credit: Penguin

Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie

In a sprawling story of female friendship and ambition that spans from late-'80s Pakistan to contemporary England, the Home Fire author explores the fraught history between Zahra and Maryam — once inseparable at a Karachi boarding school, now living very different lives in London, and both still grappling with the fallout of a formative incident from their teens. (Sept. 27)

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Credit: Random House

The Furrows: An Elegy by Namwali Serpell

"I don't want to tell you what happened. I want to tell you how it felt. When I was 12, my little brother drowned." Cassandra is the only witness when seven-year-old Wayne is lost in a riptide and swept away forever. Or is he? In an urgent, intimate stream-of-consciousness, Serpell (The Old Drift) explores the outer perimeters of grief and belief. (Sept. 27)

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Credit: Penguin Press

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

A new Ng book on its own is notable enough; in Missing Hearts, the writer of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere turns her keen storyteller's eye to the strenuously topical tale of 12-year-old Bird Gardiner, a little boy living in a dystopian near-future that most readers won't find hard to recognize. Bird's Chinese-American mother, once a dissident poet, has long left him behind with his mournful Harvard-librarian father — until her secrets, and the ugly truths suppressed with them, begin to resurface. (Oct. 4)

The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken
Credit: HarperCollins

The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken

Ten months after her mother's death, an unnamed middle-aged narrator (also — surprise! — a writer) travels to London, one of her late mom's favorite cities, to try to better understand the brilliant, complicated woman she lost in the slim but resonant latest from the bravura author of Bowlaway, an EW best book of 2019. (Oct. 4)

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Credit: W. W. Norton & Company

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

Like many very rich men before him, Gil is also an unabashed eccentric. Chronically unattached and freshly broken-hearted at 45, he decides to relocate from Manhattan to Arizona by walking there on foot; he arrives to become a consummate watcher of birds, a women's-shelter volunteer, and perhaps even a fully formed human being in the warm-hearted latest from Millet (The Children's Bible). (Oct. 11)

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Credit: Random House

Liberation Day by George Saunders

The Booker Prize winner and MacArthur Genius recipient, always a radical acrobat with language, unfurls another collection of subversive, bleakly comedic tales to rival 2013's Tenth of December, spelunking through subjects that range from an underground amusement park to a brainwashing program for political protestors. (Oct. 18)

The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy, Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy
Credit: Knopf (2)

The Passenger and Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy

Literature's canary in the end-times coal mine returns with not one but two new works: the first, The Passenger, arrives Oct. 25; the second, Stella Maris on Nov. 22 (they'll also be packaged together as a box set due Dec. 6). Expect both — one, the story of a salvage diver in circa-1980 Mississippi, the other about a young woman who checks herself into a Wisconsin clinic for schizophrenia in 1972 — to flay human foibles bare in the way that only the author of The Road and No Country For Old Men can.

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Credit: FSG

Toad by Katherine Dunn

Six years after her death, the celebrated author of the 1989 outsiders' touchstone Geek Love is resurrected with the posthumous Toad, a deeply personal memory palace sprung from the author's time at Reed College in Oregon more than half a century ago — and imbued with the same strange magic and brutal wit that marked the cult literary hero's too-short living catalog. (Nov. 1)

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Credit: HarperCollins

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

Wilson follows one of 2019's most irresistible novels, the hair-on-fire marvel Nothing to See Here, with another irreverent tale of wanton young people, hidden histories, and all the ways our former selves can come back to haunt us, presented in a pitch-perfect blend of delightful, improbable plotting and wildly humanist prose. (Nov. 8)

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Credit: Penguin

The Lemon by S.E. Boyd

The celebrated chef-turned-television-globetrotter who is found dead from an apparent suicide at the start of Lemon can't help but invoke Anthony Bourdain. His biography may be the starting point, but Boyd — actually the pen-name creation of veteran journalists Kevin Alexander and Joe Keohane with editor Alessandra Lusardi — uses it as a prismatic lens through which to filter the book's acid, knife-edged satire on food-world mores and the vagaries of modern fame. (Nov. 8)

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Credit: Simon and Schuster

Flight by Lynn Steger Strong

Strong, who excellently traced Millennial anxiety and displacement in 2020's Want, reaches back into the well of barbed domestic fiction with Flight, about three adult siblings converging in the house of their recently deceased mother just before the holidays, with assorted spouses and offspring — as well as the requisite mess of shifting alliances and long-held resentments — in tow. (Nov. 8)

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