Annal: 1981 National Book Award for Fiction

Results of the National Book Award in the year 1981.

Book:Plains Song

Plains Song

Wright Morris

“Nowhere in [Morris’s] fiction does emotion emerge from detail so beautifully as in this precise and vivid book.…The triumph of the book, in terms of craft, is that we experience the sense of the slow passage of time so necessary to such a story.…The heart of the book is its tactful rendering of the emotional history of several women.…Precise, satisfying, and complete.”—New York Times Book Review.

“This is a beautiful, subtle novel that accomplishes the rare effect of presenting history from the inside out.…As the title suggests, this is a melody without accompaniment, music of the simplest and most beautiful kind. Perhaps it is because Morris sketches his characters so sparingly that they seem so indelible. They are such a real presence that it’s hard to think they haven’t actually lived.”—Christian Science Monitor.

“Wright Morris knows the embattled regions within his people as well as the harshly beautiful landscapes that surround them.”—New Republic.

Book:The Stories of John Cheever

The Stories of John Cheever

John Cheever

Here are sixty-one stories that chronicle the lives of what has been called “the greatest generation.” From the early wonder and disillusionment of city life in “The Enormous Radio” to the surprising discoveries and common mysteries of suburbia in “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill” and “The Swimmer,” Cheever tells us everything we need to know about “the pain and sweetness of life.”

Book:The Second Coming

The Second Coming: A Novel

Walker Percy

Will Barrett, a lonely widower, suffers from a depression so strange and severe that he decides he doesn’t want to continue living. But then he meets Allison, a mental hospital escapee making a new life for herself, living alone in a greenhouse. What follows is by turns touching and zany, tragic and comic, as Will goes in search of proof of God and winds up finding much more.

Book:The Transit of Venus

The Transit of Venus

Shirley Hazzard

The Transit of Venus is considered Shirley Hazzard’s most brilliant novel. It tells the story of two orphan sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, as they leave Australia to start a new life in post-war England. What happens to these young women—seduction and abandonment, marriage and widowhood, love and betrayal—becomes as moving and wonderful and yet as predestined as the transits of the planets themselves. Gorgeously written and intricately constructed, Hazzard’s novel is a story of place: Sydney, London, New York, Stockholm; of time: from the fifties to the eighties; and above all, of women and men in their passage through the displacements and absurdities of modern life.

Book:War and Remembrance

War and Remembrance

Herman Wouk

Follows the various members of the Henry family as they become involved in the events preceeding America's involvement in World War II and captures all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of the Second World War.

Book:The Year of the French

The Year of the French

Thomas Flanagan

In 1798, Irish patriots, committed to freeing their country from England, landed with a company of French troops in County Mayo, in westernmost Ireland. They were supposed to be an advance guard, followed by other French ships with the leader of the rebellion, Wolfe Tone. Briefly they triumphed, raising hopes among the impoverished local peasantry and gathering a group of supporters. But before long the insurgency collapsed before a brutal English counterattack.

Very few books succeed in registering the sudden terrible impact of historical events; Thomas Flanagan’s is one. Subtly conceived, masterfully paced, with a wide and memorable cast of characters, The Year of the French brings to life peasants and landlords, Protestants and Catholics, along with old and abiding questions of secular and religious commitments, empire, occupation, and rebellion. It is quite simply a great historical novel.

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