Auspicious Beginnings: 7 Excellent, (Mostly) Recent Debuts

These first novels are earth-shatteringly good.


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“I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”  —Toni Morrison, whose first novel, The Bluest Eye, set a high standard for debuts

Imagine how difficult it must be to have published your first novel. The old cliché that once your foot’s through the door you’ve permanently made it is, obviously, completely untrue, and in fact most first books come and go unceremoniously, with little fanfare and few notices, and their authors—who, no doubt, spent years crafting and completing such a complex art form—are often to forced to promote themselves (send galleys to reviewers, creating event pages on social media, etc.), which has to be somewhat deflating and awkward, if only for the fact that you thought that publishing a book would, oh, I don’t know, make people inherently interested in reading your work instead of having to have it hoisted upon them by authors, who are, anyone knows, probably the least effective commercial for their own work (any compliments they bestow upon it will be read as arrogance, any interpretation as self-indulgence)—and so even then, after years of writing and rewriting and editing and rejections, and then after the sometimes arduous path to publication, and then after finding a bunch of appropriate recipients, mailing it out, and waiting for some response—even after all that, let’s say one of those outlets reviews the novel, and gives it a blah rating or, worse, a bad one, and what a disheartening reward for years of dedicated hard work, made all the more depressing by the realization that more people probably read the tepid or lousy review of your book than the book itself. What a nightmare.

So the following debut novels are ones that over the last year or so have really stayed with me, moved me, compelled me, and in general felt especially deserving of acknowledgment and recognition. Some of these books have received some wide acclaim, some have benefited from major marketing pushes from their publishers, and some haven’t gotten the attention and the accolades they absolutely deserve. I truly hope all of these writers have long and flourishing careers in literature.

Featured image: Sweetpirat/

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About Jonathan Russell Clark

Jonathan Russell Clark

JONATHAN RUSSELL CLARK is a literary critic. He is a staff writer for Literary Hub , and a regular contributor to The Georgia Review and The Millions. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Tin House, The Atlantic, The New Republic, LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, Chautauqua, PANK, and numerous others. His essays have been mentioned in The Guardian,,,, Electric Literature, Word Riot, Poets & Writers, and as one of Katie Couric’s Katie’s FYI. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Clark was educated at the University of Oxford, the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, UMass Boston, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

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