Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. She is one of my favorite writers, and this book did not disappoint. It has some of the same structural features of the earlier, less-successful Cigarettes, by Harry Matthews, with movement in time and joining different groups of characters and moments of story already in progress, but where that was confusing this was clear. Surprising when so much of what's happening is grim. Erdrich pulls no punches when showing the reader what life is like for too many Native Americans. Occasional magical elements do not eliminate the pain of poverty, but nor does she descend into hopelessness. And she has an absolute ability to convey the damage caused by alcohol. These are not "drunk tonight, fine tomorrow" characters. The brilliant writing makes even the most serious passages lyrical.
The Best of It by Kay Ryan. Speaking of magic, great poetry can convey complex ideas mind-to-mind through language so subtle and well-chosen you can't even see how the communication is happening. These small poems, at their best, achieve this alchemy. A poem that describes rain falling on drought land but never reaching the ground. Virga. That at some altitude all problems are solved. Beautiful.
Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley. This is a screenplay come to life, and whoever adapted it for the movie had the easiest job ever. Although I can guess, not having seen the movie, that some changes would have to be made. Repeated restaurant scenes are generally to be avoided, even if the dialogue within sparkles, which this does.
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. This book came up next in the stack after Love Medicine, but I suspected that wouldn't work. I shuffled the stack. Good guess, as this was grim as well. It's not without flaw; most seriously that the antagonist essentially disappears for the majority of the book, only reappearing for the big finale. And there's too much time spent on the life story of every member of this large family, but the backstory doesn't play out in the present. It feels like a story waiting for the ending. But the brilliant, dark, flawed conclusion to this book makes it all worth it.
Collected Stories by Gabriel García Márquez. Reading this book I decided that if I were kidnapped and forced to seek a Ph.D. in literature focused on a single author, it would be Gabriel García Márquez. You could spend months just analyzing the stories in this collection, watching the evolution of themes, elements, and diction. What a master writer. And what magical tales. I hope he lives as long as the longest-lived characters here, and writes every day of his life.