Results of the PEN/Faulkner Award in the year 1981.
The question How German Is It underlies the conduct and actions of the characters in Walter Abish’s novel, an icy panorama of contemporary Germany, in which the tradition of order and obedience, the patrimony of the saber and the castle on the Rhine, give way to the present, indiscriminate fascination with all things American.
Set at a boardinghouse in rural New Jersey in the summer of 1939, this novel revolves around four people who experience the comedies, torments and rare pleasures of family, romance and sex while on vacation from Brooklyn and the Depression. Billy Recco, an eager ten-year-old in search of a father…Marie Recco, ne McGrath, an attractive divorce caught between her son and father, without a life of her own…John McGrath, dignified in manner yet brutally soured by life, insanely fearful of his daughter’s restlessness…Tom Thebus, a rakish salesman who precipitates the conflict between Marie’s hopes and her father’s wrath.
We follow these individuals through the events of thirty-six hours, culminating in Tom’s disastrous near seduction of Marie. As the novel’s perspective shifts to each of these characters, four discrete stories take form, stories that Sorrentino further enriches by using a variety of literary methodsfantasies, letters, a narrative question-and-answer, fragments of dialogue…[more]
“When a true genius appears in the world,
You may know him by this sign, that the dunces
Are all in confederacy against him.”
—Jonathan Swift, “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting”
“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once.”
So enters one of the most memorable characters in American fiction, Ignatius J. Reilly. …[more]
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.
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.