Annal: 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 2011.

Book:Shards (Ismet Prcic)

Shards: A Novel

Ismet Prcic

Ismet Prcic’s brilliant, provocative, and propulsively energetic debut is about a young Bosnian, also named Ismet Prcic, who has fled his war-torn homeland and is now struggling to reconcile his past with his present life in California.

He is advised that in order to make peace with the corrosive guilt he harbors over leaving behind his family behind, he must “write everything.” The result is a great rattlebag of memories, confessions, and fictions: sweetly humorous recollections of Ismet’s childhood in Tuzla appear alongside anguished letters to his mother about the challenges of life in this new world. As Ismet’s foothold in the present falls away, his writings are further complicated by stories from the point of view of another young man—real or imagined—named Mustafa, who joined a troop of elite soldiers and stayed in Bosnia to fight. When Mustafa’s story begins to overshadow Ismet’s new-world identity, the reader is charged with piecing together the fragments of a life that…[more]

Book:The Arriviste

The Arriviste: A Novel

James Wallenstein

If by 1970 I had started to slip, it wasn’t by much. To make more of the decline would be easy: exaggeration resonates in candor. My income had fallen, though not to any depth. That would have required a spectacular reversal, and, contrary impulses notwithstanding, I seem to avoid spectacular actions of any kind. I still had plenty of money in 1970, more than my neighbors could reasonably hope to come by, yet not so much anymore that I could forget them. My lawn was no longer quite big enough nor my hedges high enough.

Neil Fox has made a fortune off the “head we win/tails you lose” venture capital deals negotiated by his brother, costing him almost everything but money. His ex-wife and daughter spurn him, and he lost his young son years ago. He now lives a carefully plotted life, working as a lawyer at a small investment-banking firm and spending nights at home with a drink. …[more]

Book:The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding: A Novel

Chad Harbach

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties,…[more]

Book:Leaving the Atocha Station

Leaving the Atocha Station: A Novel

Ben Lerner

Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. What is actual when our experiences are mediated by language, technology, medication, and the arts? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader’s projections? Instead of following the dictates of his fellowship, Adam’s “research” becomes a meditation on the possibility of the genuine in the arts and beyond: are his relationships with the people he meets in Spain as fraudulent as he fears his poems are? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by?

In prose that veers between the comic and tragic, the self-contemptuous and the inspired, Leaving the Atocha Station is a portrait of the artist as a young man in an age of Google searches, pharmaceuticals, and spectacle.

Book:Ten Thousand Saints

Ten Thousand Saints: A Novel

Eleanor Henderson

In the roiling, electrified streets of New York City in the 1980s, Eliza, Jude, and Johnny each show up wanting a place to hide—from everything that has gone wrong, big and small, in their short lives. These three, thrown together by their parents’ mistakes and their own, and by the accidental death of a teenage boy, find their regrets transformed into a single, covert mission. Possibility shines from every neglected, graffitied surface. Possibility rings in the hardcore music and seething energy of the city’s underground scene. But as they pursue the intoxicating promise of redemption and new life, their secret threatens to crush their alliance with its impossibly heavy burden.

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