Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2005.
In 1864, after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, he marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations, taking cattle and crops for their own, demolishing cities, and accumulating a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the uprooted, the dispossessed, and the triumphant. Only a master novelist could so powerfully and compassionately render the lives of those who marched.
The author of Ragtime, City of God, and The Book of Daniel has given us a magisterial work with an enormous cast of unforgettable characters–white and black, men, women, and children, unionists and rebels, generals and privates, freed slaves and slave owners. At the center is General Sherman himself; a beautiful freed slave girl named Pearl; a Union regimental…[more]
In Europe Central, Vollmann presents a mesmerizing series of intertwined paired stories that compare and contrast the moral decisions made by various figures—some famous, some infamous, some unknown—associated with the warring authoritarian cultures of Germany and the USSR in the twentieth century. He conjures up two generals, one Russian and one German, who collaborate with the enemy for different reasons and with different results. Another pairing tells of two heroes—a female Russian partisan martyred at the beginning of World War II and a young German man who joins the SS in order to reveal its secrets and halt its crimes. Several stories concern the complex and elusive Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Stalinist assaults against his work and life; also explored are the fates of artists and poets such as Käthe Kollwitz, Anna Akhmatova, and the documentary filmmaker Roman Karmen. Europe Central is another high-wire act of fiction by a writer of prodigious talent.
As a child, Kathy–now thirty-one years old–lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled…[more]
Hortense shared Gilbert’s dream of leaving Jamaica and coming to England to start a better life. But when she at last joins her husband, she is shocked by London’s shabbiness and horrified at the way the English live. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was. Queenie’s neighbours do not approve of her choice of tenants, and neither would her husband, were he there. Through the stories of these people, Small Island explores a point in England’s past when the country began to change.
As a teenager on the streets of San Francisco, Alison is discovered by a photographer and swept into the world of fashion-modeling in Paris and Rome. When her career crashes and a love affair ends disastrously, she moves to New York City to build a new life. There she meets Veronica—an older wisecracking eccentric with her own ideas about style, a proofreader who comes to work with a personal “office kit” and a plaque that reads “Still Anal After All These Years.” Improbably, the two women become friends. Their friendship will survive not only Alison’s reentry into the seductive nocturnal realm of fashion, but also Veronica’s terrible descent into the then-uncharted realm of AIDS. The memory of their friendship will continue to haunt Alison years later, when she, too, is aging and ill and is questioning the meaning of what she experienced and who she became during that time.
Masterfully layering time and space, thought and sensation, Mary Gaitskill dazzles the reader with psychological insight…[more]