The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison
This novel begins with twenty-something Stella helping her grandmother, who is going downhill with dementia. After her death, Stella searches for her long-lost aunt and fins her an alcoholic living in a trailer park. The two women are both struggling through some difficult psychological and emotional issues, and they learn by attempting to help each other that they can only really work to help themselves. This book is depressing, very angsty, and takes some mental effort to get through, but the payoff is well worth it. The writing style is gorgeous and leaves you with a sad but overall reassuring feeling.
Let the Dark Flower Blossom by Nora Labiner
Strange and mysterious, this novel is a unique twist on the writer's experience of life, tracing the days of a writer and his twin sister during a relationship with their college friend and past his murder. The style is odd and winding but beautifully renders emotions through single-sentence paragraphs and evocative word choice. It often has the appearance of poetry but is definitely prose, detailing the inner life of this writer as he dives into his sister's and friend's minds, discerning the motives behind murder. This is a literary mystery with a confusing but surprising ending.
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
This collection of short stories is set in Michigan (my home state) and follows a handful of characters through some rough and raw experiences. There are meth addicts, domestic violence victims, and people living in poverty in these pages, each possessing their own degree of likability. Some are hard to understand because of their inconsiderate decisions, others are hard to pity be of their self-destructiveness. Overall, though, each character reveals something subtle about the human condition.
Brief Encounters with the Enemy by Said Sayrafiezadeh
Each of these short stories has a similar plot line and writing style, leaving each one feeling not quite unique from the collection. However, this sameness is necessary to reveal the themes of the book, more a novel in short stories than a short story collection. The inhabitants of a city, usually lower-class men in their twenties or thirties, tackle the mundaneness of 9 to 5 life, the predictability of relationships, and the blindness of war. The writing is bleak and straightforward which, in the case of the themes, is perfect for the stories. It's tough to get through and emotionally harrowing, and this book left me with residual emotional anxiety from the reminder that my life is not all that different from the young people in these stories. It's very affecting and depressing, not suggested for the lighthearted. Needless to say, the writing style is effective.