Annal: 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1999.

Book:Amy and Isabelle

Amy and Isabelle

Elizabeth Strout

With compassion, humor, and striking insight, Amy and Isabelle explores the secrets of sexuality that jeopardize the lovebetween a mother and her daughter. Amy Goodrow, a shy high school student in a small mill town, falls in love with her math teacher, and together they cross the line between understandable fantasy and disturbing reality. When discovered, this emotional and physical trespass brings disgrace to Amy’s mother, Isabelle, and intensifies the shame she feels about her own past. In a fury, she lashes out at her daughter’s beauty and then retreats into outraged silence. Amy withdraws, too, and mother and daughter eat, sleep, and even work side by side but remain at a vast, seemingly unbridgeable distance from each other.

This conflict is surrounded by other large and small dramas in the town of Shirley Falls—a teenage pregnancy, a UFO sighting, a missing child, and the trials of Fat Bev, the community’s enormous (and enormously funny and compassionate) peacemaker…[more]

Book:By the Shore

By the Shore

Galaxy Craze

As direct and precise as a child’s diary, By the Shore introduces the world of twelve-year-old May, who lives in a less-than-thriving oceanfront bed-and-breakfast run by her single mother. May’s life is filled with the frustrations and promise of youth, complicated by a loving if distracted young mother who strives to care for her two children without forfeiting her own fun and passion. May puts her faith in the things that elude her—an absent father, the London city life left behind, the acceptance of the popular girls who have boyfriends, off-the-rack clothes, and matronly mothers who provide more than tea and toast at mealtimes—and wonders if her life will ever change. When a kindly writer and his glamorous editor come to lodge in the weeks before Christmas, opportunities are in the air. But then May’s playboy father, estranged from the family for years, drops in and threatens to freeze the delicate new possibilities stirring in all their lives.

Book:For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories

Nathan Englander

One of the most stunning literary debuts of our time, these energized, irreverent, and deliciously inventive stories introduce an astonishing new talent.

In the collection’s hilarious title story, a Hasidic man gets a special dispensation from his rabbi to see a prostitute. “The Wig” takes an aging wigmaker and makes her, for a single moment, beautiful. In “The Tumblers,” Englander envisions a group of Polish Jews herded toward a train bound for the death camps and, in a deft, imaginative twist, turns them into acrobats tumbling out of harm’s way.

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is a work of startling authority and imagination—a book that is as wondrous and joyful as it is wrenchingly sad. It hearalds the arrival of a remarkable new storyteller.

Book:Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies

Jhumpa Lahiri

Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice.

Book:Last Things

Last Things

Jenny Offill

A spare, bewitching debut that explores the delicate line separating science from myth and creativity from madness.

Last Things tells the story of Grace Davitt, an eight-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small lakeside town in Vermont. Her mother, Anna, an ornithologist, once saw a monster in this lake, which she believes may be a dinosaur that has somehow escaped extinction. Each morning, she photographs the dark water, hoping it will reappear. To Grace, the monster is more evidence that the world is full of mysterious things most people will never see. From her boy-genius baby-sitter, she has learned about invisible black holes from which no one can escape. From her mother, she has heard about the hyena men of Africa who devour their wives in their sleep. From The Encyclopedia of the Unexplained, she has learned about children raised by wolves and men who suddenly burst into flames. …[more]

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