Life is often pretty wonderful, but let鈥檚 not kid ourselves 鈥 there鈥檚 a lot that鈥檚 wrong out there. Hypocrisy, self-aggrandizement, misery, abuse鈥 and that鈥檚 just your Facebook wall. The world we live in is ripe for satirizing, and these three recently published ladies have stepped up to the plate, serving up helpings of eviscerated cellphones, selfies and cigarettes. Pull up a tastefully expensive chair and see the world through a novel, bitingly.


1. Nicotine by Nell Zink ($20): Most social satirists are, at heart, self-aware weirdos. Standing out from the crowd means you can study it more deeply. Nell Zink鈥檚 Nicotine is full of these lovingly rendered oddballs, who inhabit a world of anarchic chaos. Zink 鈥 who was long-listed for the National Book Award last year, didn鈥檛 publish until she was 50 but can now write a book in three weeks 鈥 spins a tale surrounding Penny, who goes from a rebellious 12-year-old smoking cigarettes naked in her father鈥檚 鈥渉ealing center鈥 sweat lodge to a stunned business school graduate at his deathbed. Unemployed and heartbroken, Penny reflects on her unconventionally rebellious nature; that is, that she grew up in such a strange family that her only ability to rebel was to be conventional.

Her father, Norm, headed what was essentially a hippie cult, and her mother Amalia belonged to the Kogi Amazonian tribe until Norm found her wandering in garbage at age 12, adopted her, and later married her when she turned 18. Business school, shall we say, was not their dream. It鈥檚 Penny鈥檚 inheritance of her father鈥檚 childhood house that changes everything; visiting the New Jersey property, she鈥檚 initially nonplussed to discover a building that isn鈥檛 decrepit, but rather occupied by squatters. Penny finds these anarchists surprisingly welcoming, and soon moves in, drawn to their world she never thought she鈥檇 call home: the place they call Nicotine House. What happens when her two older half-brothers, one of who may be a sociopath, find out what鈥檚 going on?

The book is a satire of privileged activism, with Nicotine House鈥檚 residents protesting for smokers鈥 rights, but it鈥檚 an affectionate mockery, and treats its eccentric characters with empathy and even pathos (in the case of Norm鈥檚 death). Even though Zink might turn out another great book three weeks from now, this is one on everyone鈥檚 fall must-read list (seriously, we counted at least five), and for good reason.


2. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple ($16): TV writer Maria Semple鈥檚 book puts a new spin on the legend of the Desperate Housewife (she鈥檚 written for Arrested Development, Mad About You and Ellen, but never took a crack at that particular series). Eleanor Flood moved from NYC, where she (surprise!) worked as a TV creative and graphic novelist, animating a well-liked cartoon called Looper Wash, to live in Seattle with her husband Joe, a hand surgeon, and their unconventional third-grade son (Timby, whose makeup habits delight his trendily open-minded private school). Eleanor, lucky as she seems, has the ennui only the privileged can enjoy. The novel covers a 鈥渄ay of white people problems鈥 in her life, and begins with a stare down in the mirror and a recitation of a desperate self-improvement mantra: 鈥淭oday will be different.鈥

鈥淭he grinding it out was a disgrace, an affront to the honor and long shot of being alive at all. The ghost-walking, the short-tempered distraction, the hurried fog.鈥 Eleanor鈥檚 attempt at calmly tidying her life鈥檚 mess is thrown off by a series of events involving a fake-sick child, a husband鈥檚 secret plans, and a book that threatens to unbury some secrets. She鈥檒l muddle through, though, as best she can.

This book is 鈥渘ational treasure鈥 Semple鈥檚 first fiction follow-up to 2012鈥檚 wildly popular Where鈥檇 You Go, Bernadette, and is filled with subtle and not-so-subtle satire: there鈥檚 a dog named Yo-Yo, the mores and 鈥渢ight-assed dreariness鈥 of so-called friends, and Timby鈥檚 claim he was named via iPhone. It鈥檚 a pointed questioning of the particular disquiet and lack of presence that can come with a gilded cage.


3. Crosstalk by Connie Willis ($10): Smartphones and social media rule our current existence (please tweet this article to all your friends). Many of us are somewhat, and somewhat justifiably, paranoid about what that means; where is our privacy going? Does everyone know everything about us, and what are they going to do with that knowledge? (Probably try to sell us something.) Connie Willis, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, takes that thought a little farther鈥 into our thoughts. What if, she writes, our thoughts could be heard by other people at all times?

鈥淏y the time Briddey pulled into the parking garage at Commspan, there were forty-two text messages on her phone.鈥 Briddey Finnegan works at a tech company that鈥檚 small enough so that everyone knows everyone, and it鈥檚 practically a requirement to know your co-workers鈥 deal. Her boyfriend, Trent Worth, 鈥渢he most eligible guy at Commspan,鈥 is working on the company鈥檚 upcoming smartphone and has convinced her to get a little more technical. If she鈥檒l just get an EED 鈥 a quick and easy neurosurgical procedure 鈥 their emotional connection will solidify and he just might propose. Briddey鈥檚 family is highly skeptical of this pre-proposal proposal, and she鈥檇 like to hide, but that isn鈥檛 a possibility after she starts hearing other people鈥檚 thoughts.

This is 21st-century love, 鈥渁 virtual bouquet of golden rosebuds, which opened into lush yellow roses and then morphed into butterflies,鈥 flying around our screens to the tune of 鈥淚 Will Always Love You.鈥 Crosstalk takes our conflicting fears about being alone and never being alone and exposes them with this sci-fi rom-com, where nothing is scarier than a 鈥渂ad connection.鈥

What novels are you reading that put society under the microscope? Let us know @BritandCo!

Brit + Co may at times use affiliate links to promote products sold by others, but always offers genuine editorial recommendations.