Honor roll: National Book Award for Fiction

Each of these books has been nominated for a National Book Award for Fiction. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:Gravity's Rainbow

Gravity's Rainbow

Thomas Pynchon

Tyrone Slothrop is an archetypal innocent abroad, but in the worst possible circumstances: he’s an American on a mission to locate V-2 rocket-launching sites in war-torn Europe. On a larger level, the novel illustrates the struggle between those who perceive and rebel against the war, seeing it as an overt movement toward the obliteration of the individual, and those who suppress individual identity to serve the war machine controlled by “Them.” Which side Slothrop is on remains highly ambiguous. An encyclopedic work much like Joyce’s Ulysses, this is perhaps one of the two or three most critically acclaimed and pondered novels of the 20th century.

Gravity’s Rainbow is dedicated to Richard Farina, a young writer Pynchon met at Cornell whose promising literary career was cut short by a fatal motorcycle accident. In 1974, the Pulitzer Prize Committee recommended this novel unanimously, but the Pulitzer Prize Board rejected it as “obscene” and “unreadable.” As a result, there was no prize awarded that year.

Book:Going After Cacciato

Going After Cacciato

Tim O'Brien

“To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby Dick a novel about whales.”

So wrote The New York Times of Tim O’Brien’s now classic novel of Vietnam. Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar blend of horror and hallucinatory comedy that marked this strangest of wars. Reality and fantasy merge in this fictional account of one private’s sudden decision to lay down his rifle and begin a quixotic journey from the jungles of Indochina to the streets of Paris. Will Cacciato make it all the way? Or will he be yet another casualty of a conflict that seems to have no end?

In its memorable evocation of men both fleeing and meeting the demands of battle, Going After Cacciato stands as much more than just a great war novel. Ultimately it’s about the forces of fear and heroism that do battle in the hearts of us all.

Book:Blood Tie

Blood Tie

Mary Lee Settle

In a novel that begins with accidental death and ends with deliberate murder, Mary Lee Settle tells the story of an eclectic collection of American and European expatriates who take refuge in an ancient Turkish city and, once there, wreak havoc on the Aegean paradise. At first the characters, who range from a former accountant to a petulant heiress, appear to have little in common, but as the novel progresses their motives and desires cross and blend in an eerie, sometimes comic geometry of misunderstanding….Settle reveals new life springing forth out of death and change, and blood as the only tie that endures’ she conveys the restlessness and ennui of the foreigners as successfully as the humanity of the native Turks. To both humorous and pitiable examples of culture clash she adds vivid scenes of archaeological digs, underwater diving, and a children’s festival.

Book:The Spectator Bird

The Spectator Bird

Wallace Stegner

Joe Allston is a retired literary agent whose parents and only son are dead, and who feels that he has been a mere spectator through life. Than a postcard from a friend causes him to return to the journals of a trip he took to his mother’s birthplace to search for his roots; memories of that journey reveal tha t he is not quite spectator enough.

Book:JR

JR

William Gaddis

A satire of big business, in which an 11-year-old boy makes a fortune selling Navy surplus goods and uses the profits to set up his own corporation. Experimental in style, the book is largely narrated through conversations.

Book:Dog Soldiers

Dog Soldiers

Robert Stone

In Saigon during the waning days of the Vietnam War, a small-time journalist named John Converse thinks he’ll find action—and profit—by getting involved in a big-time drug deal. But back in the States, things go horribly wrong for him. Dog Soldiers perfectly captures the underground mood of America in the 1970s, when amateur drug dealers and hippies encountered profiteering cops and professional killers—and the price of survival was dangerously high.

Book:The Hair of Harold Roux

The Hair of Harold Roux

Thomas Williams

Aaron Benham—professor, novelist, friend, mentor, family man, and sometime idealist—is supposed to be working on his new novel, The Hair of Harold Roux. But instead, tormented by the chaos of his present and the demons of his past, he is riding his motorcycle too fast, drinking too much, and thinking too often and deeply.

Through Aaron’s rich, if angst-ridden, mind we discover that his novel-within-a-novel is really a thinly disguised account of his own turbulent post-World War II collegiate days. Harold Roux, a naive but well-meaning ex-GI who hides his premature baldness under an ill-fitting hairpiece, and Allard Benson, Aaron’s fictional alter ego, become locked in what Aaron sardonically describes as “a simple story of seduction, rape, madness, and murder—the usual human preoccupations.”

Book:A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories

A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Book:Augustus

Augustus: A Novel

John Edward Williams

A brilliant and beautifully written novel in the tradition of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, Augustus is a sweeping narrative that brings vividly to life a compelling cast of historical figures through their letters, dispatches, and memoirs.

A mere eighteen years of age when his uncle, Julius Caesar, is murdered, Octavius Caesar prematurely inherits rule of the Roman Republic. Surrounded by men who are jockeying for power–Cicero, Brutus, Cassius, and Mark Antony–young Octavius must work against the powerful Roman political machinations to claim his destiny as first Roman emperor. Sprung from meticulous research and the pen of a true poet, Augustus tells the story of one man’s dream to liberate a corrupt Rome from the fancy of the capriciously crooked and the wildly wealthy.

Book:Chimera

Chimera

John Barth

“Rich, hilarious…There’s every chance in the world that John Barth is a genius.” Playboy

By the winner of the National Book Award and bestselling author of “The Tidewater Tales,” three of the great myths of all time revisited by a modern master.

Dunyazade, Scheherazade’s kid sister, holds the destiny of herself and the prince who holds her captive.

Perseus, the demigod who slew the Gorgon Medusa, finds himself at forty battling for simple self-respect like any common mortal.

Bellerophon, once a hero for taming the winged horse Pegasus, must wrestle with a contentment that only leaves him wretched.

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