Anarchy, Ancestors, and Alligators

In 28-year-old Justin Taylor’s debut novel, The Gospel of Anarchy (Harper Perennial), David, a young, decidedly directionless twentysomething, attempts to navigate the all-too-familiar quarter-life crisis questions of “Who am I?” and “What the hell am I doing with my life?” A chance Dumpster-diving encounter in Gainesville, Flor­ida, takes him way off the beaten track, into the anarchist’s enticing world of free love, free food, and freedom from the system. David’s radical new friends believe strongly in two things: God and an absent local legend named Parker, whose adherence to the anarchist lifestyle has trans­formed him into the characters’ prophet—and his notebook of observances into their gospel of anar­chy. Taylor interweaves youthful dialogue with religious rhetoric, exploring what would happen if everyone did what was good for everyone, and the corporate world burned to the ground. More info at




Jonathan Evison’s vegetarian-finds-self-despite-family-of-meatheads debut novel, 2008’s All About Lulu, could not be more different than his second effort, West of Here (Algonquin)—proving that the 42-year-old writer’s range is anything but limited. Evison weaves 126 years of history (as told by 42 distinct voices in nearly 500 pages) of the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington, a would-be settlers’ paradise founded in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains in the late 1880s. Evison jumps back and forth between centuries, simulta­neously telling the stories of the town’s founders— from whores to preachers—and their descendants, who want to tear down their ancestors’ great­est achievement: a hydroelectric dam, the very structure that allowed the town to thrive. West explores sacrifices made in the name of progress, and considers what it means to live in harmony, with nature and with each other. More info at




Every night, a seemingly superhuman character named Hilola Bigtree dives into a pit filled with 30 or more alligators while a hushed crowd waits for her to emerge unharmed. She is the star of Swamp­landia! (Knopf)—her family-run, gator-themed, island amusement park and the title of 29-year-old Karen Russell’s quirky debut novel. Soon after Hilola dies from a snaking cancer, a competing theme park, the World of Darkness, threatens the survival of Swamplandia! and the Bigtree family. Hilola’s daughter, the young narrator, Ava Bigtree, must deal not only with losing her mother but also with her father’s harebrained business plans (Carni­val Darwinism), her older brother’s abandonment of Swamplandia! for the mainland (working for the competition), her older sister’s supernatural roman­tic adventures (can you marry a ghost?), and her struggle to become a world-class alligator wrestler in her own right, in order to save everyone. More info at