The most exciting book of fiction I read this past year is Claire Vaye Watkins’s debut collection of stories, Battleborn. Despite her many recent accolades and awards, I hadn't heard of this young writer – the collection was published in fact in 2012 – and from the moment I opened the first pages I was enthralled, utterly and completely. I was awed by the astonishing variety, intelligence, and subtle invention of the stories, which transport the reader from the Gold Rush boom of the 1850s to present day hardscrabble Nevada and back again, each tale endowed with its own felicitously made world and surprising narrative mode, each tale bristling and alive with its own sense of voice and being, each peopled by characters daring reinvention, all of it agleam with a beauty that positively leaps from the pages. There’s nothing mannered or studied about these wide-ranging stories, no straining to manufacture a portfolio of perfected "styles," which a young writer of such prodigious talent could readily achieve, if she so wished. But Watkins has no such interest. To me, her gift is akin to that of those rare actors, like a Streep or a Brando, who can totally become a character but retain their own essence through and through, the creation and creator exquisitely bridged, forged into something unlikely and singular. Fantastic stuff. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.