The Best of 2007

Voice writers pick their favorite 20 books of the year

Petropolis
by Anya Ulinich
Viking, 324 pp., $24.95

Anya Ulinich's Petropolis is a coming-of-age story, a novel about outsiderness, about being a Jew and an immigrant, a Lost Girl trying to find the father who left when she was a child. That Ulinich steers clear of sentimentality may seem like a minor miracle. It's the real trick of Petropolis, and she pulls it off by sending her heroine—an awkward, intelligent teenager from Siberia who becomes a mail-order bride—on a comic odyssey through a United States populated almost entirely by desperate characters. Among Ulinich's talents are inventiveness and a light touch with dark material. But it's her remarkable observations of both Russian and American culture that make this one of the debuts of the year. EMILY WEINSTEIN


The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein
Metropolitan Books, 558 pp., $28

“Father of the Nation”? Putin’s Russia
Danny Hellman
“Father of the Nation”? Putin’s Russia

In The Shock Doctrine, journalist Klein trains her sharp investigator's eye upon the flaws of neoliberal economics. This meticulously researched alternative history, ranging from economist Milton Friedman's "University of Chicago Boys" to George W. Bush, brings Klein's argument into the present. Using stirring reportage, she shows the ways that disasters— unnatural ones like the war in Iraq, and natural ones like the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina—allow governments and multinationals to take advantage of citizen shock and implement corporate-friendly policies: Where once was a Sri Lankan fishing village now stands a luxury resort. The Shock Doctrine aims its 10-foot-long middle finger at the Bush administration and the generations of neocons who've chosen profits over people in war and disaster; the effect is to provide intellectual armor for the now-mainstream anticorporatist crowd. LENORA TODARO


Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector
by Mick Brown
Knopf, 453 pp., $26.95

That lovin' feeling, of course, is gone, gone, gone. Rock 'n' roll's most bombastic and mercurial architect remains a deeply unhappy man who made everyone around him deeply unhappier, dismissed as a volatile recluse long before the murder trial and the mesmerizing knife-in-the-light-socket Afro he flaunted in the courtroom. He's now both a golem and a laughingstock, but as pop, and pop culture, evolved from the Ronettes to the Beatles to the Ramones, he was also a majestic, unquenchabletalent, and Brown's prodigious bio treats all three sides of the coin with equal respect. Painstakingly researched and elegantly written, Tearing Down will make you glad you never met Phil, and yet grateful for the unimpeachable tunes that compose the legacy he's all but pissed away. ROB HARVILLA


Varieties of Disturbance
by Lydia Davis
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 219 pp., $13

In this National Book Award–nominated collection, the typical story— or is it a poem?—concerns a mind thinking one thing . . . and then another thing. Then a third. Not some ordinary mind, fortunately, but the charming, witty, and neurotic MacArthur "genius" grant–winning brain of Lydia Davis. Her genre-stomping vignettes are rooted in activities as mundane as letting the cat in or checking the answering machine, but they always reach out to reveal the profundities hiding behind our furniture. JAMES HANNAHAM


What the Dead Know
by Laura Lippman
William Morrow, 376 pp., $24.95

Though Lippman is best known to contemporary crime-fiction buffs as author of the quirky, low-key Tess Monaghan series, it's her too-infrequent, superior stand-alone novels that assure her place in the pantheon. What the Dead Know ? tells of the sudden, seemingly inexplicable reappearance of one of a pair of teenage sisters who went missing at a suburban shopping mall decades ago. Now one of them is back—but is she really Heather, as she claims, or a clever imposter? And where is sister Bethany? Lippman's engrossing story is more than an intricate, protracted puzzle-plot, though, thanks to her keen eye for telling detail and compassion for her often-troubled characters. Like Ruth Rendell or Robertson Davies at their most deceptively prosaic, Lippman shines most when it appears she's trying least. LD BEGHTOL


The Yiddish Policemen's Union
by Michael Chabon
HarperCollins, 432 pp., $26.95

The joys of Yiddish are plentiful, not least for inspiring Michael Chabon's absorbing novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, apparently sparked by a copy of Dover's Say It in Yiddish. Chabon imagines a Jewish state, not in Israel but in Sitka, Alaska, a frozen plain bestowed upon the refugees during World War II and now about to revert back to U.S. control. As Chabon's wiseguy hero, Detective Meyer Landsman, muses, it's "a strange time to be a Jew." Chabon adorns his involving mystery with nuanced characters and one-liners as good as Hammett's. As overstuffed as a blintz, the book may falter toward the end, but it's vunderlekh all the same. ALEXIS SOLOSKI

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