Annal: 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Results of the PEN/Faulkner Award in the year 1995.

Book:Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel

Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel

David Guterson

On San Piedro, an island of rugged, spectacular beauty in Puget Sound, a Japanese-American fisherman stands trial for murder. Set in 1954 in the shadow of World War II, Snow Falling on Cedars is a beautifully crafted courtroom drama, love story, and war novel, illuminating the psychology of a community, the ambiguities of justice, the racism that persists even between neighbors, and the necessity of individual moral action despite the indifference of nature and circumstance.

Book:The Children in the Woods

The Children in the Woods

Frederick Busch

Like Hansel and Gretel, the characters in The Children in the Woods are concerned with survival; in the subtle playing out of this dark fairy tale, Busch makes palpable the themes of love, loss, alienation, and disillusionment. In “Critics,” it is the hierarchy of familial relationships that isolates an only child; in “The Settlement of Mars,” a young boy’s first recognition of the adult world is a frightening and disorienting experience; in “My Father, Cont.,” a child fantasizes he will be abandoned by his bickering parents; and in “Folk Tales,” a man’s reappraisal of his life is catalyzed by the discovery of old correspondence in his mother’s safe-deposit box after she dies. In all of these stories Busch is a master at exposing the vulnerability that resonates in each of the characters.

The distillation of twenty years of story collections by Frederick Busch, The Children in the Woods is further testimony to the integrity and distinction of his work. Containing eight previously uncollected stories, The Children in the Woods is an opportunity for both old fans and those newly acquainted with his work to celebrate this remarkable writer.

Book:Stones from the River

Stones from the River

Ursula Hegi

Stones from the River is a daring, dramatic and complex novel of life in Germany. It is set in Burgdorf, a small fictional German town, between 1915 and 1951. The protagonist is Trudi Montag, a Zwerg—the German word for dwarf woman. As a dwarf she is set apart, the outsider whose physical “otherness” has a corollary in her refusal to be a part of Burgdorf’s silent complicity during and after World War II. Trudi establishes her status and power, not through beauty, marriage, or motherhood, but rather as the town’s librarian and relentless collector of stories.

Through Trudi’s unblinking eyes, we witness the growing impact of Nazism on the ordinary townsfolk of Burgdorf as they are thrust on to a larger moral stage and forced to make choices that will forever mark their lives. Stones from the River is a story of secrets, parceled out masterfully by Trudi—and by Ursula Hegi—as they reveal the truth about living through unspeakable times.

Book:Various Antidotes

Various Antidotes: Stories

Joanna Scott

In her first collection of short stories, Various Antidotes, Scott culls from the annals of science and medicine real and imaginary figures whose peculiar obsessions she transmutes with effortless alchemy into the stuff of art. In one story she writes of van Leeuwenhoek, the mad lens-grinder of Delft, whose early microscope designs allowed him to see life in a drop of water and for whom “there was hardly a difference between discovering life and creating it.” In another she offers an account of the origin of the verb burke, after William Burke, who was hanged in Edinburgh in 1829 for murdering victims by suffocation and selling them as cadavers to a professor of anatomy. She reacquaints us with Dorothea Dix, samaritan of the criminally insane, and introduces us to, among others, Charlotte Corday, who mortally stabbed French physician and revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat while he was taking his bath.

Each story is a perfectly wrought gem, and each offers ample evidence that Scott, like Hawthorne’s Owen Warland, is truly an “artist of the beautiful.”

Book:What I Lived for

What I Lived for

Joyce Carol Oates

At forty-two, Jerome Corcoran—“Corky” to his friends and associates—is by all appearances a successful real estate developer and broker, a city councilman with a promising future in local politics, a genuine ladies’ man, and all-around great guy. His big house, fifteen-hundred-dollar suits, and the ridiculously large tips he hands out all over town reassure him that he’s put plenty of distance between himself and the family history (which includes a murdered father and raving mad mother) he’d rather forget. Corky may think that his inauspicious beginnings on Irish Hill, one of Union City’s shabbier neighborhoods, are now far behind him, but over the course of Memorial Day Weekend 1992, that precious illusion, along with several others, will be completely shattered. In the long list of Corky’s women, only one looms larger for him than his own appetites and self-interest: Thalia, his rebellious, radicalized step-daughter from his failed marriage. It is she who will become the agent of his undoing as a complex drama of corruption, blackmail, and political scandal climaxes in an act of explosive violence.

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