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October’s Best Fiction

We've got 12 new titles you don't want to miss, from John le Carré to Jonathan Franzen, plus Elizabeth Strout's next Lucy Barton book and a Star Trek celebrity's pseudo-autobiography / BY Nathalie Atkinson / September 29th, 2021

“Aprils have never meant much to me,” Truman Capote wrote in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.” We know exactly what he means here at Zed: The Zoomer Book Club, because October means fall book season has truly arrived — especially when there are new stories from favourites like Elizabeth Strout, Jonathan Franzen and a final novel from the late, great John le Carré.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Claudette on the Keys Joanne Culley

Canadian documentary producer Culley’s historical novel fictionalizes the story of her grandparents Ida and Harry Culley, a popular two-piano, four-hand act that performed on radio and stage in Toronto, England and South Africa from the 1930s through to the 1950s. They accompanied everyone from Bebe Daniels to Raymond Massey and performed at the Coronation concert for King George VI before returning to Canada and becoming regulars on the CBC. You’ll find yourself transported back to the well-evoked, turbulent financial and political times the unassuming, but perseverant, showbiz couple lived through.

2No Man’s Land John Vigna

The British Columbia wilderness at the turn of the 19th century is as much a character as 14-year-old Davey, a girl raised by a group of itinerant eccentrics, in this sprawling saga that renders the truth about the misogyny and violence of the lawless, northwestern part of the province. Author Annabel Lyon praises this new novel by Vigna, an assistant professor at University of British Columbia’s School of Creative Writing, as having “the baroque violence of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian with the reverent prose of Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” (Oct. 1)

3We Are Not Like Them Christine Pride and Jo Piazza

The lifelong bond between two Philadelphia women, Riley and Jen – one Black, one white – is put to the test after a white police officer shoots an unarmed, 14-year-old Black boy. The officer is Jen’s husband and Riley is the local TV reporter covering the case. This joint novel by Piazza, an award-winning journalist, and Pride, a veteran book editor, is an honest and challenging look at how race shapes a friendship between women who are like sisters. (Oct. 5)

4Crossroads Jonathan Franzen

It’s been 20 years since The Corrections changed Franzen’s fate from struggling writer to Great American Novelist. He anatomizes the interior lives and dynamics of a family once again; this time,  it’s about a pastor in small-town Illinois who is in an unhappy marriage during Christmas in 1971. It kicks off a planned trilogy, tracing a midwestern family from the ’70s to present day, and critics are already hailing it as his richest and most satisfying novel to date. (Oct. 5)


5What Storm, What Thunder Myriam J. A. Chancy

Chancy, a Haitian-Canadian Guggenheim Fellow who spent years talking to survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, crafts a fictional account of the natural disaster as told by 10 people, including a teenage girl in a refugee camp, a drug dealer, a wealthy prodigal son and a market seller. Their voices form an unflinching chorus that Time magazine called “a heartbreaking tale of regret and resilience, and a fiery rebuke of racism, violence and greed.” (Oct. 5)

61979 Val McDermid

With her first new series in more than 25 years, bestselling crime author McDermid will track the changes in Scottish government and women’s rights decade by decade. The idea is each novel will cover 10 years in the work of protagonist Allie Burns, who is an ambitious young investigative reporter, just as McDermid was once. You can practically taste the cigarette smoke in the newsroom air, and I already can’t wait for 1989. (Oct. 5)

7The Lincoln Highway Amor Towles

When two teenage brothers hit the road to San Francisco in search of their mother, they get derailed. Their train-hopping detour over a week in June 1954 leads to encounters with a series of characters like a Walt Whitman impersonator and a wandering Ulysses. It touches on themes of inheritance – what we are given and what we do with it – that Towles explored in his beloved 2016 novel about Count Rostov, A Gentleman in Moscow (currently being adapted into an AppleTV+ series with Kenneth Branagh), but in a gorgeously written, 600-page adventure story. (Oct. 5)

8Sankofa Chibundu Onuzo

Fifty-something Anna, based in London, is mixed race, but her daughter passes as white. Newly separated from her husband of 20 years, she discovers a diary from the 1960s belonging to her late mother. In its pages she learns about the father she never knew, a revolutionary from the fictional African state of Bamana (a thinly veiled Ghana). This novel from Onuzu, who grew up in Lagos but lives in England, takes its name from the mythical Akan bird whose feet are planted forward with its head looking backwards, symbolic of her interest in identity, and knowing the past before moving forward. (Oct. 5)

9Small Pleasures Clare Chambers

This novel, long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, is the story of local newspaper journalist Jean, a middle-aged spinster living with her suffocating mother in 1957 suburban London. What starts off as a light and innocuous human-interest story about a virgin birth turns into a complicated investigation and upends her staid routine. It reminds me a bit of Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark, from the setting to Jean’s wry defeatism (particularly her astute deadpan observations) to the way she is torn between happiness and duty. (Oct. 5)

10Silverview John le Carré

Sixty years after the publication of his first novel, Call for the Dead, le Carré’s last novel is being released the week the late author would have turned 90. The former British spy, who died last December, set Silverview in modern-day Britain. A bookseller in a coastal town leaves a big city job for a quieter life, which is suddenly upended after a mysterious Polish visitor and an intelligence leak. Many writers – from Stella Rimington to Zoomer favourite Mick Herron – have assumed le Carré’s mantle, but there’s still no substitute for the grand master himself. (Oct. 12)

11Fan Fiction Brent Spiner

Fans of Galaxy Quest are in for a treat in this auto-fiction subtitled “A Mem-noir: Inspired by True Events.” It’s set in 1991, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation catapults Spiner (who plays the android, Commander Data, on the series) and his castmates to global fame. In this fictional autobiography, real people like Levar Burton, Gene Roddenberry and Patrick Stewart appear as “heightened versions of themselves.” The same goes for Spiner in this thriller about a package of mysterious letters that takes the actor on a noir journey that examines the trade-offs of fandom, obsession and celebrity. (Oct. 12)

12Oh William! Elizabeth Strout

Strout, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, is back with her third novel about writer Lucy Barton. The protagonist, introduced in 2016’s My Name is Lucy Barton and featured in 2018’s Anything is Possible, is now widowed and back in touch her unfaithful ex-husband, William. Divorced for years, they reconnect when he asks her on a Maine road trip to meet his long-lost half sister. The journey provides time to reassess their complex relationship, partnership as parents, her relationship with her emotionally abusive mother and explores whether people can ever truly change. (Oct. 19)



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