Annal: 1996 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1996.

Book:The Smell of Apples

The Smell of Apples: A Novel

Mark Behr

The Smell of Apples is a time bomb of a novel. Set in the bitter twilight of apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s, it is a haunting story narrated by an eleven-year-old child, Marnus Erasmus, who simply and devastatingly records the social turmoil and racial oppression that are destroying his own land. Using his family as a microcosm of the corroding society at large, Marnus tells a troubling tale—of a childhood corrupted, of unexpected sexual defilements, and of an innocence gone astray.

Book:The Debt to Pleasure

The Debt to Pleasure: A Novel

John Lanchester

The Debt to Pleasure is a wickedly funny ode to food. Traveling from Portsmouth to the south of France, Tarquin Winot, the book’s snobbish narrator, instructs us in his philosophy on everything from the erotics of dislike to the psychology of the menu. Under the guise of completing a cookbook, Winot is in fact on a much more sinister mission that only gradually comes to light.

Book:I Never Came to You in White

I Never Came to You in White

Judith Farr

This lovely fiction, by one poet about another, is cast in the form of letters that Emily Dickinson might well have written in 1847 as a seventeen-year-old student at Miss Lyon’s Academy, where her teachers and fellow students found her original, witty, lovable ways beyond them. She struck them as little short of blasphemous in her expressed passion for the works of Shakespeare and for referring to the Bible as “literature.” Other versions of Emily are revealed in letters exchanged between her first editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and a Miss Mann, who as a young teacher tried to instruct Emily in conventional Christian doctrine; in a letter from the only man ever to take her picture; in letters to and from her sister and her sister-in-law; and in letters from Emily herself, found after her death, to the person she addressed as “ Master.” The revelations accrue until the poignant ending involves every member of the cast of this dramatic book, which combines the thorough knowledge of

Book:I Was Amelia Earhart

I Was Amelia Earhart

Jane Mendelsohn

In this brilliantly imagined novel, Amelia Earhart tells us what happened after she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared off the coast of New Guinea one glorious, windy day in 1937. And she tells us about herself.

There is her love affair with flying (“The sky is flesh”)…

There are her memories of the past: her childhood desire to become a heroine (“Heroines did what they wanted”)…her marriage to G.P. Putnam, who promoted her to fame, but was willing to gamble her life so that the book she was writing about her round-the-world flight would sell out before Christmas.

There is the flight itself—day after magnificent or perilous or exhilarating or terrifying day (“Noonan once said any fool could have seen I was risking my life but not living it”).

And there is, miraculously, an island (“We named it Heaven, as a kind of joke”).

And, most important, there is Noonan…

Book:Resurrection Man

Resurrection Man

Eoin McNamee

Victor Kelly is the resurrection man, a violent and ruthless Protestant killer roaming the streets of Belfast in the 1970s. In this, his brilliant and shocking debut novel, Eoin McNamee announced his arrival as one of the leading chroniclers of Ireland’s fractured past.

Book:The Secret of the Bulls

The Secret of the Bulls

José Raúl Bernardo

The Secret of the Bulls is a thoroughly enchanting and lush romantic novel, a passionate family saga that brings to life the brilliantly-colored world of prerevolutionary Cuba. It is a love story, the story of Maximiliano and Dolores’s lifelong passionate love for one another, anchored firmly in a world where love stories are larger than life, where desires are shamelessly hot, where male pride is fierce, and family loyalty sacred.

Bernardo’s original and spellbinding novel explores three generations of love and passion, forbidden kisses, and enduring family pride. The Secret of the Bulls is an epic, lusty novel, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic-a novel that seeks to understand the psychology of machismo in a culture steeped in both tradition and tragedy.

Book:St. Burl's Obituary

St. Burl's Obituary

Daniel Akst

These killings were neat and professional, and Burl had to acknowledge that his appetite was largely unaffected. He ran through the local possibilities in his mind: the kitchen at Terrell’s would be closed by now, Ho Sai Gai was closed for sure, he was never really welcome at the Chateau, and fast food was hateful to him, if for no other reason than the uniformity and skimpiness of the seating, which seemed such an apt metaphor for the whole experience. He’d been stuck once in one of those neocolonial swivel chairs that are attached to the plastic tables at McDonald’s. He could cook—Burl liked to cook—but there was nothing in the house on the scale of what he’d promised himself, and anyway, it was exhausting to consider at this hour. His lower back, often sore by this time of day, radiated protest at the very thought. He waited behind a narcotized-sounding pregnant woman who spoke with excruciating slowness about the arrest of someone named Jimmy, and when she was finally finished with the phone he deposited a quarter and called Sally, whom he loved.

Book:The Veracruz Blues

The Veracruz Blues

Mark Winegardner

When big-league ballplayers return from the war, unhappy with the contracts the club owners offer them, the wealthy Pasquel brothers pay unheard-of salaries to lure disaffected players—Sal Maglie, Vern Stephens, Danny Gardella, Max Lanier among them—to Mexico. When they get there, they see that the league already has major-league-caliber players—Negro Leaguers and Latinos—banned from the majors by the color line or shunned by subtler forms of racism. What follows is the first fully integrated season in the history of baseball.

In a cast that includes Ernest Hemingway, Babe Ruth, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo, at the center of this novel are Theolic “Fireball” Smith, Negro League star with dreams of being the one who breaks the color line in the U.S.; Danny Gardella, clown-prince wartime outfielder, whose mythic quest almost brings free agency to the majors in the 1940s; and Frank Bullinger, novelist-cum-journalist, “the youngest and most lost member of the Lost Generation,” whose oral history this novel purports to be.

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