What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?

This is one of the 313 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

    This novel tells the story of a former African-American slave woman who, after escaping to Ohio, is haunted by the ghost of her deceased daughter. The protagonist is forced to confront her repressed memories and the horrific realities of her past, including the desperate act she committed to protect her children from a life of slavery. The narrative is a poignant exploration of the physical, emotional, and psychological scars inflicted by the institution of slavery, and the struggle for identity and self-acceptance in its aftermath.

    The 47th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo

    "Underworld" is a sweeping narrative that spans from the 1950s to the end of the 20th century, exploring the interconnectedness of events and the impact of the Cold War on American society. The story revolves around a diverse group of characters, including a waste management executive, a graffiti artist, a nun, and a baseball collector, among others. These characters' lives intertwine in unexpected ways, illustrating the complex web of relationships and influences that shape our world. The novel is renowned for its vivid portrayal of historical events and its profound examination of themes such as memory, technology, and waste.

    The 553rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

    Set in the mid-19th century, this novel follows a violent teenager known as "the Kid" as he joins a group of Indian-hunters led by the enigmatic and brutal Judge Holden. The narrative is a gruesome depiction of the lawless American West, filled with philosophical musings, vivid descriptions of the harsh landscape, and brutal, relentless violence. The story explores themes of human nature, morality, and the inherent chaos and brutality of life.

    The 217th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

    The novel is a final look into the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high-school basketball star, now in his mid-fifties, overweight and grappling with several health issues. Despite his success in business, his personal life is in shambles, with his wife addicted to alcohol and his son to drugs. Harry, struggling with his mortality, is trying to understand his past and make sense of his future, while dealing with the changing American society and the consequences of his own choices.

    The 682nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

    The book follows the life of a former high school basketball star, who is now in his mid-forties and has inherited a Toyota dealership from his father-in-law. He is living a comfortable life with his wife and son in Brewer, Pennsylvania during the late 1970s. The story unfolds as he navigates through his midlife crisis, dealing with his rebellious son, his longing for his old mistress, and his own insecurities and dissatisfaction. The narrative provides a deep dive into the protagonist's thoughts and feelings, offering a detailed examination of middle-class American life during this era.

    The 536th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Rabbit Redux by John Updike

    The novel is a sequel in a series following the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a middle-aged man living in a small Pennsylvania town. When his wife leaves him for another man, he finds himself alone and struggling to make sense of the rapidly changing world around him. In his loneliness, he takes in a young runaway and her racially divisive boyfriend, leading to a series of events that force Rabbit to confront his own prejudices and fears. The book is a vivid portrayal of the American social and political climate of the 1960s.

    The 411th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike

    The novel follows the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball star, who is dissatisfied with his current life. He impulsively leaves his wife and son and embarks on a journey in the hopes of finding a more meaningful existence. His decisions, however, lead to a series of tragic events that impact the lives of those around him. This mid-20th-century novel explores themes of freedom, responsibility, and the tragic consequences of impulsive decisions.

    The 134th Greatest Book of All Time
  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth

    This novel tells the story of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a successful Jewish-American businessman and former high school athlete from Newark, New Jersey. Levov's happy and conventional upper middle class life is ruined by the domestic social and political turmoil of the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which in the novel is seen through the eyes of the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, a budding writer who idolizes the Levovs. The novel portrays the impact of this turmoil on Levov and his family, particularly his rebellious daughter who becomes involved in revolutionary political activities.

    The 347th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

    The novel is a comedic satire set in New Orleans in the early 1960s, centered around Ignatius J. Reilly, a lazy, eccentric, highly educated, and socially inept man who still lives with his mother. Ignatius spends his time writing a lengthy philosophical work while working various jobs and avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. The story follows his misadventures and interactions with a colorful cast of characters in the city, including his long-suffering mother, a flamboyant nightclub owner, a beleaguered factory worker, and a frustrated hot dog vendor.

    The 227th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

    The novel explores the life of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille, who are raised by a series of relatives in a small, secluded town in Idaho after their mother's suicide. The girls' lives are profoundly affected by the eccentric and transient lifestyle of their aunt Sylvie, who becomes their guardian. The narrative delves deeply into themes of family, identity, womanhood, and the impermanence of life, ultimately leading to a divide between the sisters as they choose different paths in life.

    The 274th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

    Set in a mythical New York City, this novel follows the life of Peter Lake, a master mechanic and thief, who falls in love with a terminally ill girl, Beverly Penn, after breaking into her house. Peter's life is intertwined with the city's golden age and its criminal underworld, as well as the world of the supernatural. The story is a blend of fantasy, love, and adventure, exploring themes of justice, beauty, and the constant struggle between good and evil.

    The 1626th Greatest Book of All Time
  • White Noise by Don DeLillo

    The novel is a postmodern exploration of death and consumerism in the United States. It follows a year in the life of Jack Gladney, a professor who has made his name by pioneering the field of Hitler Studies at a small liberal arts college in Middle America. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, are afraid of death and are obsessed with finding a cure for their fear. Their lives are disrupted by an airborne toxic event, which forces them to confront their mortality and the toxic effects of modern life.

