Results of the PEN/Faulkner Award in the year 2011.
Since 1986 with the publication of her first story collection, Deborah Eisenberg has devoted herself to writing “exquisitely distilled stories” which “present an unusually distinctive portrait of contemporary American life” to quote the MacArthur Foundation. This one volume brings together Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997) and her most recent collection—Twilight of the Superheroes (2006).
In this, his first collection of stories since his celebrated, award-winning Last Days of the Dog-Men, Brad Watson takes us even deeper into the riotous, appalling, and mournful oddity of human beings.
In prose so perfectly pitched as to suggest some celestial harmony, he writes about every kind of domestic discord: unruly or distant children, alienated spouses, domestic abuse, loneliness, death, divorce. In his masterful title novella, a freshly married teenaged couple are visited by an unusual pair of inmates from a nearby insane asylum-and find out exactly how mismatched they really are.
With exquisite tenderness, Watson relates the brutality of both nature and human nature. There’s no question about it. Brad Watson writes so well-with such an all-seeing, six-dimensional view of human hopes, inadequacies, and rare grace-that he must be an extraterrestrial.
Thoroughbred horse trainer Tommy Hansel has a scheme to rescue his failing operation by shipping four unclassed horses to Indian Mound Downs, run them in cheap claimers at long odds, and then get out fast before anyone notices. The problem is, at this rundown riverfront half-mile racetrack in the West Virginia panhandle, everybody notices from the start—Kidstuff the farrier, track super Smithers, an old groom Medicine Ed, gypsy owner Deucey Gifford, eventually even the ruled-off bookmaker Two-Tie, and an ominous trainer, Joe Dale Bigg. But no-one factors in Hansel’s go-for girlfriend, Margaret Koderer. Much like the beautiful, used-up, tragic creatures she comes to love, Maggie is almost a force of nature, an adventuress with enough personal magnetism to spin everyone’s sure thing right back to the source of all luck.
Lord of Misrule is a darkly realistic novel about a young woman living through a year of horse racing while everyone’s best laid plans go brutally wrong. With her first novel since her acclaimed Bogeywoman, Jaimy Gordon bears comparison to other great writers of the American demimonde, such as Nathanael West, Damon Runyon, and Eudora Welty.
Warren Ziller moved his family to Southern California in search of a charmed life, and to all appearances, he found it: a gated community not far from the beach, amid the affluent splendor of the 1980s. But the Zillers’ American dream is about to be rudely interrupted. Warren has squandered their savings on a bad real estate investment, which he conceals from his wife, Camille, who misreads his secrecy as a sign of an affair. Their children, Dustin, Lyle, and Jonas, have grown as distant as satellites, too busy with their own betrayals and rebellions to notice their parents’ distress. When tragedy strikes, the Zillers are forced to move to Warren’s abandoned housing development in the desert. In this comically bleak new home, each must reckon with what’s led them there and who’s to blame—and whether they can summon the forgiveness needed to hold the family together.
With penetrating insights into modern life and an uncanny eye for everyday absurdities, Eric Puchner delivers a wildly funny, heartbreaking, and thoroughly original portrait of an American family.
Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.
We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from…[more]