Annal: 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1983.

Book:Ironweed: A Novel

Ironweed: A Novel

William Kennedy

Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger, full-time drunk, has hit bottom. Years ago he left Albany in a hurry after killing a scab during a trolley workers’ strike. He ran away again after accidentally—and fatally—dropping his infant son.

Now, in 1938, Francis is back in town, roaming the old familiar streets with his hobo pal, Helen, trying to make peace with the ghosts of the past and the present.

Book:The Anatomy Lesson

The Anatomy Lesson

Philip Roth

At forty, the writer Nathan Zuckerman comes down with a mysterious affliction—pure pain, beginning in his neck and shoulders, invading his torso, and taking possession of his spirit. Zuckerman, whose work was his life, is unable to write a line. Now his work is trekking from one doctor to another, but none can find a cause for the pain and nobody can assuage it. Zuckerman himself wonders if the pain can have been caused by his own books. And while he is wondering, his dependence on painkillers grows into an addiction to vodka, marijuana, and Percodan.

The Anatomy Lesson is a great comedy of illness written in what the English critic Hermione Lee has described as “a manner at once…brash and thoughtful…lyrical and wry, which projects through comic expostulations and confessions…a knowing, humane authority.” The third volume of the trilogy and epilogue Zuckerman Bound, The Anatomy Lesson provides some of the funniest scenes in all of Roth’s fiction as well as some of the fiercest.

Book:Cathedral

Cathedral

Raymond Carver

“A dozen stories that overflow with the danger, excitement, mystery and possibility of life…Carver is a writer of astonishing compassion and honesty…his eye set only on describing and revealing the world as he sees it. His eye is so clear, it almost breaks your heart.” —Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

Cathedral contains astonishing achievements, which bespeaks a writer expanding his range of intentions.” —The Boston Globe

“A few of Mr. Carver’s stories can already be counted among the masterpieces of American fiction…Cathedral shows a gifted writer struggling for a larger scope of reference, a finer touch of nuance.” —Irving Howe, front page, The New York Times Book Review[more]

Book:During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

Joan Chase

The novel that is sweeping the country. A beautiful story of 20th-century womanhood, of Gram, the Queen of Persia herself, who rules a house where five daughters and four granddaughters spin out the tragedies and triumphs of rural life in the 1950’s.

Book:Magnetic Field(s)

Magnetic Field(s)

Ron Loewinsohn

Organized around the idea that “you can’t know what a magnetic field is like unless you’re inside of it,” Ron Loewinsohn’s first novel opens from the disturbing perspective of a burglar in the midst of a robbery and travels through the thoughts and experiences (both real and imaginary) of a group of characters whose lives are connected both coincidentally and intimately. All of the characters have a common desire to imagine and invent rather horrifying stories about the lives of people around them. As the novel develops, certain phrasings and images recur improbably, drawing the reader into a subtle linguistic game that calls into question the nature of authorship, the ways we inhabit and invade each other’s lives, and the shape of fiction itself.

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