Annal: 1988 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1988.

Book:The Middleman and Other Stories

The Middleman and Other Stories

Bharati Mukherjee

These beautifully wrought stories reveal a new world that has been created imperceptibly in our midst: a United States transformed by many new faces from Afghanistan and Asia, from Uganda and Latin America. These immigrants have in turn been transformed by the “idea” of living in America. Passionate, comic, violent, and ultimately tender, these stories portray our latest arrivals in all their richness and variety, reflected in American eyes equally varied with fear, love, suspicion, or pure astonishment.

Book:Libra

Libra

Don DeLillo

In this powerful, eerily convincing fictional speculation on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Don Delillo chronicles Lee Harvey Oswald’s odyssey from troubled teenager to a man of precarious stability who imagines himself an agent of history. When “history” presents itself in the form of two disgruntled CIA operatives who decide that an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the president will galvanize the nation against communism, the scales are irrevocably tipped.

A gripping, masterful blend of fact and fiction, alive with meticulously portrayed characters both real and created, Libra is a grave, haunting, and brilliant examination of an event that has become an indelible part of the American psyche.

Book:Paris Trout

Paris Trout

Pete Dexter

In Paris Trout, Pete Dexter tells the mesmerizing story of a shocking crime that eats away at the social fabric of a small town, exposing the hypocrisies of its ways and shattering the lives of its citizens.

The crime is the murder of a fourteen-year-old black girl and the killer is Paris Trout, a respected white citizen of Cotton Point, Georgia, and a man without guilt. His crime haunts the men and women of this town. Harry Seagraves, a prominent citizen and Trout’s defense attorney, has nightmares about it. Trout’s wife, Hanna, bears the abuse of his paranoia, which grows as the town reacts to the crime and puts Trout on trial. As he becomes more obsessed with his cause and his vendettas against those who have betrayed him, Trout moves closer and closer to the edge of sanity, finally exploding with more violence and rage.

Book:Wheat That Springeth Green

Wheat That Springeth Green

J.F. Powers

Wheat That Springeth Green, J. F. Powers’s beautifully realized final work, is a comic foray into the commercialized wilderness of modern American life. Its hero, Joe Hackett, is a high-school track-star who sets out to be a saint. But seminary life and priestly apprenticeship soon damp his ardor, and by the time he has been given a parish of his own he has traded in his hairshirt for the consolations of baseball and beer. Meanwhile Joe’s higher-ups are pressing for an increase in profits from the collection plate, while suburban Inglenook’s biggest business wants to launch its new line of missiles with a blessing, and not so far away, in Vietnam, a war is going on. Joe wants to duck and cover, but in the end, almost in spite of himself, he is condemned to do something right.

A virtuoso of the American language, J.F. Powers had a perfect ear for the telling cliche and a unfailing eye for the kitsch, whether material or moral, that clutters up our lives. This funny and very moving novel about the making and the remaking of a priest in a world of discount marts and financial drives is one of his finest achievements.

Book:Where I'm Calling From

Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories

Raymond Carver

The last story collection published during Carver’s life (he died in 1988) contains most of his greatest hits from his earlier books, as well as seven stories that hadn’t been collected up to that point. The breadth of the collection makes these 37 stories an extremely complete map of Carver territory, of a particular area of America and of the specific texture of the people Carver writes about—their difficult attempts at survival in a world where happiness does not arrive wrapped up in neat packages but comes in far more peculiar parcels, if it comes at all.

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