Annal: 1996 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Results of the PEN/Faulkner Award in the year 1996.

Book:Independence Day

Independence Day

Richard Ford

Frank Bascombe is no longer a sportswriter, yet he’s still living in Haddam, New Jersey, where he now sells real estate. He’s still divorced, though his ex-wife, to his dismay, has remarried and moved along with their children to Connecticut. But Frank is happy enough in his work and pursuing various civic and entrepreneurial sidelines. He has high hopes for this 4th of July weekend: a search for a house for deeply hapless clients relocating to Vermont; a rendezvous on the Jersey shore with his girlfriend; then up to Connecticut to pick up his larcenous and emotionally troubled teenage son and visit as many sports halls of fame as they can fit into two days. Frank’s Independence Day, however, turns out not as he’d planned, and this decent, appealingly bewildered, profoundly observant man is wrenched, gradually and inevitably, out of his private refuge. Independence Day captures the mystery of life — in all its conflicted glory — with grand humour, intense compassion and transfixing power.

Book:All Souls' Rising

All Souls' Rising

Madison Smartt Bell

Haiti in the late eighteenth century: a French colonial society founded on the backs of its black slaves; a morass of shifting political and personal loyalties, of hatred and cruelty meted out to match the increments of lightness and darkness in the color of skin; a world already haunted by its recent genocidal history and facing a new war of extermination in its dangerously near future. This is the setting for Madison Smartt Bell’s All Souls’ Rising—an explosive, epic historical novel.

Leaving the dark, contemporary world he has made his own in nine previous, highly acclaimed novels and short story collections, Bell now turns to the past and brings to life the slave rebellion of the 1790s that would bring an end to the brutal white rule in Haiti. At the epicenter of the rebellion is a second-generation African slave known as Toussaint-Louverture. Self-educated, favored and trusted by his master, quietly charismatic, bold in thought and subtle in action, Toussaint is determined to resist…[more]

Book:The Good Negress

The Good Negress

A.J. Verdelle

It is 1963, and young Denise Palms, reared in rural Virginia by her grandmother, has just rejoined her mother, new stepfather, and two older brothers in Detroit. Denise is an ordinary, intelligent negro girl in a not unusual negro family, which means that she is expected to cook and clean house, go to school, and take care of her mother’s baby when it comes. In this groundbreaking debut, A. J. Verdelle tells the story of Denise’s family—a story filtered through the perspective of Denise’s vibrant, maturing intelligence. Studies with an uncompromising new teacher, Miss Gloria Pearson, have encouraged Denise to “reach beyond her station,” and Denise begins to dread the arrival of her mother’s baby, knowing that her new responsibilities at home will mean the end of her after-school lessons in diction and grammar. Miss Pearson insists that she must educate herself—that she must learn “to speak the King’s English”—if she ever wants to be heard. If her mother succeeds in keeping her homebound, Miss Pearson warns, Denise will remain the “good little negress” the world wants her to be.

Book:The Tunnel

The Tunnel

William H. Gass

Thirty years in the making, William Gass’s second novel first appeared on the literary scene in 1995, at which time it was promptly hailed as an indisputable masterpiece. The story of a middle-aged professor who, upon completion of a massive historical study, “Guilt and Innocence in Hitler’s Germany”, finds himself writing a novel about his own life instead of the introduction to his magnum opus. The Tunnel meditates on history, hatred, unhappiness, and, above all else, language.

“The haunting evocations of a small-town childhood [are] so sensually rich in detail that the prose is sometimes hypnotic…The Tunnel confronts the questions whether the savagery of the 20th century can still be encompassed by an art that is willing to dig deep enough”—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times.

Book:When the World Was Steady

When the World Was Steady

Claire Messud

In the words of Melody Simpson, their mother, Emmy was born with thick skin and Virginia with no skin at all. It is on Bali and Skye, two islands as far apart as geography allows, that the sisters independently reassess their place in the world and gingerly find the new bearings that will allow each to renegotiate the circumstances of their lives with newfound acceptance and flexibility.

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