Annal: 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Results of the PEN/Faulkner Award in the year 2009.

Book:Netherland

Netherland: A Novel

Joseph O'Neill

In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, Hans—a banker originally from the Netherlands—finds himself marooned among the strange occupants of the Chelsea Hotel after his English wife and son return to London. Alone and untethered, feeling lost in the country he had come to regard as home, Hans stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. Ramkissoon, a Gatsby-like figure who is part idealist and part operator, introduces Hans to an “other” New York populated by immigrants and strivers of every race and nationality. Hans is alternately seduced and instructed by Chuck’s particular brand of naivete and chutzpah—by his ability to a hold fast to a sense of American and human possibility in which Hans has come to lose faith. …[more]

Book:Lush Life (Richard Price)

Lush Life: A Novel

Richard Price

So, what do you do?” Whenever people asked him, Eric Cash used to have a dozen answers. Artist, actor, screenwriter…But now he’s thirty-five years old and he’s still living on the Lower East Side, still in the restaurant business, still serving the people he wanted to be. What does Eric do? He manages. Not like Ike Marcus. Ike was young, good-looking, people liked him. Ask him what he did, he wouldn’t say tending bar. He was going places—until two street kids stepped up to him and Eric one night and pulled a gun. At least, that’s Eric’s version.

In Lush Life, Richard Price tears the shiny veneer off the “new” New York to show us the hidden cracks, the underground networks of control and violence beneath the glamour. Lush Life is an Xray of the street in the age of no broken windows and “quality of life” squads, from a writer whose “tough, gritty brand of social realism…reads like a movie in prose” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).

Book:Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

Ms. Beatrice Hempel, teacher of seventh grade, is new—new to teaching, new to the school, newly engaged, and newly bereft of her idiosyncratic father. Grappling awkwardly with her newness, she struggles to figure out what is expected of her in life and at work. Is it acceptable to introduce swear words into the English curriculum, enlist students to write their own report cards, or bring up personal experiences while teaching a sex-education class?  

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum finds characters at their most vulnerable, then explores those precarious moments in sharp, graceful prose. From this most innovative of young writers comes another journey down the rabbit hole to the wonderland of middle school, memory, daydreaming, and the extraordinary business of growing up.

Book:A Person of Interest

A Person of Interest: A Novel

Susan Choi

From an acclaimed novelist, an emotionally complex and riveting story of suspicion, innocence, and regret.

When a mail bomb explodes in the campus office next door, Lee, an Asian American math professor at a second-tier university in the Midwest, comes under suspicion. The authorities believe he may be the infamous “brain bomber,” an elusive terrorist whose primary targets are prominent scientists and mathematicians.

In the midst of campus tumult and grief over the star computer scientist who was killed by the bomb, Lee receives a disturbing letter from a figure in his past. Certain he is being targeted for revenge, he begins confronting key events in his life. Misunderstood by the people around him, Lee is not conscious that his behavior has begun to heighten suspicion in the minds of his colleagues, students, and neighbors, leading the FBI to designate him “a person of interest” and pushing his life and reputation…[more]

Book:Serena

Serena: A Novel

Ron Rash

The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattlesnakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor.

Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons’ intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.

Rash’s masterful balance of violence and beauty yields a riveting novel that, at its core, tells of love both honored and betrayed.

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