It might be cosmic synchronicity, but somehow 2001 was an awesome year for first-time novelists. Four of this year's top 10 books are full-length fiction debuts.
1 THE SPEED OF LIGHT by Elizabeth Rosner (Ballantine) Finally, a powerful voice expressing the experience of the children of Holocaust survivors. Poet Rosner's first fiction is a subtle meditation on trauma's effects, whether experienced directly or through living with a survivor, and the ways discovery and creativity can bring new light. The coup of the narrative is that the darkest shadow is cast by a character who is almost invisible and always silent. Heart-stopping.
2 GETTING TO NORMAL by Sandra Campbell (Stoddart) Seven-year-old Alice can't get out of bed, and nobody knows why. Worse, her mum doesn't have enough time to find out and her older sister thinks herself too cool to have an invalid sibling. Told from nurses' notes in hospital and Alice's own journals, Getting To Normal -- also a first novel -- tells a completely grown-up story while maintaining a seven-year-old voice that never feels inauthentic. More, please.
3 CRAWLING AT NIGHT by Nani Power (Atlantic Monthly Press) Food was a big theme in fiction this year, with writers like Jim Crace (The Devil's Larder) and Nani Power looking to get some sensual inspiration from edibles. Power taps her days as a sushi sous chef in this deft portrait of a displaced Japanese restaurant worker and a rock 'n' roll chick trying to connect. Sad but sumptuous.
4 THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen (Harper Flamingo) Franzen was making noise long before he dissed Oprah. After publicly promising to write the next great literary novel, the New Yorker delivered, taking seven gruelling years to create this hilarious, compelling epic about family, addiction and the frailty of the human condition. An awesome achievement.
5 TEN GOOD SECONDS OF SILENCE by Elizabeth Ruth (Simon & Pierre) This story of Lilith Boot, an extra-large psychic whose abilities deepen the fatter she gets, and her resentful daughter makes for a dynamite debut. Also on the agenda: eating disorders, the power of memory and the glories of gardening. Wonderful.
6 SPUTNIK DINER by Rick Maddocks (Knopf Canada) Stories set in the Ontario town of Nanticoke -- crumbling because of the demise of its cash crop, tobacco -- evoke the desperation of characters aching to make do or get out. Clean and lean prose that gets to you. I've got my eye on this guy.
7 MISCONCEPTIONS by Naomi Wolf (Doubleday) Naomi Wolf deploys her superb skills as a synthesizer to uncover the appalling attitudes of American health institutions toward pregnant women. This time, though, she gets personal by bringing her own pregnant self into the action. Being smart and influential didn't help her one bit.
8 SOUNDING THE BLOOD by Amanda Hale (Raincoast) This poetic novel breaks all the PC rules about appropriation, taking on the voices of Chinese, Japanese and Newfoundlanders who've wound up in a whaling station in the Queen Charlottes. Potent language lets you smell the blubber, the sweat and the disappointment.
9 COURAGE MY LOVE by Sarah Dearing (Stoddart) In this love letter to Kensington Market, Yorkville trophy wife Phillipa finds love and freedom among the fruit stalls.
10 THE MIDDLE STORIES by Sheila Heti (Anansi) Sheila Heti's fairy-tale-inspired short stories describe the way things are -- simply and beautifully. If there are lessons to be learned in her writing, they're that we should be comfortable with who we are and that it's a cop-out to let glib statements and cynicism describe our humanness.