My Most Anticipated Popular Fiction Reads of 2021
Guest post by Savannah Cordova at Reedsy
2021 is already shaping up to be a stellar year for fiction, and the coming months are packed with promise. In fact, there are so many new and upcoming releases fidgeting on my TBR that whittling it down to just five was no easy task. That said, the books on this list have really caught my eye — and not just because of their colorful covers.
1. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
This debut novel from Torrey Peters follows three New Yorkers whose lives coalesce around an unexpected pregnancy when Ames — who is detransitioning from life as a trans woman — accidentally gets his boss-turned-lover, Katrina, pregnant. Wary of traditional, nuclear-family fatherhood, he puts forth an intriguing proposal: they could raise the child with the help of his ex-girlfriend Reese, a trans woman gripped with longing for a baby.
In discussions about the book, trans women have spoken about deeply appreciating a character like Reese, who is grappling with the idea of motherhood and how she can achieve it. To bear children, Peters has said, is to be “unquestionably” a woman; having a child and finding motherhood is tangled with a sense of legitimacy.
What makes me so excited about this book (aside from the incredible premise and beautiful cover design) is that many cis readers will also be able to match their experiences against Reese’s, and contemplating questions of motherhood and gender through a trans lens could make this an incredibly eye-opening read. As its editor has said, this contemporary tragicomedy is really about the business of living, about identities, and families — even if this oze is slightly unconventional.
2. Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
Milk Fed is the story of an anorexic Hollywood assistant’s love and obsession with an unabashedly fat, Orthodox Jewish, frozen yogurt heiress. The assistant, Rachel, also comes from a Jewish family, but prays primarily to the god of thinness, substituting calorie-restriction for Judaism — which she sees less as a religion and more as a dangerous siren song of calorie-packed treats.
When her therapist suggests she begin a 90-day detox from her weight-obsessed mom, Rachel ends up falling for Miriam — who experiences as much pleasure from food as she gives to Rachel through sex — and is forced to contemplate the fraught intersections among pleasure, appetite, and diet culture.
Broder has written before about the notion of a higher power being central to both religious and eating-disorder-prone mentalities. In Milk Fed, she wants readers to ask themselves: Whose voice is in my head? Who are my gods? As someone who is definitely guilty of living life by the rules of atheistic (and aesthetic) “higher powers” — beauty standards, validation, approval — I for one will be shimmying this title up my TBR.
I’m expecting a story that’s deeply human, darkly comic, and yet intensely sad, since Melissa Broder (born on “sad-girl Twitter”) is a bona fide authority on what it means to be young, funny, and depressed. Her first novel The Pisces (which has also made it onto my reading list) is about a woman who has sex with a merman (?!), and yet I’ve heard it described as painfully emotive — so I have high hopes that Milk Fed will tug on some heartstrings.
3. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I am such a fan of Daisy Jones And The Six, so when I saw that Taylor Jenkins Reid had written yet another glamorous story about a music legend and their familial fallouts, I was immediately on board. Malibu Rising comes out in early summer, and I can tell just by the cover that this is going to be the perfect literal beach read.
The story is set in Malibu, August 1983, and the action takes place over the course of one unforgettable night. It’s Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at fever pitch as everyone tries to steal a moment with the famous offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva. Among his progeny are Nina, the surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a renowned photographer, the other a championship surfer; and their adored baby sister, Kit.
Alcohol’s flowing, music’s playing — I’m picturing a Great Gatsby sort of soiree — and the loves, lies, secrets, and scandals that have shaped this family for generations come fizzing to the surface. By the time the party ends, the Riva family will have come crashing down and their Malibu mansion will have gone up in flames. I personally cannot wait to devour this escapist delight, and find out what really happened on the night of the Riva party.
4. The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura
Another novel I’ll be devouring this summer is The Woman in the Purple Skirt. When Natsuko Imamura published this book in 2019, she took home Japan’s most prestigious literary award. Now Lucy North has translated Imamura’s unique voice, and I can’t wait to read this psychological thriller, which somehow sounds both whimsical and horrifying.
The story is about the otherwise nameless Woman in the Purple Skirt, who spends each afternoon sitting in the park, on the same bench, with the same cream bun, seeming not to notice the local children who make a game of trying to get her attention. Though she doesn’t know it, The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan watches her, always perched just out of sight.
Both single, aging, and short of money, the two women eventually become friends — they even end up working as housekeepers in the same hotel. But something is off: one woman is not who she seems, and the friendship slides towards a dangerous obsession.
I’m not the sort of reader who’s put off by an unappealing narrator, so I can definitely see myself enjoying the chillingly voyeuristic, taut, and unstable point of view of The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. Immamura is also known for doing an excellent job of writing characters who are a little out of the ordinary, so I’m bracing myself for a strangely beguiling read.
5. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
In No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood renders the experience of being Extremely Online: fragmentary and surreal, brimming with memes and texts, bite-sized serotonin bursts, and flashes of hot-take fury. But the story is actually about a woman — a viral celebrity who travels the world on the back of her tweets — who comes to realize through a family tragedy that the internet cannot possibly contain all the wonders and horrors of real life.
Out of interest, I took a quick look at some of Patricia Lockwood’s poetry (though poetry isn’t normally my thing), and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone with such a clear understanding of the world and her own experience of it, with the power to make others see it too. I think her novel is going to make me laugh, make me cry, frighten me, shred my brain, and scrape my guts out. And I couldn’t be more excited.