    The 423rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Counterlife by Philip Roth

    This novel explores the idea of alternate realities through the story of two brothers, one a successful dentist and the other a famous writer. The narrative is divided into five parts, each presenting a different version of their lives. As the story progresses, the characters grapple with issues of identity, mortality, and the complex relationship between art and life. The novel is a profound examination of the choices we make and the different paths our lives could take as a result.

    The 5215th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Libra by Don DeLillo

    This novel is a fictionalized account of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John F. Kennedy. It explores Oswald's troubled childhood, his time in the Soviet Union, his return to America, and his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. The story is told from multiple perspectives, including that of Oswald himself, his mother, and various fictional characters, creating a complex and nuanced portrait of a man who has become a symbol of one of the most traumatic events in American history.

    The 1965th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

    "Where I'm Calling From" is a collection of 37 short stories that delve into the lives of everyday people dealing with addiction, relationships, and hardship. The stories often depict characters in moments of crisis or reflection, grappling with their personal demons or past mistakes. The author's minimalist style and focus on ordinary life brings a sense of realism and relatability to these narratives, making them a poignant exploration of human struggle and resilience.

    The 921st Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

    The book is a collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. The story is semi-autobiographical, based on the author's experiences in the war. The narrative explores the physical and emotional burdens the soldiers carry during the war, as well as the lingering effects of war on veterans. It delves into themes of bravery, truth, and the fluidity of fact and fiction.

    The 322nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Mating by Norman Rush

    "Mating" is a novel that follows the story of a female anthropologist who is doing her fieldwork in Botswana. She falls in love with an eccentric and charismatic intellectual who has created a utopian matriarchal village in the Kalahari desert. The narrative explores themes of love, feminism, and idealism as it delves into the complexities of human relationships and societal structures.

    The 1567th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson

    The book is a collection of linked short stories narrated by a young, unnamed protagonist who struggles with drug addiction. The stories are set in various locations across the United States and are filled with surreal and sometimes violent experiences. Despite the bleak circumstances, the narrator seeks moments of beauty and grace, often finding them in unexpected places. The narrative is characterized by its disjointed chronology, hallucinatory descriptions, and dark humor.

    The 878th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

    In this intriguing novel, the protagonist, a famous writer, travels to Israel to cover the trial of a former Nazi war criminal. While there, he encounters a man who is his doppelgänger and who has been using his fame to promote a controversial political agenda, including the idea that Jews should abandon Israel and return to Europe. The narrative explores themes of identity, Jewish history, and the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all while blurring the line between fiction and reality.

    The 3961st Greatest Book of All Time
  • Independence Day by Richard Ford

    "Independence Day" is a story about a middle-aged real estate agent named Frank Bascombe, who is going through a mid-life crisis during the Fourth of July weekend. The novel delves into Frank's struggles with his career, his troubled relationship with his son, his romantic life, and his existential questions about life and his place in the world. The narrative is a reflection on the American Dream, the pursuit of happiness, and the complexities of modern life.

    The 2411th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth

    "Sabbath's Theater" is a darkly humorous and sexually explicit novel about the life of a retired puppeteer, Mickey Sabbath. After the death of his long-time mistress, Sabbath embarks on a journey of self-exploration and reflection, contemplating his past relationships, his career, and his own mortality. The novel is a profound exploration of the human condition, the nature of desire, and the struggle to find meaning in a chaotic and often absurd world.

    The 1463rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy

    "Cities of the Plain" is the conclusion to a trilogy set in the post-World War II American West. The story follows two cowboys, John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, who work on a ranch in New Mexico near the Texas border. Cole falls in love with a Mexican prostitute, which leads to a tragic confrontation with her pimp. The novel explores themes of love, friendship, and the fading of the old West.

    The 9044th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

    "The Crossing" is a novel set in the late 1930s and early 1940s that follows a young man named Billy Parham and his brother Boyd. The story primarily revolves around their adventures in the United States and Mexico, including their encounters with a wolf, horse traders, and a Mexican outlaw. The narrative explores themes of loss, survival, and the harsh realities of life, set against the backdrop of the American West and the Mexican wilderness.

    The 4126th Greatest Book of All Time
  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

    This novel follows the journey of a young Texas cowboy who, after his grandfather's death, ventures into Mexico with his best friend in search of a life of freedom and adventure. Their journey becomes complicated when they are arrested and imprisoned, and the protagonist falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy ranch owner. The book explores themes of love, loss, friendship, and the harsh realities of life.

    The 863rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Human Stain by Philip Roth

    The Human Stain is a novel that explores the life of Coleman Silk, a classics professor in a small New England town who is forced to retire after accusations of racism. The story delves into Silk's personal history, revealing that he is a light-skinned African American who has been passing as a Jewish man for most of his adult life. His affair with a much younger, illiterate janitor further scandalizes the community. The novel examines themes of identity, race, and the destructive power of public shaming.

    The 924th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

    This novel presents an alternate history where aviator-hero and rabid isolationist Charles Lindbergh is elected President in 1940, leading the United States towards fascism and anti-Semitism. The story is narrated through the perspective of a working-class Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey, experiencing the political shift and its terrifying consequences. The narrative explores themes of prejudice, fear, patriotism, and family bonds under the shadow of a fascist regime.

    The 1163rd Greatest Book of All Time
About this list

New York Times, 26 Books

The New York Times Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify...

This list was originally published in 2006 and was added to this site over 10 years ago.

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